Haven't been doing lots of reviews lately. There have been a lot of uniformly satisfactory movies that don't need more written about them. The Avengers was really good but that doesn't make for much to write about. Hey, that Josh Whedon, he can really direct. zzzzzzzzzzz. Similarly, Hunger Games was uniformly excellent. I didn't want to like the new Spiderman film; Just because you change the actor doesn't mean it is time to start over and the Spiderman franchise wasn't mired in the swamps of canon like Star Trek was. But, despite being cranky about the needless reboot, I liked the film. Nothing to write about there, either.
But Pixar's latest film, Brave, is another matter. It is a very nice little film. No question about that. But it could have been -- should have been -- almost was -- a classic. But they made a mistake -- and just a bit of the wonderful leaked out -- just enough to leave the film a bit flat at the end.
The problem is that you could tell that they were reaching for more than just an amusing story about a likable tomboy princess who takes a dim view of her parent's plans to find her a husband. They were reaching for the sort of high mythology that Disney achieved in, say, Pinocchio. You could tell they wanted mythos because they touched it at several points. But, in the end, they made a mistake in the story and let it get away.
Without giving away too much of the plot I can say that our heroine -- Merida (voiced by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald) -- makes a thoughtless mistake which unleashes an evil magic. She puts herself and the people she loves in jeopardy and most of the film deals with her trying to put things right.
That is a promising enough plot framework and Pixar obviously had the talent on hand to make it work. But they didn't, quite, get it right. The problem is, that the screenwriter fell in love with his character and, unlike Pygmalion, where the love of the creator brings his creation to life, Pixar's love for Merida turned her to stone -- lovely but incapable of change or growth.
There is a scene near the end where Merida says to her mother, the queen: "Mother, you have changed!" and the response is "We both have." The problem is, Merida doesn't seem to have changed very much. She is sorry to have caused so much trouble but otherwise the film leaves here pretty much where it found her. This is fine for a nice little film... but not nearly good enough for a film that pretends to high mythology. Mythic adventure changes people, thoughtless mistakes lead to real suffering and evil magic always leaves a mark. The logic of myth requires a character like Merida to change in some important way -- to exhibit a slight sadness for a prideful, thoughtless misdeed that can be remedied, but not undone.
When Pixar decided to put Merida back in the end of the film, exactly where she had been at the beginning, their pretentions of high mythos collapsed.