This week we’re going over to Pixarville with Brave. Typically I’m a big fan of Pixar movies. I love the Toy Stories, The Incredibles, and Monsters, Inc. to name a few. I think my least favorite Pixar film I’ve seen has got to be Cars. The plot bored me, so I didn’t get through the whole thing.
But don’t get me wrong, Brave was good, though certainly not the best Pixar has ever offered. Let’s see if we can figure out why. According to IMDB, Brave’s story is this: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
This movie has got all the right elements: action, adventure, tough girl, fun characters. At the end of the day, though, I just thought, Hm, that was good. But would I watch it again? Meh, probably not. Toy Story 1-3 though? Certainly! Especially for this part.
But back to Brave. I’ve been thinking a lot on why this movie, for me, was good but not great. Here’s what I’ve come up with. By now you should know I’m probably going to SPOIL the movie a little, so click away if you haven’t seen it.
The big problem is Merida has to get her mom changed back from a bear into a person within a couple days or she’ll be a bear forever. But at no point did I ever doubt that she would change back. More importantly, I didn’t care. So she stays a bear or she doesn’t, who cares? No really, think about it. As far as we saw Mom was this unrelenting figure who only wanted things done her way and Merida seemed to only care for her as any daughter would be obligated to care for her mom. In fact, it seems more like Merida was worried more about how it would make her dad feel than that her mom had changed.
The other thing is whether or not Mom got changed back, Merida would still get exactly what she wanted. So where’s the risk? Yes, she’d lose her mother, and I guess that’s decent motivation. But as a viewer I just didn’t care enough about the mom for me to care.
The point is, in our stories, we can have the right plot formula, but fall short if any of the elements isn’t adequately balanced. It’s these details that take our stories from good to great.
Was it just me, or was the witch really just a character of convenience to get the plot going? She was amusing, yes, but she’s clearly an impetus for plot. And then when Merida realizes things aren’t going the way she wants, she easily finds the witch’s house again. The witch has thoughtfully left a message telling Merida everything she needs to do to solve her problem. This goes back to stakes too, since risk is eliminated.
It made me wonder how the story would have been if Ursula had been in the house, striking a deal with Merida. And if this other witch supposedly caused the problem with the monster bear in the first place, well, wasn’t that a bit nefarious? So why is it she’s presented as all harmless, as though she’s got no clue what her spells are doing to anyone or anything. And maybe that’s true, it’s just not interesting.
If the sole point of a character is to move the plot along, and I’m talking in a major way, you might want to rethink that character’s purpose in your story. What was it the witch wanted? What’s her motivation in the whole thing? I don’t know, just something about the witch rubbed me wrong story-wise. She felt flat.
Let’s go back to what Merida wanted in the first place: to change her fate. (Sounds like a forced line someone wrote into a script.) She said that about a million times, but what was her goal otherwise? For things not to change? To go open a cookie shop in the woods? As far as I can tell, all she wanted to do was not get married. She really doesn’t even explain why she doesn’t want to get married, just that she doesn’t approve of the choices.
I would have liked to see her have some kind of reason. Love with a non clansmen or other forbidden boy would have worked nicely, or perhaps there’s this thing she’s always wanted to do, or maybe she doesn’t want to leave her family—whatever. But the whole motivation for her doing anything was just that she didn’t want to do it. And does it really stop her from living life exactly as she wants anyway? She’s obviously as tough as her suitors, I doubt they’d stop her from going on hikes and shooting arrows every day if she really wanted to. Her desires seemed a bit lacking.
I just wanted to get any kind of inkling of what her ideal fate would be. If she were to get everything she wanted, what would that be? What’s the grand prize in the scheme of things for her?
All that being said, it’s still a decent little movie. It’s a nice morality tale of a mother and daughter coming to understand each other. And there are plenty of Pixar gags to be had, so I don’t think you’ll come away hating this movie. It’s good, not great. It could have been better, and that’s always disappointing and a little irritating.
But what do you think? Did you notice any flaws you thought kept the movie from being great? What bits of advice did you glean from watching the movie—i.e. things you wouldn’t do in your own novel? Let me know in the comments below.