Don’t hate me, don’t. Because I didn’t hate this movie; actually I liked it a lot. It’s just that I wanted to love it so much more.
I saw the first trailer for BRAVE – well, it feels like years ago, but Google wants me to believe it can only have been in summer 2011. It feels such a long time, I think, because I’ve been in an intermittent frenzy to see the movie ever since. Which could be part of my problem: the dangerous weight of expectation (or in a simpler syllable, hype).
Before I go on, I had better say that my 11-year-old daughter considered the film ‘amazing’; adding that ‘You didn’t know what was going to happen. Other movies, you can tell how it’s going to turn out, but not this one.’ So there. Listen to her, not me. And it’s absolutely true that I wasn’t sure either how it would all end.
Now when I was an expat for twelve years, I could be counted on to foam at the mouth for all things Scottish, for anything that would whisk me home for 120 minutes or so. I remember the thrill in my spine when I first saw the trailer for Braveheart. Historical tosh it may have been – and who can watch it now without imagining Mel Gibson breaking off for an antisemitic rant? – but the movie didn’t let its trailer down. I eventually saw it in a little cinema in Campbeltown, with an excitable row of little old ladies behind me, and it was one of the moviegoing experiences of my life. BRAVE promised to better that by a long mile. But it… didn’t.
BRAVE is a gorgeous-looking movie. At least, I think it was. And here’s where I give you another caveat: I saw it in 3D. [Cries of ‘LUDDITE’.] I can blame a lot on the 3D experience. The backgrounds, into which such love and care had clearly been poured, were for me an occasional glimpse of blurry sunlit pines and snowy tops. Not a damn detail could I make out, and anyway I was too busy dodging flying plates. At least, they might have been flying plates; could have been swords or arrows. Could’ve been anything, really.
But I am going to watch it again in 2D. Just in case. And I may revise my opinion. BUT.
Something about those enticing trailers led me to expect something epic, something battle-y. That’s not a prerequisite of a good movie, obviously; there’s no reason why a domestic drama can’t move the viewer (or reader) as much as a sprawling epic. In Despicable Me, there’s an evil plot! To steal the moon! You don’t get more epic than that! But it’s not the moon plot that grabs you by your sensitive parts, it’s the family story. So it’s not that I absolutely had to have a screen-eating goodies-versus-baddies showdown; it’s just that the trailers seemed to imply that was what I’d be getting. She’s carrying a bow in the poster! She’s fierce!
Here’s the thing, you see: Merida was going to be brave. It was the one thing I took from the trailers.
And then along came the film, and I struggled to see what she was being brave about.
Merida, let’s face it, has a lovely life, right up till the events that spark the movie’s storyline. Her mother isn’t frosty, or cold, or evil; she’s a loving if demanding and over-controlling parent. Merida is a princess who romps freely all over the castle, indulged by happy servants and enjoying herself with weapons. Repressed? Not much. Feisty: sure. (I recently had an interesting discussion with friends about ‘feisty’ and why it’s applied only to women and horses.) Spoilt? Definitely. Merida creates a lot of her own problems; oh, and Disney? [extremely muted spoiler alert] You’ve done this one before, remember?
What’s the girl fighting? There aren’t any out-and-out villains, and maybe that’s a good, mature thing – until you want to root for someone. The other clans aren’t threatening, they’re hilarious, and they’re meant to be. I never believed for a second they posed a danger to Merida. She was much more of a danger to herself: the moment she finds a witch’s cottage in the woods (and even the witch is adorably funny), Merida enters too-stupid-to-live territory. Which is also known as kiss-of-death territory when it comes to empathising with a character. Yet Merida takes THE ENTIRE MOVIE to accept she might have done something a little unwise. I kid you not. THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
Look, I’ve got nothing against small-scale dilemmas. Tangled doesn’t have any world-threatening horrors, and neither does Enchanted; the threats are all domestic, give or take a dragon or two. All our suspense and all our hopes hinge, in both cases, on the heroine’s chance of happiness. That’s all that’s at stake, not the existence of the galaxy. But you care! You care about those girls! Well, I do.
In BRAVE, the only character I really felt for was Merida’s staid mother. She’s the one who develops, and she’s much more the one who has to be brave. Merida’s father is a buffoon, and the only appalling Scottish stereotype in the movie (I’ll give a free pass to the feisty redhead, since we’ve had Ariel already). Of course Merida has right on her side, and when she screws up she has to be gutsy enough to sort things out, but for me, that wasn’t enough.
There are some great moments, obviously. It’s a Pixar movie! BRAVE looks simply beautiful (when you can see it. I beg you to do so in 2D; I’m sure it looks a lot better). There are some cracking one-liners. The running gag about the Aberdonian whose accent even the Glaswegians can’t understand had me hooting at several points. There’s no day-saving love-interest prince. The triplet brothers should get their own movie. The will-o’-the-wisps are as sweet and sinister as the forest spirits in Princess Mononoke. The horses and dogs are the best Disney have ever done.
It’s just that I wanted BRAVE to be my favourite Pixar movie ever. Truly I did. Perhaps the colossal weight of my expectation on Merida’s shoulders has done her no favours.
And I hope you love it. It’s a movie that wants to be loved (maybe a little too much). But if I’ve lowered anyone’s expectations to the point where you’re deliciously surprised, or love it even more than you thought you would, I’ll be delighted. Honestly. I wish someone had lowered mine.