I’m in Anaheim for the annual American Library Association conference, but had the day to wander around. Since Disneyland is right across the street from the convention center, since Disney/Pixar’s ‘Brave” is opening this weekend, since I’m still a bit on New York time, I thought it would be apropos to take a nap and then attend the midnight screening at the AMC theater located in Downtown Disney (Disneyland’s shopping mall).
The theater was well packed… I’d say about 80% full. I usually avoid midnight screenings, as the “true fans” tend to spoil my enjoyment. Fortunately, Pixar fans are a somewhat respectable bunch, and were fairly quiet during the movie. There was a little girl sitting behind me who was a bit chatty during the first few minutes, but her mother gave her some gentle guidance, and then she was enraptured like the rest of the audience. (What a lucky girl… her first Disney movie is “Brave”, probably the most “unprincess” of all Disney princesses. I hope it inspires her.)
The movie was quite good, even with usual predictability. (Hey, it’s a Disney movie. The theme and tropes have to be front and center, although it’s always the Hero’s journey, not the destination, which matters.) I do wonder what sort of influence “The Secret of Kells” had on this movie, and if there were any “Brother Bear” in-jokes.
Afterwards, while waiting for the credit cookie (there is one, right before the Disney and Pixar logos), I realized:
Every Pixar movie has four Easter eggs:
- A113 (a classroom number at CalArts)
- A Pizza Planet delivery truck
- John Ratzenberger voicing a character
- A reference to the next Pixar movie (in this case, “Monsters University”)
But how do they appear in Brave, set in medieval Scotland? I’ll let others list them, as I was too engaged in the movie to watch. I suspect the Pizza Planet truck was shown in the woodcarver’s shop, but that was so crowded and hectic, it will probably have to wait for either the “Art of” book, or a freeze frame of the DVD. That would also be a good place to place any “Monsters University” characters (which had a trailer before the movie).
John Ratzenberger plays a guard in this movie, and is listed last on the credits. Since it’s an accent, it might jinx the good luck charm a bit, but I suspect the streak will continue, even if critics are less than thrilled about the movie.
The critics are probably right, about how the story seems to peter out towards the end. I feel that’s a weakness for Pixar: lack of story discipline. While Brenda Chapman is credited with the story and directing, there are four screenwriters listed. On a live-action movie, that’s almost always a warning sign. In animation, it’s not uncommon. Disney learned that lesson the hard way in the 198os, when some spectacular flops convinced them to start using screenplays. Pixar was called in to help fix the story of “John Carter” (why? it’s all in the book!), and I feel the Incredibles could have been one of the top five superhero movies of all time were it not for the almost generic blockbuster ending. Ms. Chapman’s “leave of absence” during the production has been well-reported elsewhere, so there were some large differences between her story/vision and what Pixar thought would work. That’s a big problem, as Pixar has always had a strong story in each movie.
Brave is an enjoyable film, a bit revolutionary for both Disney (an un-princess) and Pixar (a fairy tale with a female hero). It has an incredible soundtrack (with only one song part of the action of the film), and the scenery and cinematography are excellent. The supporting characters are distinct and add to the story, with some excellent caricature.
My expectation was that Merida, the heroine, would upset some clan tradition, and then have to undertake a hero(ine)’s journey to correct the error. Instead, we see a re-working of a magic spell gone bad, a simple fix (which negates Merida’s tomboy manner), and while the movie is titled “Brave’, the character doesn’t really seem to show much courage before her clansmen (which is the inciting incident of the movie). Her impulsive solution to her initial predicament (which reminded me a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin), doesn’t have any serious consequences… the clans brawl comically in the castle. There’s no tension, even though such an insult that Merida gives the other three clans could upset the alliance. There’s a deadline of two days, but no tension or suspense. The initial problem is superseded by another, as Merida tries to solve the problem of her mother’s opinion, not that of the actual tribal customs. Both problems are easily solved by the end of the movie, but not very well. It’s all too easy. The tapestry seen in the movie serves not only as a metaphor of the plot, but also, unfortunately, for the production itself.
Perhaps John Lasseter, as the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, has a blurred vision. What is a Pixar movie? What is a Disney movie? Brave seems to be a Disney movie, while the upcoming “Wreck It Ralph” seems to be more of a Pixar film. The definition seems to be where each film is produced (Emeryville or Burbank), not on the actual film’s style (as is usually the case at other movie studios). Perhaps Pixar is helping Disney to improve Disney’s animated features, with Pixar features experiencing some neglect. A Pixar movie might require intensive attention, or past successes might be a result of Pixar’s need to produce amazing films to satisfy shareholders and maintain profitability as a small company.
I think Monsters University will be a critical film for Disney/Pixar. If they cannot make a success of a sequel, then there will be a lot of discussion on how to correct the problem. There are two original movies in production after “Monsters University”, which could quash any second-guessing. But given the recent failures at Disney which saw a change in management at Walt Disney Pictures, there might not be much patience. Judging by the numerous animated previews and teasers shown before Brave, there’s a lot of competition and masterful storytelling being produced by other studios, with talented creators going elsewhere to produce movies such as “Rango”.