Thursday, June 5, 2014


We All Have Our Bear to Cross
"A Princess Strives for Perfection"

They used to have a lot of trouble with hair in the early days of digital crafting. For instance, you remember the monkeys from Jumanji—the hair was short and matted and plasticene looking ("Not good enough, Sonny Jim").

Things have come a long way; Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) in Brave has an unruly hedge of red hair, of all different textures and tensile strength, thatched together, the odd curlicue strands floating, like the representatives of an unruly spirit. The one girl in the royal Scottish family of Lord Fergus (Billy Connelly) and Lady Elinor (Emma Thompson), she is being groomed, quite radically by Elinor, to be the perfect little princess, a prim and proper consort to one of the sons of the other clans (led by voice actors Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and Kevin McKidd)—losers all. Trouble is, Merida is very much a product of her parents. The first born, she takes off a lot from her Lord-father, who when we first encounter the family, gives his daughter a bow for her birthday. A wild shot sends an arrow deep into the forest where Merida has her first encounter with will'o-the-wisps, which her Mother tells her can lead her to her Fate. As if Merida wants to be led anywhere. As she grows, she'd much rather take off with her steed Angus, firing arrows at a full gallop on an archery course of her own devising, going on adventures that her potential suitors might blanch at.
But, when forced to play the role imposed on her, Merida becomes defiant, setting in motion a series of events that will prove disastrous to her clam, politically and personally.

To reveal any more would be spoiling the surprises along the way, which are heart-felt, potentially extremely tragic, and ironic all at the same time. It's a grim fairy tale, conceived by original director Brenda Chapman (Pixar's first female director, although she was let go in the middle of production over "creative differences.")

There are a lot of "first's" here: it's Pixar's first "period" film; their first with a female protagonist, believe it or not (and this has a strong one to start off with, with feminist leanings, and mother-daughter issues); their first "princess" film and their first "fairy tale" of sorts, although it's not based on any story I'm aware of, treading new ground, although the touchstones along the way have all the familiarity of ages-old myth.
And Pixar has re-written their software codes to make a truly complex-looking film. It's not just the hair, but also the verdant forests, rough-hewn roads, castles, and water effects all have a photo-realism quality, while the cartoon-proportioned people have a fastidiously eclectic design and a malleability of expression far beyond what Pixar's animators have been able to accomplish before. There are no short-cuts here, but only the pushing of the artistic envelope (and that includes the 3-D effects which looks seamless and flawless with no speed-artifacting) that has been the standard for every production out of this studio.

At the showing I attended there was a technical glitch with the projectors that delayed the film somewhat ( I missed a couple of previews), and one of the patrons remarked out-loud how much the theater might compensate for the delay. It left me wondering what sort of compensation is needed besides a great film, flawlessly done.
Brave is preceded by a magical short, La Luna. And stay 'til the end as there's a nice little coda.

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