Throughout the late 90s and into the 2000s, Pixar has given us some of the best animated films ever: Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E and Up. Being that consistently amazing is obviously no small feat, and the studio has been under a lot of pressure to keep the perfection going.
The challenge is that what was considered groundbreaking 15 years ago has now become the norm for the innovative animation company. The question now becomes: Should Pixar stick to its traditional style, or continue to push the boundaries of animation?
The studio’s latest effort, BraveThe Critic’s Notebook, which put it pretty bluntly:
While ‘Brave’ is an original enterprise, its derivative ingredientsprincesses, spells, a blithe medieval kingdomdominate over the more progressive way that it foregrounds a young female protagonist with no love interest or care for family tradition. It ends with a neat segue to a sequel and could very easily spawn one for the same slobbering demographic likely to absorb the imagery without questioning its quality.
Ouch. Pretty harsh, but that is undoubtedly a very snobby take on the whole film: Pixar makes children’s films first and foremost, with beautiful visuals, colorful characters and a heartfelt story. The article goes on to accuse Pixar of the same kind of laziness displayed by The Simpsons. Let’s not exaggerate now.
On to Drew McWeeny from HitFix, who couldn’t disagree more.
This feels like an experiment in some ways, and one that has paid off handsomely. At a time when the entire industry seems to be running scared, making only the safest of safe bets, ‘Brave’ is exactly that, and Pixar should reap the rewards from this act of creative courage in the weeks ahead.
That’s more like it! Pushing boundaries, not playing it safe, and coming away with a hit film at the end of it. Brave does definitely push the gender agenda, featuring a nontraditional heroine and shifting away from the princess versus the evil stepmother theme to give us a sympathetic mother and daughter relationship. Variety compared the story to the earlier DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon:
The toon ‘Brave’ most resembles is DreamWorks’ ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ offering the flipside of that pic’s sensitive-boy predicament in its adventure-seeking heroine.
It’s an interesting take on the film’s themes, but for The Hollywood Reporter, Brave just doesn’t quite manage to shine:
Not only is the tale laden with standard-issue fairy tale and familiar girl-empowerment tropes, but the entire project lacks the imaginative leaps, unexpected jokes and sense of fun and wonder that habitually set Pixar productions apart from the pack. Its ideas seem earthbound.
To close off the talk, IGN waded in with their opinion that:
While a technical marvel, ‘Brave’ is ultimately a lesser effort from a studio known for breaking new ground with such modern classics as ‘Up’, ‘Toy Story,’ ‘WALL-E’ and ‘Finding Nemo’. One wonders whether Pixar has moved into a new era where they will (gasp!) make decent, but not great movies.
Looking at the whole debate, it’s as if Pixar were a band working on a difficult second album. Everyone loves their early material, but the pressure put on their new stuff runs the risk of ruining the project for us. If Brave succeedswhich I think it has doneit only adds to the list of awesome Pixar films that the studio’s upcoming projects, like Monsters UniversityThe Good Dinosaur
It’s not really for critics to say whether or not you will like a film. Go to the cinema, watch Brave and find out for yourself. Just go in with an open minded: don’t weigh the film down with lofty comparisons or critical opinions. Sit back, relax, and let Pixar’s latest beautiful story bring the Scottish Highlands to life before your eyes.