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:

  1. A113 (a classroom number at CalArts)
  2. A Pizza Planet delivery truck
  3. John Ratzenberger voicing a character
  4. 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”.


  1. I enjoyed it as well, but I agree with you. It was a Disney movie. Actually it felt like a major step backwards for Pixar…in regards to story anyway. And I agree there was hardly any tension. (Which is a shame since the opening scene was handled so well and was nearly as strong as the opening to Finding Nemo).

  2. It seems there’s a bit of a reversal going on between Disney and Pixar this time. Pixar making a ‘princess finding herself’ movie while Disney making Wreck-It Ralph in the “what if X were real” mode. (Video games being the X in this case.)

  3. Kevin – Don’t bother. Cars 2 was absolute rubbish. The only nice thing I can bring myself to say about it is that the Toy Story short preceding it was alright, but even that’s being far too generous.

  4. The Hollywood Reporter was the only place where I saw anybody talking about the specific problems that led to Mark Andrews replacing Brenda Chapman as the director:


    “The problem, according to Andrews, was that the story wasn’t where it needed to be when the movie was 18 months away from its release date. It tried attempted [sic] to accomplish too much with too many characters, producers said, and even with the Pixar brain trust of John Lasseter, Pete Doctor and Andrew Stanton helping, the project was stuck.”

    There’s a bit more about it at the LA Times article focusing on Andrews himself at http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-0621-brave-director-20120621,0,326356.story

    Chapman hasn’t said much publicly about the film at all (only comments about Merida’s character design and inspiration in something at the NY Times), although she was at the premiere. No clue yet whether she’s planning to stay at the studio or if she’ll depart, as Jan Pinkava did after he lost “Ratatouille,” but she doesn’t seem to be moving immediately or doing anything that might sabotage “Brave.”

    I think if this is your first experience with a Disney Princess, then “Brave” will be a whole lot more impressive. It looks a lot more derivative if you’ve seen any Disney Princess story, though. And I liked “Cars 2” because, unlike almost every Pixar film since “The Incredibles,” “Cars 2” knew exactly what it wanted to be and was exactly that the whole way through. Not as bracingly original or daring as any of their other movies, but I thought it was good stupid fun and a much better spy movie than “Quantum of Solace.”

  5. Just from the trailer the problem is that Pixar had to do a movie about a girl…so they made a traditional princess picture. Too bad they couldn’t tell a story as transforming and original as Finding Nemo, Ratattoule, Wall*E and UP that happened to have a girl as the main character. Guess it doesn’t work like that.

  6. Disney and Pixar are basically the same. Lassie runs both. But yeah, this does not appeal to me. I’m sick of the strong female story.

  7. Seems they’ve done their passion projects and should let in new writers. I knew guys working on Monsters 2, and their script got trashed as soon as Pixar made their Disney deal. Lassie and the guys have to have complete control.

  8. I have to disagree. I thought BRAVE was an excellent film. The challenge facing our heroine — dealing with her mom — resonated with me a lot. Maybe it seems less important because it didn’t involve a man nor a true love. Still, it worked for me.

    Also, bears.

  9. I am not sick of the “strong female story,” but I have no interest in Brave. It just looks boring and while it might end up being phenomenal, a movie ticket is a lot of disposable cash to gamble. I’ll just wait until it’s on Blu ray and I can borrow it.

  10. Just saw it; visually amazing, but it didn’t have the emotional gut punch that I got from TOY STORY 3, UP and THE INCREDIBLES. Each of those films made me sit up during the film and think “WOW, I didn’t see THAT coming!”, either plot-wise or storytelling-wise. Granted, it’s a different film from those three, but I’ve really gotten hooked on Pixar films kind of catching me off guard; this one I saw each move coming. They were stunning, well animated moves, mind you…

  11. sorry but I don’t see how this is a “Disney” film other than it has a strong female character. I guess that makes it bad somehow?

    One of the big complaints about Pixar back in the early day was the lack of female characters who did anything, let alone who figured importantly in the story. It was a boy’s world after all. Only when Jessie showed up in Toy Story 2 did it start to look like Pixar would be something other than male-default.

    And then one female lead show and suddenly “it’s Disney not Pixar.” Whut.

    The comment by Scott is a teller. Some people just can’t stand girls in the clubhouse. Until that whole “boys are the default, girls are icky and need to be segregated into chick flicks” mentality goes away, animation is on par to start sucking just as hard as live action films.

  12. It’s a Disney movie not because of the female lead, but because it is more commercial, and the story, while enjoyable, does not have the emotional involvement or expert storytelling found in previous Pixar movies.