If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Seems like it simply wouldn't be a summer without either a Disney or Pixar movie, and with the two companies melded together now that's at least one thing you can bet on. However, despite the immense success of "The Avengers" the two studios have been under a transition process as of late. Between less-than-warm critical responses and financial difficulties, Pixar needs a new success to bring back their place at the top pier of animation. Have they pulled this off with their latest offering? Time to find out.
The story takes place in a mythical Scottish setting, and follows a young princess named Merida. Her mother Queen Elinor is preparing her for her ascension to the throne while her father, King Fergus) is the head of their Clan. It is hoped that Merida's marriage of one of the first-borns of one of the opposing Clans will bring peace and end a long stalemate between all. However, Merida doesn't care at all for the proceedings, and has far greater interest in a life she is in control of. Her skill at archery that she has learned from her father is frowned upon by Elinor, who feels it wrong for a woman to be interested in combat.
When the opposing three Clans arrive for the event to win the right for Merida's hand, she enters the contest too and proclaims the test will involve archery. Defying her mother she wins with ease, but this only leads to an angry rift opening between them. Both lost their temper in an argument, and Merida runs away in tears. Her mother is left distraught at what has happened. Merida comes across a will-o-the-wisp, which is said leads to one's fate. She follows the trail to a witch's house, where she asks for a spell that will "change" her mother. She receives the potion with the hope that it will make the Queen see things her way However, to her dismay, she finds that the recipe turns her mother into a bear, which still contains the mind of Elinor. Merida must now find the means to return the Queen to her normal state, but also discover how to make amends and repair the torn relationship they both have.
This is Pixar's first attempt at a princess movie, but with the twist that the studio always brings to the table. And unlike the majority of Disney titles, it involves parents that aren't split up or dead, quite a relief to see that to be honest. And for the first third or so of the movie, things look very promising. I was expecting a lot of likeness to "How to Train your Dragon" but it feels more devoted to the world it is set in, incorporating a lot of myth as well as real ideas from Celtic history. This combined with Pixar's lavish detail to the scenes, makes for a very enjoyable opening. Billy Connolly gives a great performance as King Fergus; it's a voice we've heard many times before but has a lot of fun and energy to it. The three little kids and brothers to Merida add a lot of the comedy too, and provided the majority of the laughs here. Call them mischievous or downright-evil, I loved them.
And then we have the conflict between the princess and the queen, which turns out a lot more interesting than you would initially expect. Rather than the usual one-sided delusion, we learn that both of them are seeking what's best for themselves, and creates a barrior that neither wished to have in the first place. The back and forth of the conversation, and its escalation to the breaking point, does draw you in to their contrasting characters. Where Elinor wants restraint and order, Merida just wishes to live her own way and not be constrained by regal affairs.
So far, everything leading up to where Elinor changes into a bear is very good. In fact I would call it pretty damm excellent. But after this, things take a rather..... odd turn. The next reel involves a series of comical bits by the bear, and Merida's efforts to hide her from the rest in the castle. Fergus had a famous battle against a bear in the past that took his leg, so even the sight of one would end very badly. But the film doesn't make good use of this, as things slide into the very predictable Disney-mode. And as Merida and Elinor the Bear escape to the forest to find a cure, things just continue down that path. We even see a song sequence that honestly, means very little to the story progression at all. It is very unlike Pixar to do this, and feels alien when it is in here. Having the bear make noises like Chewbacca only strengthens the feelings I was having.
Now, to make this clear, this wasn't a detrimental reel to the film, it isn't "bad" or anything like that. But it certainly is a dip in quality that can't be ignored. It does have some parts where Merida is trying to fix what she has done, and the scenes where Elinor takes on a full-bear mind are pretty dark for a film like this. To be fair, these are the rays of sunlight that sustained me through this portion
The final reel is the big climax that I won't digress into too much for spoiler reasons. (I know many European fans haven't seen this yet) It's kind of six of one, half a dozen of the other in terms of quality. Things do increase in tension as the story centres to the end, but then adds in a speech scene that really isn't very inspiring. I can see what they were aiming for with it, but it came across in a whimper, with the audience being forced into shedding a tear for it. The action here is very good though, both dark and suspenseful. Some kids will definitely find it scary, and is a pretty strong climax to end upon.
Going into the technical’s it is as expected from a modern Pixar movie, the film looks fucking astonishing. Their new engine works wonders, with the landscape and light at some points moving you to sheer awe. This is a big leap forward in animation if not anything else. The characters have plenty emotional range and charisma without looking too cartoon-ish, and the action moves very fluidly. It adds that polish to everything that will keep you immersed in the film, despite what your likes / dislikes may be. Merida's flowing red hair is worth mentioning on its own because it's just captivating, I really do have to tip my hat to the entire team for making this movie look as good as it does.
As I said before, there is plenty eye-candy here as well, from the quick scene of early Irish Hurling and other Celtic sports, to the little details that every room and acre of forest. The big comical fight scene is one part that works very well at lightening things, it might be just me, but I just love seeing a whole crowd of character having a gigantic fight like that. Merida and Elinor both provide strong female characters with a reasonably good story arc, the little kids are just brilliant in their devilry, and the film never misses a moment to astonish you with its high-calibre visuals, sound, and overall feel to the world it creates.
So, where does the rating fall on this one? Well, I do have massive admiration for the visuals they created here, and how they developed this wonderful Celtic world. It's one you will want to enter again and again. And the voice acting is exceptional too; I had to keep reminding myself that this was VA work because their delivery was that impressive. But, I cannot omit what middle segment where things just got a bit too conservative and.... honestly, uninspired. If this was a Disney or Dreamworks piece, it could be forgiven somewhat, but this is a company that has built itself upon making the best story possible, with no exceptions. And this did feel like an executive decision to keep the general audience invested in what was otherwise, quite a dark movie at some points. I can understand why the decision was made, but it lacked true originality. For that, this is not a AAA-rated Pixar movie; don't get me wrong, it's a very, VERY good movie........ but it isn't astonishing. If it had ties the beginning and end together better, this would be a totally different review.
However, I have to consider everything as a whole, both great and not-so-great. And despite my problems, this is still a Very High Matinee (8/10) I will very much recommend you seeing this (and why wouldn't you, it's Pixar!) and probably go for the 2D. It isn't one of their masterpieces like "WALL-E" or "Up", but does have enough for you to appreciate and enjoy. Kids will love it too, it may not be as strong in terms or story progression or comedic application, but hey, at least it's a good film this year. And that hasn't been a common thing I have said lately.
Thanks for reading! ^__^