181-184: Harry Potter Marathon, Part 2

harry-potter-2

And here we are at the other end of our Harry Potter marathon and I must say that it hasn’t been the chore I was expecting it to be. Watching these movies in order in a short amount of time is really beneficial for someone like me… someone who hasn’t read the books. It keeps fresh the enormous amount of details that need to be remembered to make sense of it all and adds to the appreciation of this movie series.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

From now on the proverbial excrement hits the fan. At the end of Goblet of Fire we were witness to the resurrection of Voldemort and now the race begins to save the world from his clutches. With a new director at the helm, David Yates, who would go on to direct all the remaining movies, the series takes on a much more dire tone. Gone are the whimsical elements from the story up to make room for more teenage angst, ever more perilous adventures and dark secrets revealed. At Hogwarts the situation is worsened by the arrival of Dolores Umbridge, a spy for the Ministry played wonderfully by Imelda Staunton, who turns the school into something that more resembles a prison. Harry, meanwhile, tries to convince the world that Voldemort has indeed returned, but nobody wants to believe him. Even his friends start to doubt him. His inability to convince anyone and the doubts about his own role in the whole scheme of things start to take their toll on Harry. Thankfully Daniel Radcliffe is able to shoulder this burden and give Harry enough depth to make these trials believable. The character Harry Potter seems to be in capable hands.The film ends with a spectacular sequence inside the Ministry of Magic with wall-to-wall visual effects and another riveting confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. I had my problems with Order of the Phoenix, but they are outweighed by the enjoyment of so many of the other elements.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This is the point where I started to lose interest when the movies were first released. To be honest, I felt left out, because so many of the concepts in this movie were foreign to me. Much in Half-Blood Prince seemed only enjoyable when you actually had read the book. But now, with all five preceding movies still fresh in my head, I must admit that I was wrong. The puzzle pieces fell into place more easily now. You just have to really pay attention to ever detail, because everything comes back in some way, shape or form. In Half-Blood Prince a new element is introduced: the Horcrux, an object infused with part of someones soul. It turns out Voldemort has hidden several of these Horcruxes and Harry (together with Dumbledore) vows to retrieve all of them and destroy them, in order to weaken Voldemort to the point where he can be killed. This provides a framework for the rest of the movies with several encounters revolving around these objects. But that’s not all. Draco Malfoy is chosen as the sacrificial lamb to do Voldemort’s bidding, the Weasley home is attacked by Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius Black’s niece or killer, and a very important character is killed at the end of the movie. All very dramatic stuff. That is why the casting of Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn is so important to this movie. He is the perfect combination of lighthearted and dramatic. His acting is a breath of fresh air in the often quite heavy atmosphere of the Harry Potter world. Imelda Staunton had the same task in Order of the Phoenix, providing comic relief. All in all I really liked Half-Blood Prince, mostly because of the intense dramatic moments.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

And so the ending begins. Battle lines are being drawn, sides are taken. Harry, Hermione and Ron are on the run from the Death Eaters, who have taken over the Ministry and attacked the wedding between Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour. From that point on the story of Part 1 becomes a road movie about our three heroes trying to make sense of the whole mess. Ron becomes more and more angry at Harry for not doing enough to safe the wizarding world, Hermione is trying real hard to solve all the riddles that are thrown at them and Harry is hard to work to find the remaining Horcruxes without getting himself killed. If you are expecting a rollicking adventure movie this time around you are in for a surprise. While there are certainly moments where the story picks up the pace, the majority of Part 1 takes on a very subdued tone. A quiet before the storm, if you will. Once again, watching Part 1 in the theater was a boring and confounding experience for me. I hardly knew what a Horcrux or a Death Eater were, so you can imagine that this time around I liked Part 1 a lot more. I started to feel a lot of empathy for these kids who are thrust into this otherworldly adventure that is way beyond their years. No child or teen should be made to carry this burden. One of the most endearing moments comes when Harry asks Hermione to dance at one of the worst moments possible and for a few minutes they forget everything that is happening around them to enjoy the moment as they should have if the circumstances were different. Although the movie as a whole may not be the most exciting adventure of them all, I think this installment has a lot of heart and in that regard is a good setup to what is to come next.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

And what comes next is the culmination of everything that transpired prior to Part 2. Voldemort has acquired the tools and the army to once and for all to take over the wizarding world. Everything comes to a spectacular close with Harry and his friends trying to discover the last Horcruxes, the Order of the Phoenix taking back Hogwarts and ultimately Harry preparing himself for his all important duel with Voldemort. As with every installment of the Harry Potter series. A lot of ground has to be covered before we get to where we are going. It is understandable that they split Deathly Hallows into two parts. If the book is half as dense as the movies, than that is one hell of a book to get through. Together these movies take up nearly four and a half hours of your time and not a lot of it is wasted on frivolous nonsense.

This is Harry Potter’s Return of the Jedi. This is the moment everything comes together and the big finale kicks off. Thinking back to the first movies in the series I didn’t think these kids could have acted their way out of a paper bag when the story would become more dramatic, but they have grown… a lot. Radcliffe still isn’t the best actor ever, but he holds his own across from a powerhouse like Ralph Fiennes. I could get behind what he was going through and that is a lot more than I expected. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are still his trusty sidekicks and though there is a lot of frowning and scowling going on they carry the weight of everything their characters went through on their shoulders.

I really liked the way Deathly Hallows worked out. A lot of the loose ends were tied up neatly, even though Rowling needed a sizable flashback to do so. There were some surprises in there, but I got the feeling that there was so much information to be conveyed that the movie moved just a little too fast through it all. Maybe I have to watch it again sometime to get every last detail of the story (or maybe just read the books). One huge gripe I have with the concept of the Room of Requirement. In Order of the Phoenix it was nice, but since then it feels as a way of dealing with dead ends in the plot and having people move in and out of Hogwarts undetected. It got a little tiring to see it pop up again and again as a deus ex machina. Other than that I really liked Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

The Sum Total

Well, has this marathon changed my perception of the Harry Potter series? Absolutely. As I said at the beginning, I had seen all these movies (minus one) before, but never fully appreciated the arc Harry Potter goes through during these movies. It is actually a great story about somebody who has to carry an enormous burden before he is in any way capable of doing that and the way he copes with that responsibility. Next to the story that is engaging and fun there is the enormous technical achievement of these movies. Producer David Heyman managed to produce eight (!) major blockbuster movies in about twelve years or so. These movies have beautiful scenery, fantastic art direction and spectacular visual effects, all of them produced on an extremely tight schedule. Like the Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter movies deserve an honorary Oscar or something for the sheer audacity of attempting this undertaking. And on top of that Heyman got the original cast to stick around when everybody was saying they could never pull that off.

It was a good decision to do this marathon, because it opened my eyes a little to what other people are so wildly enthusiastic about. It still isn’t Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but it has certainly made me curious and what do you know maybe I will read the books one day.

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174-177: Harry Potter Marathon, Part 1

This is part one of a Harry Potter marathon me and my wife are doing over the next two weeks or so. I was pleasantly surprised that the 8-film Blu-ray collection was back on the shelves last weekend and took the opportunity to revisit these movies. Mind you, I have never read any of the books so my opinion will not be tainted by adaptation, omissions or changes. I do have to admit that I was never a really big fan of the Harry Potter series. I just wasn’t able to buy into all the fuss that surrounded them. I have seen all but one (the last), and am curious how they will come across now that I am going to watch them as one long series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Where it all began. Chris Columbus took the helm of the behemoth undertaking that was to become one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history. By this time the Harry Potter books were already a success, so anticipation was high and Columbus didn’t disappoint. He managed (together with screenwriter Steve Kloves) to compress J.K. Rowling’s introduction of Harry Potter and his friends into a wonderfully whimsical fantasy adventure. We are thrown from one wondrous scene to the next and are treated to a nice little mystery that ends in a whopper of a teaser for what was to come with the evil Voldemort doing his evil doings. While the movie is certainly a triumph, there is also quite a bit to point out that isn’t perfect. Throughout the movie we feel Columbus constantly wants to do more, but he is bound by the enormous tome that has to be represented within the running time (which is a staggering 152 minutes). There are parts of the movie that are just there to service the exposition and introduction of all the characters, which otherwise could have been omitted. Some of these parts feel choppy and rushed. You also feel this is (as our heroes) the most immature of the stories. This is totally understandable, of course, and that also makes Sorcerer’s Stone the most  child friendly of the series. Although I still won’t let my five-year old watch it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets was to me a vast improvement over the first movie. I loved the fact that Columbus dared to take the movie down a much darker path with several scenes that were genuinely scary. Now, ten years later, I still like Chamber of Secrets very much. The kids have aged a little bit and aren’t as extremely young as they were in Sorcerer’s Stone. The stakes are a bit higher with people actually getting hurt during the movie. Harry has to really give it his all to fight the evils that lurk underneath Hogwart’s castle. There are, however, still moments that invoke the dreaded deus ex machine, like the sudden appearance of the Phoenix during the final battle. It tells me that either Rowling or Kloves were struggling there and took the easy way out. It took me out of the movie for a moment. The addition of Dobby the house elf, on the hand, is fantastic. What a great character he turned out to be. His total lack of self-respect is endearing in a way and his vindication at the end is a great moment in the movie. Chamber of Secrets has the good fortune of not being encumbered by the necessity to explain everything about our heroes. It dives right in and doesn’t stop until the 161 minute running time is over. I assure you that those minutes will fly by before you realize it.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Many point at Prisoner of Azkaban as one of their favorite Harry Potter installments. I don’t see it. I don’t particularly like the third part in the this enormous series. This has several reasons. First is the tone. Director Alfonso Cuarón decided to leave behind the slightly more cheerful color palette of the Columbus chapters in favor of a nearly bleached out color spectrum that sucks all the wonder out the movie. And it is wonder that drove the first two movies. Second is the intensely choppy nature of the screenplay. I admire some of the obstacles Rowling introduces into the world of Harry Potter, like the genuinely scary Dementors. These soul sucking monsters look like they have been lifted from the pages of a Tolkien novel, but that doesn’t make them any less creepy. There are however enough moments that are so shamelessly manipulative (like Ron keeping his hand against the window in the train, or the flight of the hippogriff) that it takes me out of the movie every time. The final sequence with the time travelling is fun and all, but could the story not have been told without that gimmick? Are there positive aspects to Prisoner of Azkaban? Sure, the movie looks gorgeous, even in its almost black and white color scheme. The addition of more British heavy hitters (David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall) to the supporting cast lends more gravity to the movie. I think people think this is one of the best installments because of the shock value after first seeing part two and then Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

When I first saw Goblet of Fire back in 2006 I was terribly disappointed. Somehow the movie didn’t connect with me in any way and it in fact annoyed the hell out of me. Maybe the dreadful haircuts of the boys were to blame, or the overtly teenage problems the characters were dealing with. Maybe I was a bit too cynical at that time. I don’t know. What I do know is that I like Goblet of Fire quite a bit more this time around. While the first fifteen minutes still feel like an extreme aggregation of what really transpired, the rest felt like a real adventure for everybody involved. Harry has to cope with being the fourth contender in this ludicrous tournament, while also being plagued by nightmares that foreshadow an event that will rock Harry’s world later in the movie. On the other side there are Ron and Hermione, who have their own problems to deal with. Ron is fed up with being the third wheel and starts to stand up to Harry. However annoying and unreasonable he may be. This is typical teenage behavior and completely fitting. Also fitting is Hermione’s blossoming into an attractive young woman. For the first time she is occupied with the possibility of something else than always having her nose in a book. It is lovely to see that these two characters also get their moments to develop themselves. Then there are the challenges, which are all fun and exciting sequences. Tie those elements together and you have a really fun adventure with a tremendous pay-off where we finally get to experience Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort in full force. It feels like Goblet of Fire is just the right combination of the wonder of past movies and the seriousness of the coming movies.

Soon part 2 of this duology.

171-173: ParaNorman, Cosmopolis, Skyfall

171: ParaNorman

With ParaNorman, animation company Laika has made themselves a force to be reckoned with. After the flawed, but charming Corpse Bride and the downright awesome Coraline they have shown that they can tackle grown-up while simultaneously entertaining young and old alike. ParaNorman fits perfectly within that description. This story about a young boy who can see the dead wandering around is a touching story about being different and embracing that ways that make us unique and interesting. It goes to places where you never thought it could go. It plays with your expectations and several times gives the audience something to think about. All the while we are treated to beautiful animation, perfect pacing and hilarious comedy. The pacing comes to the for when we are treated to quiet character moments followed by raucous action fun and never do the transitions feel jarring. The comedy is everywhere. From tiny moments between Norman and the ghosts to the zombie invasion in the village that suddenly takes a turn for the unexpected. I loved ParaNorman from start to finish. In fact, I felt this would be a special movie when I watched the first trailer. Highly recommended and a certain contender for my top ten for 2012.

172: Cosmopolis

David Cronenberg is more and more removing himself from the type of movies we have come to know him for. No more body horror for him, but something that resembles psychological horror. Earlier this year I watched A Dangerous Method, which was not a movie I could get behind (for whatever reason). Now it is Cosmopolis, a movie that I want to like so bad, but am having a hard time doing so. Cosmopolis, based on a novel by Don DeLillo, is about a young man who wants nothing more than a haircut. The problem is that his regular barber shop is on the other side of Manhattan and the streets are about to be overrun by protesters who want nothing more than to lynch our hero. This is because he is a very wealthy and successful investment banker and that makes him a prime target for them. On top of all that he sees his empire crumble in front of his eyes during the day. It is a strange journey on which he almost never leaves his limo and meets several people he has conversations with.

I stress this last bit, because most of Cosmopolis consists of conversations of the highest sort. Like A Dangerous Method, you really have to keep your attention with the film or else you will lose chunks of relevant (and sometimes not so relevant) dialogue. I like these kinds of movies where dialogue plays a big part, but it usually takes me a couple of viewings to grasp the whole picture. Can I recommend Cosmopolis? That’s a difficult question. It all depends on your willingness to have your ears do more of the work than your eyes. For the most past I like the direction Cronenberg has been going in the last few years (A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are brilliant movies), but I also wish he would once in a while go back to the more outlandish subjects he tackled in movies like The Fly and eXistenZ. Who doesn’t love some freakish body horror every so often?

173: Skyfall

James Bond has never been a slam dunk for me. I can appreciate the action sequences and the strange situations Bond finds himself in on a regular basis. But there always is a nagging resistance in the back of my mind that prevents me from loving these movies the way a lot of other people do. This new incarnation has been up and down for me. I liked Casino Royale, but that was more due to the bold turn the series took. I was stunned that I was incredibly bored by Quantum of Solace. Now we have the third Daniel Craig James Bond movie, titled Skyfall, and it falls somewhere in between these two earlier installments. I liked Skyfall, I truly did, but I constantly got the feeling that we have seen it all before. How many times have we seen a list of secret agents get into the wrong hands? How many times have we seen people hacking into computers to get their way? How many times have we seen the bad guy be captured (willing or not) to hedge some nefarious scheme? It has all been done before. Maybe this is because Bond has been around for fifty years by now and the stories run a little thin after all that time. As a spy thriller there is a lot to like about Skyfall. It is fast paced, funny at times, and full of drama that doesn’t actually involve Bond. As an entry in the Bond continuum I must this is one of the better entries, but as a movie in the free world among other movies I don’t count this as a great movie.

166: Wreck-It Ralph

When I saw the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph earlier this year I was instantly intrigued. As a gamer I don’t think about what happens when I turn off my Xbox, just as I hadn’t thought about the lives of my toys before watching Toy Story. In a way Wreck-It Ralph could be called Game Story. It turns out the games we play (and played) at the arcade were actually inhabited by the very game characters we control. One of them is Wreck-It Ralph, the arch nemesis of Fix-It Felix. Ralph is a Donkey Kong-like character who climbs on top of buildings to destroy it and to be thrown off at the end of the game. After years of being the bad guy (or as they say in bad guy therapy: “You may be a bad guy, but that doesn’t mean you are a bad guy.”) Ralph decides he has had enough.

One of the things I was curious about was the amount of references the makers of Wreck-It Ralph would put into their movie. It turns out there are quite a lot at the beginning of the movie. It is a virtual who’s-who of characters and as a gamer I am sure to go back and see which are represented. A really great trick in the animation is the way the 8-bit characters are animated. Their jerky motions are really great (though it is strange that Felix and Ralph move normally, hmmm). While there is a lot to see at the start the references start to fade in favor of something else: story and character. Wreck-It Ralph is a great movie that tells kids that everybody is meant to do what they are good at. If that means you are to be the bad guy, you should do it with all your heart. It is good to aspire to be better at what you do, but know what you are good at.

Well, with that said, this is in no way a preachy movie. The message is there, but never in the foreground. What is in the foreground is a finely animated adventure movie full of comedy, fast-paced action and insightful character drama. For instance, Ralph is helped along the way by a cute girly avatar called Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman. She wants to be a racer so bad, but because she has a glitch in her programming she isn’t allowed to do so. She has to overcome her handicap to become what she dreams of. Ralph and Vanellope strike up a friendship that will help them realize what’s out there for them. The same goes for Fix-It Felix (perfectly voiced by 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer). He has always been this good guy character, but he never realized what that meant to Ralph. Everybody gains a level of understanding about each other. Something a lot of people could learn something from.

> IMDb

162-165: Magic Mike, Haywire, Iron Fists, Nemo

162: Magic Mike

During the production of Haywire director Steven Soderbergh struck up a conversation with one of his stars Channing Tatum. It turned out Tatum had quite a history. When he was a young guy he used to earn his living stripping on stage in front of hundreds of screaming women. This intrigued Soderbergh and he decided to turn Tatum’s story into a movie, something Tatum was all too happy to be a part of. Tatum chose to play himself in the movie. Mike (Tatum) is a young stripper who is very good at his job, but he really wants more out of his life. He likes to design furniture, for instance. One day he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and makes it his mission to induct him into the wild life of stripping. The boy turns out to be something of a talent. All the while Mike is working with his boss Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) to open a new bar in Miami, where supposedly the real money can be made. There are some entanglements with Adam’s sister and of course everything goes sour in the end. Well, let’s just say this is not a movie one watched for the story. It is like Top Gun for women. It is fairly safe to say they watch Magic Mike for the performances of the men, not the intricacies of the plot. I am not entirely the best person to judge the performances, but I can recognize that there is a high level of competence on display there. It helps that Tatum has some experience in the matter. Magic Mike is enjoyable if male stripping is your thing.

163: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh knows how to direct people with limited acting prowess. Look at Out of Sight, one of my favorite movies ever, and you will see Jennifer Lopez acting her heart out like never before or again. The same goes for Gina Carano in Haywire, Soderbergh’s first foray into the pure action movie genre. Carano used to be a professional fighter, but when Soderbergh saw her do her thing he wanted her in this movie. A wise choice, because what he needed in this movie was somebody who knows how to fight and make it look believable and Carano is not somebody you want to get into an argument with. She may be beautiful, but she will rip you to shreds if need be. She takes on Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and several others and every time you will be on the edge of your seat. Soderbergh frames everything in a very matter-of-fact way which lends a frantic reality to the movie. In addition to the action the movie is also surprisingly slow and introspective. That surprised me and reminded me of Soderbergh’s excellent thriller The Limey. There is a beautiful restraint to Haywire. The story may be fairly forgettable, but the action sequences and characters will be remembered for a long time.

164: The Man with the Iron Fists

Sometimes a person’s obsession should stay behind closed doors. A shining example of this is RZA’s obsession with kung fu movies and his directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists. RZA (or Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) worked with Quentin Tarantino on the Kill Bill movies because of his seemingly limitless knowledge of kung fu movies and the sound effects used in these movies. It is this connection with Tarantino that undoubtedly made The Man with the Iron Fists a possibility, because I can’t think of a single other reason why this movie would have been made. Who would give a first-time director a big pile of money to direct his own debut screenplay and star in it himself? Nobody, unless you have people like Tarantino and Eli Roth (Hostel) backing you. This would of course not have been a problem if the movie in question had been good, which it is not. The Man with the Iron Fists is a jumbled ultra-violent mess with a lot of squandered potential. There are some great ideas here, which, in the right hands, would have made for a great tribute to a movie genre a lot of people love. The truth is, however, that a lot of the movies in the kung fu genre aren’t any good and The Man with the Iron Fists belongs to that group.

165: Finding Nemo 3D

Finding Nemo is my favorite Pixar movie. It has been for years. Toy Story 3 came close to dethroning Finding Nemo, but little details kept that movie from taking the top spot. After all these years Nemo is still a flawless movie. It flows perfectly from beginning to end and never veers from its path. It presents some of the best characters created for an animated movie (Bruce in particular). I still crack up at the same jokes as years ago, I still choke up at the same moments and I have seen Finding Nemo probably dozens of times since its release. Now that I have aged a little with the movie other things come into play. Since then I have become a dad twice and now I view it more through the eyes of Marlin, not Nemo. I recognize his reluctance to let his precious kid go, because that’s how I sometimes feel and then my oldest goes off and amazes me with everything he is capable of. It is hard to realize that Finding Nemo will be ten years old next year. It is as stunning as ever with its vibrant colors and beautiful compositions. Now, in 3D, I got to experience it again on the big screen with my kid who had only seen it on the small screen. He loved it… twice. The 3D didn’t really add that much to the movie. It was very subtle and never as eye-popping as it could have been. I think that sometimes the creators of these 3D editions could go a little further, but I guess they are being conservative after all the backlash in recent years.

Magic Mike @ IMDb
Haywire @ IMDb
The Man with the Iron Fists @ IMDb
Finding Nemo @ IMDb

126: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

What if you had to eat sardines for the rest of your life? You would start to invent some machine to change your fate, right? And Flint Lockwood happens to be an inventor who has been thinking up stuff his whole life. Shoes with laces that don’t come undone, the remoteless television, ratbirds and now the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator or FLDSMDFR, for short. This contraption is capable of creating anything that is considered food. From hamburger to steaks, from ice cream to spaghetti with meatballs. Exactly the thing a sardine-ridden island needs, right?

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is as quirky as the premise make it seem. This is an animated movie without boundaries and I love it. Cloudy is like nothing I had seen before. At first it was a little unsettling. The characters are very cartoony, the colors are so bright it almost hurts your eyes and the story is so out there you really need to rewire your brain to make sense of it. Once you have done that you can let the wacky nature of Cloudy wash over you. Phil Lord and Chris Miller based their screenplay on a children’s book of the same name by Judi Barrett, but did not adopt its visual style. They went with a very different look, a look I actually prefer over the book.

I have now seen Cloudy numerous times, because my kids love it so much. While other movies have the tendency to become annoying after twenty or so viewings, Cloudy doesn’t seem to do that. With every viewing (mostly from the corner of my eye while doing other stuff) I discover new jokes, visual details, and other brilliant bits that escaped me on all those earlier viewings. It is a virtual smörgåsbord of hidden references and snappy dialogue. It is not often that a movie can stay surprising for such a long time.

While being incredibly funny Cloudy is also a great morality tale for the youngsters (and old folk) out there. It teaches them to respect and admire that which you have over what you desire. Flint is so occupied with creating this brilliant new future for his community that he starts to neglect his relationship with his father, whose business almost goes belly up due to Flint’s inventions. And it teaches kids that being yourself is always better than presenting yourself as something you are not, as Anna Faris’ Sam finds out. There is a beautiful layer of wise truths to be found underneath all that happens in Cloudy. I heartily recommend Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to anyone who hasn’t seen it and to anyone who has seen it I say, go revisit it. You will not be disappointed.

> IMDb

121: Brave

Pixar has been a part of the Disney Corporation since 2006. Before that they worked under the understanding that they could do whatever it wanted, Disney would show their movies to the world and they’d split the profits somehow. It was a beautiful alliance that brought us gems like Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. If you would ask John Lasseter, Pixar’s mastermind, if their independence has changed since Disney’s takeover he would probably tell you that it is still intact. But Pixar’s latest effort, Brave, tells a different story.

Brave is a Disney movie with every fiber of its being. We have a plucky princess, Merida, who wants nothing more than to break the mold. She is expected to take on a husband and lead a life of relative servitude, while she just wants to ride in the woods on the back of her trusty steed shooting arrows at targets. This of course upsets her mother and the tensions rise. Merida runs away and seeks advice from a mysterious witch who provides her with a spell that will perhaps change Merida’s mother’s mind a bit. Well, it changes quite a bit more than that and a race against time is a fact. Merida needs to find a way to get her mother back and in the meantime erase a black page in Scotland’s history.

Don’t get me wrong, Brave is a fun movie to watch. It is a stunning display of the level of proficiency the people at Pixar possess. The detail in the rendering of the Scottish Highlands is astonishing. You can almost feel the moss on the rocks. I did not see it in 3D, but it was digital projection and it was glorious. Two thumbs up right there. The rest, not so much. The character animation is decent, but incredibly cartoony. It felt like Brave could have used a little less slapstick to offset the strange magical occurrences later in the movie. That’s where Merida’s little brothers come in. They are triplets, but they serve no larger purpose than to be comic relief with a little involvement at a late stage in the movie. There are solely there to create more merchandise for the Disney Stores to sell. A lot in Brave feels like padding for a script that was actually just about an hour long.

Brave reminded me a lot of other Disney properties. There is a great tradition of Disney princesses trying to change their fate (a word used a lot in Brave to hammer the point home) to create a better life for themselves. Ariel, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, all of them strong female role models. There is nothing wrong with that, and if Brave had been a strict Disney production, like Tangled, I would have probably settled for that. but Lasseter’s Pixar has set the bar so ridiculously high for themselves that a production like Brave just falls short. Like Cars 2 before it, Brave is just subp-ix-ar (sorry, pun intended).

What is the cause of this gradual decline in Pixar’s quality? I think it is age. When Lasseter and his people took the idea of Toy Story and made it into the phenomenon it became, nobody knew when the sky would be the limit. Lasseter gathered a brilliant group of directors around him (Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich) and threw a challenge in their lap: “Create worlds we have never seen before, even though we have no idea whether we can make it happen”. We know what came of that and we are forever grateful for that. It made other studios step up their game, which made the world look at animation differently.

Now the men and women who made Pixar what it is are starting to fan out to other challenges and they seem to be taking a piece of the magic with them and that breaks my heart. For fifteen years we have been eagerly expecting every new release Pixar was preparing and now that seems to not be the case anymore, at least for me. As much as I liked Monsters Inc., I am not really looking forward to Monsters University. Even a fourth Toy Story doesn’t really appeal to me after the way they finished Toy Story 3. I am very worried that Disney’s influence is becoming a little too dominant within the hallowed halls of Pixar. Does that mean you shouldn’t go watch Brave? No, enjoy it for what it is and hope Pixar gets their act together in the future.

> IMDb