Brave

June 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Directed by: Mark Andrews (debut), Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of  Egypt”), Steve Purcell (debut)
Written by: Mark Andrews (“John Carter”), Brenda Chapman (“Cars”), Steve Purcell (debut), and Irene Mecchi (“The Lion King”)

As refreshing and empowering as it is to see an animated film where the main female princess protagonist isn’t waiting around for Prince Charming to whisk her off her feet and ride into the sunset, “Brave,” Pixar’s newest addition to their immensely impressive catalog (with the exception of the “Cars” franchise), isn’t what you’d expect from a studio whose focus has always been great storytelling. In fact, “Brave” borrows so much from past Disney contributions, it’s really difficult to refer to it as an original screenplay.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the technical animated aspects of “Brave,” you still can’t get any better than Pixar animators. The detailed scenery in Scotland where the story takes place is breathtaking as is the creation of the lovely, red-headed Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a young, rebellious princess who refuses to marry a suitor (Princess Jasmine, anyone?) based on tradition and her mother’s wishes. Merida sees herself as a strong-minded warrior who can stand up for herself.

Instead, Merida, whose hair color was obviously chosen because of her fiery spirit, runs off only to complicate things when she meets a witch who casts a spell on her family. It’s at this point of the story where “Brave” veers off ineffectively. The twist is so silly and has no real bearing on the overall mother/daughter relationship narrative at the forefront. Merida is a vibrant character and MacDonald’s voice work brings her to life and offers little girls an opportunity to see themselves in the role of the hero. The last time Pixar got close to this was the mother and daughter characters in 2004’s superhero feature “The Incredibles.” Disney did the last really successful job with the female hero in 2010’s “Tangled.”

While “Brave” has its scene-stealers (Merida’s trio of trouble-making little brothers will cause the most laughter), the script is lacking in imagination and conflict. Give Pixar credit for trying something they hadn’t before in their 17-year history, but “Brave” feels more like a miniscule speck floating around in a grand Pixar universe.

The Lion King 3D

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton

My 3-year-old godson Leo (yes, how very fitting) jumps around the movie theater and munches on a cookie as he awaits the start of “The Lion King 3D.” It’s only the second time he has ever been in front of a big screen, but he seems to know the drill. A cozy reserved nook between his mom and dad is warming up and his popcorn/drink combo is arranged perfectly for consumption. Mom holds a cardboard Pumba mask on her lap for safekeeping.

Squeals from eager pre-schoolers crescendo as parents and grandparents discuss how old they were in 1994 when the classic animated film first hit theaters. It’s exactly the environment Disney was hoping for when the studio decided to re-release “The Lion King” for a limited two-week theatrical run in anticipation of next month’s release of the Blu-ray/DVD Diamond Edition (in case you missed the Platinum Edition back in 2003).

In the theater, there is a hint of nostalgia mixed with the excitement of a new generation of kiddies who have yet to experience the humorous shenanigans of the goofy hyena villains or the catchy albeit now-slightly-annoying philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.”

As a purist, I hang onto my heavy-duty 3D glasses begrudgingly, but know I’ll probably get a migraine if I don’t conform to Disney’s movie-watching demands. The massive wildebeest stampede and Scar’s Third Reich-inspired musical number were already phenomenal 17 years ago without the additional dimension, so what’s really the point?

I scoff when the lights in the theater dim and the Disney logo becomes slightly blurred forcing me to toss on my specs. I turn to look at Leo, who has already wedged into his spot comfortably. His eyes are fixated on the screen as an animated sun rises and a mighty “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” echoes from the speakers and sets off what I still consider four of the most spectacular minutes in Disney cinematic history.

A calming sensation washes over me and I think about the first time I saw a Disney cartoon at the theater with my family. I was three years old when they re-released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1983 and remember it vividly. Leo was about to create a memory he would hopefully keep for the rest of his life. Who cared what format he’d see it in?

Just then, I turn to Leo to see his reaction to the brilliant opening scene. He has removed his glasses and is watching “The Lion King” just as intently. “He doesn’t want to wear them,” Leo’s mom says. For the rest of the movie, I lower my glasses every so often to feel just as courageous.