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Non-Review Review: Brave

Brave is certainly a significant improvement upon Cars 2, even if it doesn’t necessarily measure up the finest films in the Pixar stable. Part of the problem is the sense that, for the first time, the studio is telling a story that isn’t really their own. I know that particular films in the studio’s history owe a great deal to certain influences (The Incredibles to The Fantastic Four, for example), but Brave really feels like the studio is very much trying to put its own take on the conventional “Disney Princess” movie. While the results are certainly interesting, it never feels like Braveis entirely comfortable with itself. While the film is, technically speaking, quite impressive, it does feel like it never quite strikes the right balance.

The right to bear arms…

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Home of the Brave: Is Brave a Pixar Princess Movie?

I have to admit, I’m having a hard time getting too excited about Brave. To be honest, the notion of an original Pixar movie should be a breath of fresh air after the incredibly disappointing Cars 2. The studio is, after all, responsible for quite a few modern classics – those rare cinematic treats that the entire family can sit down and enjoy together. However, despite my deep-biding affection for classics like Wall-E, Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles or any of the Toy Story films, I can’t seem to be too concerned about the approaching release of the studio’s latest animated effort. I can’t help but feel that – despite the fact it’s their first film that isn’t a sequel in quite some time – we’ve seen this all before.

Is Brave just a Pixar “princess” movie, the spiritual successor to the long line of Disney “princess” movies?

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Non-Review Review: Finding Nemo

You know, even after all this time, I think that Finding Nemo views with The Incredibles as my favourite Pixar production. I respect and appreciate the sheer artistry and technical skill that went into Wall-E and I think Uprepresents the company’s most mature work to date, but I think Nemo perfectly captures everything that I love about the company – the maturity, the humour, the adventure, the technical skill of it all. Plus it has perhaps the best voice cast of the films.

The life aquatic...

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Pixar and the Weight of Expectation…

Well, it probably had to happen. I know it’s probably not statistically impossible, just highly improbable – but I guess that I always knew (deep down) that Pixar’s batting average was too good to last. I mean, I (at the very least) really like all of their films, and I genuinely love the majority of them. And that fact is borne out by the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of the various films. The vast majority rank in the 90% to 100% range, something any studio would kill for: Toy Story (100%), A Bug’s Life (91%), Toy Story 2 (100%), Monsters Inc (95%), Finding Nemo (98%), The Incredibles (97%), Ratatouille (96%), Wall-E (96%), Up (98%), Toy Story 3 (99%). Even the single film that ranks lowest, the only one not in the range, still had mostly positive reviews, Cars with 74%. However, Cars 2 looks to have bucked that winning trend, with reviews that not only fall far short of Pixar’s impressive average, but is actually pretty negative.

I can’t help but feel more than a little bit sad.

Do Pixar need to get in gear?

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Up, Up and… Away?

I’m a huge Pixar fan – I always have been. I’ve seen every film they’ve released since Toy Story, and the only one that has disappointed me was Ratatouille. The studio is one that manages to be obscenely crowd-pleasing while seemingly equally risk-taking, seemingly disproving the notion that mainstream audiences dislike challenging entertainment – let alone challenging animation.

"Merchandise this!"

"Merchandise this!"

Still, I’m a little surprised at the assertion that Up might be the studio’s riskiest commercial venture yet. There are a whole host of convincing arguments that suggest that the company is making a risky gambit – from the commercial-based suggestion the movie isn’t as toyetic as Cars or Toy Story to the reasonably valid observation that the film may alienate younger viewers by focusing on a lonely old man rather than more visually appealing characters like Monsters Inc. or Ratatouille – but I’m not convinced.

Wall-E finds himself on top of the heap

Wall-E finds himself on top of the heap

In defense of my point, I point to Wall-E. The movie was the most breathtaking major release last year, and my third favourite film of the year (it was also my girlfriend’s favourite) – and before you label me as an indie-loving arthouse snob, my top two were The Dark Knight and Frost/Nixon. The film was about as non-commercial as you can get: next to no dialogue for the superior first half, an almost invisible bad guy in the autopilot, a lead cast that couldn’t speak and a soppy robotic romance. Yet somehow the film made over $500m at the world-wide box office (58% of which came from outside the US). Clearly the guys at Pixar know what they were doing.

I’ll admit that Up has (pardon the pun) an uphill climb. In the United States it’s opening in one of the most crowded Mays on record. It doesn’t really have much direct completion (save the delightfully titled Drag Me To Hell – I doubt it’s the same market), but Star Trek, Wolverine and Terminator will still be playing at the matinee. The more direct threat for the family money is opening only a week before. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonion will be arrive in theatres on May 22nd. Still, I think Pixar can do it. They always do.

Maybe I should be a little relieved, though, that the movie isn’t opening in Ireland until October.

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Up is the latest film from Pixar, starring the vocal talents of Edward Asner (Freakazoid, Batman: The Animated Series) and Christopher Plummer (Inside Man, The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). It opens 29th May 2009 in the United States and 16th October 2009 in the UK.