Awards Profile: Brave

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Directed By: Mark Andrews
Written By: Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi

Cast: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Craig Ferguson, and John Ratzenberger.

Synopsis (From IMDB, Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures): Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, “Brave” features Merida, an aspiring archer and impetuous daughter of royalty. Merida makes a reckless choice that unleashes unintended peril and forces her to spring into action to set things right.

Why It Could Succeed:
This is Pixar we’re talking about. After hitting well past the $3 billion mark in total feature gross this past year, I think it’s safe to say that success and Pixar go hand in hand. Brave is another Pixar release that will undoubtedly be one of the top earners of the year after all grosses have been tallied. What gives it that extra edge at the box office is the film’s premise. Brave is another retread in fairytale storytelling, where we all know as people who grew up on Disney films how popular the worlds of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are. While the film isn’t directly adapted from the works of these two maestros of fairytale fables, Brave hopes to keep that fantasy spirit alive with its traditional approach of focusing on the life of a young princess, our classical Disney heroine. Disney Princesses have been monumentally successful brands. From originals like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty to newbies such as Arielle, Jasmine, Belle, Mulan, and more recently, Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, Disney Princesses are more recognizable than the majority of our nations’ first ladies. Brave’s Princess Merida is on the brink of becoming another household Disney Princess name, and will be the first one ever created by Pixar for the 3D Generation.

We haven’t had such a traditional Disney narrative since the heydays of the 1990s, and Brave is going to appease many fans who are nostalgic for such a classical approach by Disney. It also helps matters that Disney nostalgia is on the rise with popular shows being released like Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Did I also mention that there are not one, but two new films focusing on Snow White this year: Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. If this lineup isn’t proof that there’s a market for a return to Disney fairytale form, I don’t know what more could convince you.

What you lookin' at?

I also feel like Princess Merida would appeal to young girls who have a more feminist outlook, especially in light of the success of books like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Merida herself in many of the promos, like our own Editor-in-Chief Clayton Davis has mentioned, looks eerily similar to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss with her bow and arrow pose. Fans of The Hunger Games may see similarities between both heroines, and won’t hesitate to check out Brave just to hold them over until Hunger Game’s sequel, Catching Fire, is released. Brave’s release could not come at a more perfect time when both Hunger Games and the new Disney/fairytale resurgence are at the height of their popularity. I also don’t have to mention that other than A Bug’s Life and the Cars franchise, Pixar has been a consistent critical and commercial entity in the movie industry. Brave’s beautiful 3D animation, Disney nostalgia factor, and script penned from two legendary writers in animation, Irene Mecchi and Brenda Chapman, will heavily determine this anticipated film’s success.

Why It Could Fail:
Pixar is coming off a very poor year after Cars 2 was heaped with negative feedback and the animated short La Luna lost the Oscar for “Best Animated Short” to Moonbot Studios far more impressive The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Both those efforts were poor in my opinion, and audiences resounded similar sentiments. It seemed that Pixar wasn’t taking risks in pushing the envelope of quality storytelling like it’s known for, instead settling on franchise recycling and cutesie animation. Is Pixar suddenly becoming lazy, or has it’s ego grown too much for it’s own good? Whatever the reasons are for the dip in Pixar’s quality last year, it doesn’t change the fact that both moviegoers and critics are now mindful of failure from a company that once seemed virtually indestructible. Cars 2‘s universal disdain has placed scrutiny on Brave to see if Pixar can pick themselves up again. Was Cars 2 the start of a downward Pixar spiral? The critical and movie-going community has all eyes trained on Brave, and it’s an understatement to say that expectations are very high. If Brave fails to make a positive impression, this could be the end of Pixar’s quality as we know it, giving other animation companies like Moonbot Studios, Dreamworks, and Universal the opportunity to move ahead and dominate this field.

As much as traditional Disney narratives are making a comeback, is it a step back in quality to embrace such classical storytelling? Part of Pixar’s appeal to the fans and critical community was that it didn’t divulge in cliche narratives, instead plotting the story around topical issues that felt relevant and fresh. Disney of old had a tendency to spew forth a conservative ideology of values that wouldn’t hold in today’s liberal age. Most feel like we’ve moved past the days of white-bread Disney characters who placed hetero-normative romance at the pinnacle of all worldly desires after their rags to riches dreams come true. I worry Brave may revolutionize 3D animation but also take two giant steps back in progressive storytelling.

Merida: Disney Princess Meets Hunger Games' Katniss.

I’m also wary of Brave on the sole basis of that semi-failure, The Princess and the Frog. Critics were enamored by the return to 2D animation that once again focused on a Disney Princess as the titular protagonist, but the box office was nowhere near what Disney had hoped for. I’m not sure why The Princess and the Frog underperformed at the domestic box office, but I can say firsthand that I found the film to be underwhelming. It was attempting to mimic Disney films of the past so much so that it lost all originality. Except for “Almost There,” the original songs were forgettable and disrupted the flow of the story instead of working within it’s framework. Tiana’s African-American Princess was meant to diversify the image of the Disney Princess brand that is dominated by white-faced heroines. However, Tiana spent the majority of the film as a frog and fell into the same path all Disney princesses find themselves on: choosing love first, and career (if there is one) second. Besides the color of her skin, there wasn’t anything revolutionary or progressively spectacular about Tiana; she was just another recycled Disney Princess packaged falsely anew. Brave’s red-haired Scottish Princess, Midora, seems unusually tough and gritty, but I hope her trajectory isn’t weighed down by traditional values and predictable happy endings. Brave’s best recipe for success is a postmodern approach: taking what worked in Disney’s past while implementing the type of female behavior we’ve come to expect in an age where the likes of Lisbeth Salander, Katniss, and Hermione Granger have dominated the movie industry with their brainy toughness.

Awards Speculation:
Unless every critic loathes this animated film, expect Brave to be the year-long frontrunner in the “Best Animated Feature” category. A nomination isn’t just a possibility — it’s a lock. Where Brave could stretch its Oscar reach is in the “Original Screenplay” and “Best Picture” categories. Brave’s writers, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi, have produced some of the best works in animation. Chapman was the director of my second favorite animated movie of all time, Dreamwork’s The Prince of Egypt, which outdid Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments‘ retelling of Moses and his liberation of the enslaved Jews in Egypt. Chapman was the first female to direct an animated feature backed by a major studio, and she did not disappoint. Her masterful co-direction paced the Exodus story in beautiful fashion, focusing more on the brotherly love between Moses and the Pharaoh before diving into the “ten commandments” segment that has been retold to death. If Chapman can replicate a similarly triumphant narrative with her Brave screenplay, I’m sensing Oscar will come a knockin.’ As for Irene Mecchi, she wrote the mecca of animated films, The Lion King, which had the nation in tears after Mufasa’s *SPOILER* death at the hands of his brother, Scar. Mecchi may have borrowed plot elements from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but that doesn’t detract from her skills as a writer. I know her screenplays are unparalleled in the animation community, and working alongside Brenda Chapman is only going to double quality of Brave’s script. How can Oscar fail to nominate two female writers who have contributed to some of the greatest animated works of all time? Let’s hope a snub doesn’t befall these two female innovators in animation.

If Brave somehow finds itself up for “Best Picture” next January, it’ll be the fourth animated film ever nominated in this category. Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3 were the three animated features that nabbed this honor in the past. None have won. I’m not sure that Brave will measure up to these three juggernauts that wholly deserved every accolade received. I doubt Brave will garner a nomination, but if the box office is high, the praise is universal, and the campaign is strong, it’s possible Brave could slip into that “Best Pic” lineup. What Brave needs is the heart, the one aspect all three former animated films nominated for Best Picture had. Without sentimental response, Brave will be shut out, revolutionary animation or not. The Academy loves a good tearjerker.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Original Screenplay
Best Animated Feature
Best Original Score
Best Original Song