Rave review for Pixar’s “Brave”!

First, a quick disclaimer: WordPress won’t let me use italics in the headline, which is why I’ve put quotation marks around the title “Brave.” 

I usually italicize titles, as called for by the style guide for my field, the MLA (Modern Language Association), which is the standard documentation style taught in English classes.  However, I do recall from reviewing books for our local newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that their editorial style guide called for quotation marks around book titles.  In fact, according to its online “Ask the Editor” FAQ page, the official Associated Press Stylebook “doesn’t use italics in news stories. That includes newspaper names and magazine references.  No italics.  The stylebook uses italics for examples only.” 

So I guess WordPress leans more toward journalistic writing than academic.  I’ve actually started using the journalistic lowercase for writing blog post headlines instead of the uppercase titles customary in MLA because it looks better and seems more appropriate for blog entries.  Similarly, I’ve begun using an en dash with spaces instead of an em dash for breaks in this blog because it’s easier to read on the screen. 

Anyhow, now that these punctuation formalities are out of the way . . . I am very happy to report that Brave, Pixar’s newest film, is wonderful! 

I had approached my trip to the theater yesterday with some trepidation after reading lukewarm reviews on Friday.  In the first review, a critic said Brave was “less a film in the lustrous Pixar tradition than a Disney fairy tale told with Pixar’s virtuosity.  As such, it’s enjoyable, consistently beautiful, fairly conventional, occasionally surprising and ultimately disappointing.”  Another critic called Brave a “shake-and-bake hybrid” that reflects Disney’s “penchant for princesses and appetite for anthropomorphism.” 

Nice alliteration there at the end, but I disagree with the charge of anthropomorphism.  It’s completely logical that someone who is turned into a bear yet retains human consciousness should exhibit human traits.  And besides, before Disney came along, Pixar did just fine on its own in giving human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects like bugs, fish, rats, cars, and toys.

I also take issue with the “Disney princess” and “Disney fairy tale” characterizations.  For one thing, Brave has no handsome prince, thus lacking a standard element of every Disney princess story.  Nor is there a scheming, evil villain in the usual Disneyesque, Machiavellian sense.  Finally, while the Disney “formula” requires the heroine to be an orphan or similarly lacking guidance and protection from a parent (usually a dead mother), Merida, the heroine of Brave, has two living parents, both of whom care deeply about her happiness.   

Although there may be merit in the critics’ descriptions of Brave as a “fairly conventional” film that “shrinks its aspirational promise into a mother-knows-best-size life lesson,” I wouldn’t say that convention and familiarity are necessarily bad, especially if well done.  All fairy tales are conventional, after all, and Brave certainly has drawn elements from fairy tales and myths.  In fact, once you’ve read the work of Joseph Campbell, especially The Hero with a Thousand Faces, his book on universal archetypes in world mythology, these “conventional” patterns become recognizable in many other films.

For children, such “conventional” stories and “life lessons” provide reassuring familiarity.  As an adult, I personally find the ending of Toy Story 3 both appropriate and poignantly inevitable:  Andy decides to give Woody and Buzz away to a little girl who will play with them, and as we know from the earlier films in the series, being played with is the one thing toys yearn for above all.  However, younger viewers not ready to part with childhood might have preferred a more conventional “happy” ending . . . in which, perhaps, we flashed forward to see Andy’s grandchildren playing with Buzz and Woody on a visit to Grandpa’s house.  As much as I love Toy Story 3, a more conventional ending wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, either.

One final note: I was surprised yesterday when everybody starting leaving the theater as soon as the credits began to roll.  Don’t they know there is always a payoff for sticking around at the end of a Pixar movie? 

In this go-round, there were two rewards.  The first was a statement in the credits that Brave is “dedicated with much love to Steve Jobs,” a tribute that elicited murmurs of appreciation from the few other people remaining in the theater.  The second was a cute, very brief epilogue that provides a clever follow-up to an event from earlier in the movie.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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