A new Pixar film is always an event. The studio has sustained an astonishing and unmatched quality over its 17 years making films. Films such as Toy Story, Ratatouille, Up and Finding Nemo have stood out for their crafted stories, endearing characters and striking imagery.
Pixar have made a unique name for themselves by somehow consistently creating idiosyncratic, beautifully crafted and stunning movies. In 13 films there have been few misfires, and even those were still entertaining and profitable. I thought Cars and Cars 2 were disappointing, but only compared to the impressive films around them. Cars was preceded by The Incredibles and followed by Ratatouille. In that kind of company, nothing less than perfection is going to look bad.
So, how does their new film fare in this lofty canon?
Last night, I went to see their new film, Brave. I will try my best to avoid spoilers, but if you want to go completely fresh, then come back when you have seen it.
Brave is a break from the Pixar tradition in a couple of ways. For a start, it is the first Pixar film with a female lead - Celtic princess Merida.
It is also, more excitingly, Pixar's take on the Disney princess story. The Disney princess legacy is not to be trifled with. It started in 1937 with Snow White and progressed through Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog and then Tangled.
Quite a legacy that stretches back to the founding of the Disney empire. So, what does Pixar do with this legacy?
Well, it's pretty respectful. The traditional elements of queens, witches, spells and magic are all in place, but the story is redefined and renegotiated.
While Shrek satirised and cocked a snook at the Disney legacy, Brave happily and respectfully changes the rules to create a more satisfying, strong and active princess who forges her own destiny. The differences are dramatic, but the attitude is respectful. It pays tribute rather than takes the Mickey (Mouse).
The visual style also seems a loving nod to classic Disney. The photorealism seems oned down to give it the less textured and stylised feel of an early 2D Disney film like Snow White.
The only drawback is that it takes the original edge off Pixar's work for them to be playing in such familiar territory. This is not a lonely robot (WALL-E) or an old man in a hot air balloon house (Up), it is the more familiar princess in a castle.
So, where does Brave sit in the Pixar canon? It is certainly not classic Pixar. The story mechanics take a while to get going and there is an over-reliance on magic to keep the plot moving forward. Surprising for a studio that prides itself on story.
If the Toy Story trilogy is at the top and Cars 2 is at the bottom, then Brave is probably mid-table. It is not Finding Nemo or Ratatouille, but it is still good.
Pixar is a bit like sex and pizza. Even when they are bad, they are good.
But, what do you think? What is the best Pixar movie? What do you think of Brave? Let me know.
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