Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive – Walt Disney

Tag Archives: Brave

2012 has been a bit of a mixed bag for cinema. There have been many notable disappointments, and a fair few pleasant surprises to balance it out, too. Animation wise, I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve seen this year, but I still wish there would be far more done in my preferred medium, good old hand drawn and 2D. Thankfully, two of the best animations of the year, both from Japan, are still to be given a wide release in the UK, so you can look forward to that in 2013. Here are my thoughts on 2012 in cinema. It’s quite long, but you might enjoy reading it on the toilet on your smart phone.

Best Performance: Animation

Hugh Grant – The Pirate Captain, The Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists

The latest offering from Aardman, a lovably daft stop-motion animation chock full of their trademark visual jokes, all revolved around the irrepressibly silly and rather useless Pirate Captain at the centre of it all. Hugh Grant, erstwhile boring English rom com star and the scourge of News International, finds incredible form here in the best overall voice cast of the year. He’s wonderfully British, and his bluster and pride only makes him all the more sympathetic when his plans don’t quite go according to plan. He may not hit the heights of Peter Sallis’ immortal voice work as Wallace, but he nevertheless makes The Pirate Captain one of the most lovable, memorable animated characters of the year.

Honourable Mentions: Jude Law, Pitch, Rise of the Guardians, Alec Baldwin, North, Rise of the Guardians, Kelly Macdonald, Merida, Brave

Best Performance: Live Action 

Domnhall Gleeson – Levin, Anna Karenina

Levin

When I first saw it, my biggest problem with Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina was that the central character, Anna, was so conceited and self centred that the whole film was left a little cold. Were we supposed to root for her or hate her? Both seemed quite unpalatable options. Upon second viewing, however, it was Domnhall Gleeson’s restrained, passionate performance as Levin that truly won me over to the film. It helps that Levin is a far more sympathetic character, but it is Gleeson’s portrayal of him, as a bashful, heartfelt outsider in the aristocratic world of the city, that really lifts the film. Some may find it cloying, but I was fully won over round about the point where he declares his love for Kitty (Alicia Vikander) using a child’s spelling blocks.

Honourable Mentions: Quvenzhané Wallis, Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Elle Fanning, Ginger, Ginger and Rosa, Suraj Sharma, Pi, Life of Pi

Best Visuals: Animation

ParaNorman

Traditional animation styles are always going to win out in this category for me, but ParaNorman truly blew me away with the sheer energy they manage to achieve with stop motion models. Not only is the jerky movement usually associated with the medium is totally absent, but they are astoundingly ambitious with the action sequences. Car chases, giant storms and violent trees all make this the most astonishing piece of stop motion animation ever. When you consider the craft that goes into this, it makes it all the more impressive.

Honourable Mentions: Brave, The Pirates: In An Adventure with Scientists, A Cat in Paris, Rise of the Guardians

Best Visuals: Live Action

Vivan Las Antipodas!

vivan las antipodasIt’s unlikely that you’ve seen Vivan Las Antipodas as it is hardly likely to be hitting a multiplex near you, or any cinema for that matter, in the immediate future. I was lucky enough to catch this conceptual documentary at Edinburgh Film Festival, and I was astonished by what I saw. The idea is that documentarian Victor Kossakovsky looks at Antipodean points – that is, two places that are diametrically opposed in the world – and sees how life is different (or similar) in these worlds apart. It’s an abstract, absorbing film with very little content but somehow ends up being both moving and inspiring, and Kossakovsky captures our planet in a way unlike anything I’ve seen before. I don’t know when you’ll be able to see this, but make sure you do, as soon as you can.

Honourable Mentions: Life of Pi, The Mirror Never Lies

Best Score: Animation

Takagi Masakatsu, Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Takagi Masakatsu does what the best film composers do – he captures the feelings of the characters on screen and expresses them through music. And as much of the film is concerned with the joys of childhood, and follows two children as they grow up, this makes for an uplifting, energetic musical accompaniment to the film. Certain scenes, when Masakatsu’s score plays a prominent role, really make Wolf Children quite an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Honourable Mentions: Patrick Doyle, Brave, Satoshi Takebe, From Up on Poppy Hill

 

Best Score: Live Action

Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

This isn’t just my favourite score of the year, it’s my favourite album of the year, too. A vibrant mixture of Cajun folk music and soaring trumpet motifs, complimented by singers from Louisiana, this feels as authentic and magical as the film itself. The music that plays over the credits (you can find it on youtube, it’s called Once There Was A Hushpuppy) is one of the most powerful pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

Honourable Mention: Johnny Greenwood, The Master

Biggest Disappointment: Animation

Hotel Transylvania

A great idea, a brilliant director (The Clone Wars’ Genndy Tartakovsky) and some really funny jokes all come to nothing when part of a bland plot with uninspired visuals and some really weak voice acting. I wanted to like this, and I stayed that way through most of the film, and then they had a singalong at the end and it lost me.

Biggest Disappointment: Live Action

The Dark Knight Rises

Christian BaleIt’s not really a bad film. I don’t think Christopher Nolan is capable of making a bad film. In fact, the first time I saw this I thought it was amazing – big on spectacle and ideas and with a great finale. And then I saw it again. Oh dear. The first act is just dull. Anne Hathaway prances around spouting some truly awful dialogue that wouldn’t look out of place in something like The Green Lantern, whilst Bruce Wayne mopes a lot then suddenly gets better because of some miracle leg brace. We never hear about any problems with his body again, for the whole film. Then the plot holes begin piling up, no one stops to question how stupid Bane’s plan is, we are treated to approximately 20 hours of back story that we don’t really care about, Robin turns up and just guesses Batman’s secret identity because of some miracle orphan connection and then Batman climbs out of a pit in Jodphur, India before making it back to Gotham in time to paint a bat signal on the side of the building and save the day. And what does he have to do to save the day? Stop the bad guy from setting off a bomb. What a wonderfully original idea. Presumably the studio then forced Christopher Nolan to have that ridiculous ending with the café in Florence. Really, this is one of the most dizzyingly stupid films of the year, but it masks it all by posing as an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. It’s also kind of boring.

Honourable Mentions: Almost all the blockbusters this year. The Hobbit and Prometheus were two that disappointed me on different levels. The Master was also a bit of a let down.

Biggest Surprise: Animation

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

No one really wanted another Madagascar sequel. Well, no one but critic and fellow animation fan @popcornaddict. Everyone else was kind of tired of this franchise, and far more interested in everything else that Dreamworks were up to. Then along came Madagascar 3 and suddenly it turned out to be a really funny, crazy adventure with a loose commitment to plot and a dedication to over the top slapstick. It’s not going to win any awards for script writing, but this is a bright, colourful film that just about everyone can enjoy. It almost, almost makes me want to see a Madagascar 4.

 

Biggest Surprise: Live Action

Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and friends

I’d never seen a Sally Potter film, I was under the impression that she was just a slightly experimental, weird film maker that was perhaps just a little too out there for my tastes. But I fancied a trip to one of my favourite cinemas, @Filmhouse, and the trailer kind of looked interesting. What I encountered was a gripping, emotionally charged drama about two teenagers and best friends who go their separate ways as one pursues politics where the other pursues men. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is fantastic, Elle Fanning gives one of the best performances of the year, and the period detail is superb. Unforgettable.

Honourable Mentions: Cabin in the Woods, Berberian Sound Studio, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Skyfall

What you may have missed: Animation

 A Cat in Paris

One of the token non-studio nominations for the Best Animated Feature Film, this slipped under the radars of most cinemas. It’s not an incredible animation, and is painfully hampered by one of the worst English dubs I’ve ever come across in an animation. But this has a jazzy, carefree style and some gorgeous picture book animation that makes this well worth checking out for any fans of the medium.

What you may have missed: Live Action

Grabbers

You may have missed Grabbers because the studio distributing it did that silly thing of an almost simultaneous cinema/DVD release. So it only came out on the big screen this boxing day, and on New Year’s Eve you should be able to purchase it on DVD and Blu-Ray. I heartily recommend you do so. It’s an alien invasion film set on a island off the coast of Ireland, with budget-defyingly brilliant CGI and a ballsy central conceit that makes the final act one of the most fun, outrageous pieces of cinema this year. Think The Guard meets Shaun of the Dead, although that comparison doesn’t really do this gem of a film justice. Essentially, it’s the best genre film of the year.

Honourable Mentions: Shadow Dancer and Elena are two criminally underseen films released this year. Both very thrilling, well worth your time.

Worst Film of the Year:

This Means War

Two spies fall in love with the same woman! They compete with each other to win her affections! This should be light hearted fun, right? WRONG. This Means War is the most vacuous, offensively stupid film of the year. I don’t know what I hated most: Tom Hardy’s smug, phoned in performance; the scene where the two men effectively stalk a woman with sophisticated technology so they can find out her secrets; the conversation two characters have about Hitchcock films; the fact that some people actually gave this positive reviews. Everything about this film is utterly abysmal, and what the portrayal of relationships in it is downright offensive. Awful, awful film making.

Honourable Mention: Dark Shadows

Best Film of the Year: Animation

Brave

An alternative brave poster by www.michaeldepippo.com

An alternative brave poster by http://www.michaeldepippo.com

I’ve explained my love of Brave on the site before so I won’t go into it here. Needless to say, I don’t buy in to the argument that this is a simple story that doesn’t dare to do anything different. It’s a moving, gorgeously animated film that has a beautiful relationship between a mother and daughter at its centre. The argument about which Pixar film is the best is slightly arbitrary, but I’ll say this much: I think this is the Pixar film with the biggest heart, and it is certainly my favourite.

Honourable Mentions: From Up on Poppy Hill, Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, Rise of the Guardians

 

Best Film of the Year: Live Action

Moonrise Kingdom/Beasts of the Southern Wild

Having two films as my favourite is something of a cop out, but I think, in some way, these two films are linked. They are both about America, they are both about childhood, they both celebrate imagination, they both have a big storm as a crucial plot point. These two visions of American childhood, however, take rather different approaches as one is an idealised, warm and symmetrical New England where children act like adults and vice versa. The other is a messy, poor and grainy Louisiana where children just want them and their parents to survive. Both are magnificent pieces of cinema.

Honourable Mentions: Anna Karenina, Berberian Sound Studio, Grabbers, Shadow Dancer, Elena, The Mirror Never Lies, Life of Pi, The Muppets


Animated films get really short shrift at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. The short story is that nobody ever considers them for genuine contention for Best Picture. Thankfully, however, dedicated animation enthusiasts and industry professionals can enjoy The Annie Awards, which are entirely dedicated to the art of animation. They are voted for by people that really know what they are talking about, and are also often a good indicator of what might go on to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. For all those awards fiends out there, the nominations are now in, and it’s not surprising to see three big studio pictures leading the pack: Brave, Wreck-It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians.

Wreck-It RalphIt’s interesting to see the variety of awards on offer here, going into details like Character Design, Storyboarding and Music. The problem with such an awards ceremony is that there is a rather more limited selection of animated films to choose from than for live action films, so a lot of the same titles keep cropping up. It also means that some baffling entries make it in – Adam Sandler for Hotel Transylvania? In fact, why has Hotel Transylvania got nominations for anything? It’s nice to see voice work get recognition at awards ceremonies, however. The whole list of nominations is below, and I’ve put my predicted winners in bold and my personal choice in italics (it’s worth noting that this is the first time I’ve properly followed The Annies, so my predictions are totally founded on nothing). Thanks to movie site I Am Not Wayne Gayle in bringing it to my attention.

Best Animated Feature:
Brave
Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
ParaNorman
Rise Of The Guardians
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
The Rabbi’s Cat
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Animated Short Subject:
Brad And Gary
Bydlo
Eyes On The Stars
Goodnight, Mr. Foot
Kali, The Little Vampire
The Simpson: The Longest Daycare
Paperman
The Simpsons – Bill Plympton Couch Gag

Animated Effects In An Animated Production:
Brave
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
ParaNorman
Rise Of The Guardians
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Wreck-It Ralph

Animated Effects In A Live Action Production:
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Avengers
Battleship
John Carter

Character Animation In A Feature Production:
Brave
ParaNorman
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Rise Of The Guardians

Character Animation In A Live Action Production:
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Avengers
Life Of Pi

Character Design In An Animated Feature Production:
Hotel Transylvania
The Lorax
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
ParaNorman
Wreck-It Ralph

Directing In An Animated Feature Production:
Genndy Tartakovsky – Hotel Transylvania
Sam Fell, Chris Butler – ParaNorman
Joann Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux – The Rabbi’s Cat
Rich Moore – Wreck-It Ralph
Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie – Zarafa

Music In An Animated Feature Production:
Bruce Retief – Zambezia
Patrick Doyle – Brave
Mark Mothersbaugh – Hotel Transylvania
John Powell – Ice Age: Continental Drift
John Powell – The Lorax
Alexandre Desplat – Rise Of The Guardians
Joel McNeely – Secret Of The Wings
Henry Jackman – Wreck-It Ralph

Production Design In An Animated Feature Production:
Brave
Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
ParaNorman
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Rise Of The Guardians

Storyboarding In An Animated Feature Production:
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
ParaNorman
Rise Of The Guardians
Wreck-It Ralph

Voice Acting In An Animated Feature Production:
Jim Cummings – Adventures In Zambezia
Kelly MacDonald – Brave
Catherine O’Hara – Frankenweenie
Adam Sandler – Hotel Transylvania
Atticus Shaffer – Frankenweenie
Imelda Staunton – The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Jude Law – Rise Of The Guardians
Alan Tudyk – Wreck-It Ralph

Writing In An Animated Feature Production:
Brave
Frankenweenie
From Up On Poppy Hill
ParaNorman
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Wreck-It Ralph

Editorial In An Animated Feature Production:
Brave
Hotel Transylvania
Rise Of The Guardians
Secret Of The Wings
Wreck-It Ralph


Instead of my usual DVD review format for Brave, I thought I’d address a popular criticism of the film and reassess it in the light of my third viewing of the film. Is this really sub-standard Pixar? Read on to find out. SPOILER WARNING: This article discusses the last act of Brave. Watch the film first, out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.

https://i2.wp.com/images.wikia.com/pixar/images/0/09/Brave-Young-Merida.png

After the unforgivably rubbish Cars 2, people began to worry about the future of critically lauded animation studio Pixar. Known for combining smart concepts with jokes that appealed to all ages, every film they released picked up across the board raves, massive box office and more than a couple of awards. Yet the uninspired and apparently commercial nature of their misguided spy/motoring caper sowed doubts into the minds of animation fans, so unexpectedly naff was their latest entry. I walked out of the cinema at the end of Brave, their none-more-different follow up to Cars 2, with a huge grin on my face; not only had the House of Lamp returned to form, they seemed to have exceeded it. Then it turned out that I was quite alone in the extent to which I loved the film. Criticism began to roll in, and the consensus seemed to emerge that really, Brave was a minor, forgettable film.

It was still far more well received than many animations, and it’s currently got a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, but even those reviews counted as positive seemed to come with some reservations. Empire’s four star review still called it “excellence at a lower ebb,” whilst Time Out called it “not another Pixar classic.” The implication is that whilst there is much to enjoy, really, it’s not a great Pixar film, some suggesting that it’s not especially Pixar at all. The Guardian‘s review was a lot more scathing, describing it as “eerily bland,” and criticising it for being “oddly regressive, binding Merida to the family unit just when she was making that bid for independent adulthood.” So is Brave really a step back for Pixar? Is this a once great studio coasting and relying on cliché to provoke sentiment?

MeridaIn short, no. The long answer, however, is that Pixar have taken some old ideas which are new for them – princesses, castles, witches – and turned them into a visually spectacular, unforgettable attempt at creating their very own myths and legends. It’s a story set in a fantastical Scotland, where every moss covered tree and stone is brimming with magic, meaning the tone is something entirely new for them. Also, with a mother and daughter relationship at its core, this is the first Pixar film with a female lead, and the first film produced by Disney where the woman doesn’t end up with a man at the end. Save the ending of Toy Story 3 or the first ten minutes of Up, it’s also the most moving film the studio has made yet.

So let’s address some of the accusations directed against the film. The most prevalent complaint about it is that it’s all rather slight; where is the smart high-concept idea for adults to snigger at? It doesn’t seem especially clever or original in any way, it’s just a Princess story designed for Disney to sell Merida dolls. Strangely my response to this seems contradictory: yes it is original and new, but no it actually isn’t and that’s a good thing. Firstly, it’s not just any old Disney princess story, thanks to the central relationship being between a mother and a daughter, not a woman and a man or a child and a father, making it quite unique. In spite of being set in medieval Scotland, the dynamic between Merida and Elinor feels tangibly real – note the way that Elinor shows genuine fear that she has hurt her daughter by burning her bow, or the maternal instinct that kicks in as the ursine queen roars into battle against Mordu. Merida’s whisper, as she kneels by her transformed Mum in the rising sun, that “I want you back, Mummy… I love you” is given a heartbreaking poignancy because the progress of their story is unlike anything else Pixar have previously done, based more on their relationship than any wacky idea.

At the same time, many reviewers were right in picking up on the rather slender, unoriginal plot that makes up the film. Admittedly, a girl rebelling against her parents is hardly as interesting a concept as self conscious toys, or the lives of the monsters in your closet. Yet the beauty of Brave is in the execution, as it is with any story no matter how original. Even the mid film twist of the mum turning into a bear doesn’t come close to the dizzying brilliance of Wall E in terms of narrative. However, the intention doesn’t ever seem to have been to impress with the premise, as Brave is simply a well told myth, and most myths hardly had complex plots. The extras on the blu-ray hint at far more scenes and a more expansive story, but they also show that they were cut for a reason. The narrative here is deliberately lean, much like a story you would tell your children by the fire, and this allows for a greater exploration of the evolving relationship between Merida and Elinor. Many great films are slight on plot, so why do reviewers demand something complex and concept driven simply because that’s what Pixar have done before? Brave is a good old fashioned legend, and as the film tells us, “Legends are lessons, they ring with truths.” It is when ringing with truths that Brave is really elevated beyond anything Pixar have previously achieved, it just took them a far more traditional story to make that possible.

Merida and ElinorThe other accusation levelled against Brave was that it just wasn’t very funny. Those critics are largely right, but then, this isn’t really a comedy at all. The humourous moments are hit and miss, but they are merely additions to a film that is primarily dramatic as opposed to comic. It seems unfair to criticise a film for not being a good comedy when that was never the intention, and shows more about the reviewer’s expectations of the film than the film itself. It’s funny, but not hilarious in the same way that Monsters, Inc. is rammed with hugely inventive sight gags and one liners. But it is not the occasional homunculus joke that creates the charm of Brave, it’s the combination of visuals, score and beating heart at the centre that make it the most memorable, beautiful film the studio has done.

For some extra reading, here are three of my favourite reviews of Brave from around the web, that I think capture some of the brilliance of Brave and they help me realise that I’m not alone: Jamie Neish – Hey U Guys , Robbie Collin – The Telegraph, Ali Gray – The Shiznit