I had a mix of expectations when going to see Pixar’s newest film, Brave, this afternoon with my wife and oldest boys. An original story featuring a heroine was intriguing to me, given that Pixar had not done so to date, and to set it in Scotland looked even better. I stayed away from reviews that began to pop up at the end of last week, and tried to ignore Facebook statuses that might give something away. Still, sometimes one can’t help but hear murmurs, and what was coming back to me was that Brave‘s story was not as strong as some of Pixar’s past endeavors. I think that is a fair assessment. Now, this is not to say that Brave isn’t a good movie, because it is. Nor am I saying you shouldn’t see it, because I still recommend it. However, the captivating sense of the stories that you have in Toy Story 1, 2 or 3, The Incredibles, Up, or Wall-E (which are my favorite Pixar films, so I am admitting by bias) is missing with Brave. Maybe another way of saying it: this Pixar movie didn’t quite feel like a Pixar movie. It was missing that certain quality (a point Deborah readily made after the movie was over) that drew us to the first Pixar movies, and left us eager for more. I wanted that experience with Brave, but it just didn’t deliver. I don’t think anyone expected Cars 2 to be be amazing, and it wasn’t. It was entertaining, but not profound. So perhaps my expectations were too high, and Pixar’s past successes have set a standard that now makes it difficult for them to match. However, they’ve done it in the past, so why not again? I wanted Brave to be added to that list of favorites. I wanted to love the story, and from the beginning I thought I would, but pretty soon the mother-daughter conflict, paired with the sympathetic but bafoonish father caused me to think that this was just another telling of one of Hollywood’s usual mantras that they’ve been trying to cram down our throats for years. However, to its credit, Brave takes some unexpected twists and turns, and while the movie itself tries to tell you that it is about being brave enough to change your fate and destiny (blah blah blah), I think the story has a deeper point. The story is really about being brave enough to accept responsibility for your words and your actions, and the consequences they can bring. Brave makes that point profoundly, and is what really makes the movie. The animation is superb, particularly the impressive attention to detail given to Merida’s hair. That sounds almost funny to say, but it genuinely adds a certain visual richness and texture to the movie. Also, there’s an overhead shot of a ruined castle by the sea that will momentarily have you believing you are seeing footage of a real place. I laughed a lot, especially in the early going, and the movie ends on a strong note. Go and see it, and then let me know what you think.
I suppose it has been a busy couple of years, which can partly explain why I haven’t taken the time to post some of the stories we’ve discovered or particularly enjoy reading – or more correctly, the stories the children want to hear. So here are two that stand out in particular of late. The Seven Silly Eaters, written by Mary Ann Hoberman, and illustrated by Marla Frazee. The story is inventive and rhythmic, and fun to read, and any mother will quickly relate to Mrs. Peters’ predicament – or at least the sense of it. But what we’ve come to especially enjoy are the beautifully drawn and detailed illustrations. (In fact, Marla Freeze’s work was so impressive, that it sent Deborah looking for more of her work). While the drawings reflect the written story, they also deepen the story with artful details, so be sure to take the time to carefully study the illustrations. We seem to pick up a new bit here and there with every reading.
Another story that has received numerous readings over the last couple of weeks is How to be a Baby By Me the Big Sister, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Sue Heap. Clever and witty, you will laugh out loud as the big sister informs her baby brother about what his life entails, and how hers contrasts by comparison. Viewing ordinary activities (such as eating, bathing, and riding in a car) through the eyes of the big sister proves to be a humorous endeavor. The colorful illustrations are bright and simple, another charming quality of the story, and be sure to keep an eye on the baby’s animal friends.