I was lucky enough to be invited down to watch sneak-peak footage from Pixar’s next big release, Brave, recently. These screenings are usually held in top-secret locations (or 'London hotels' as they're sometimes known), accompanied by embargoes (not the kind in The Phantom Menace) and biscuits so perfect they make choral noises when you eat them. If there’s a frustration in not to being able to tell anyone about it afterwards, it’s counterbalanced by the sheer joy of discovering something so new, it’s not even finished. And, of course, those singing biscuits.
This one felt a bit different. It’s an understatement to say that bad buzz isn't something Pixar has had to worry about down the years – the studio’s Metacritic average is a steepling 81 – but this is an interesting time for the denizens of Emeryville. Cars 2 was its first true critical failure (even if it did brisk trade at the box office) and parent company Disney is still surveying the dead Jeddak on its balance sheet, cranking up the pressure on Brave to find its audience.
What the Gaelic fairy tale also represents is the first creative coalescence between Pixar and Disney, what with the zip and sophistication of Pixar wrapped up in an ancient/modern princess story. Can the two animation houses combine their storytelling strengths without creating the movie equivalent of Toy Story’s hybrid horror toy monster? As director Mark Andrews explained: “This isn’t a classic Disney princess film.”
On this evidence, there’s not much for Pixar, or the Mouse House, to worry about. We sat down to the first 30 minutes of the film, presented by director (and John Carter co-writer) Andrews in dazzling 2D, and this is what we gleaned:
Merida kicks ass Pixar elder Andrew Stanton has been at pains to point out that filmmaking is about story, not demographics or marketing. But, said Andrews, “story is hell”. The film’s painful genesis has been well-documented –original director Brenda Chapman was replaced by Andrews back in 2010 – but, as Ratatouille proved, Pixar has never been afraid to make tough decisions in the name of excellence. Somewhere out there is an unemployed, possibly chain-smoking Newt, too.
The animation we saw, albeit in some cases unfinished, sets the freespirited Merida (Kelly Macdonald) loose on a dazzling Scottish landscape filled with mountains that stretch to the clouds, phosphorescent will-o'-the-wisps and huge, clawed beasties. It’s basically where the Na’vi go on their holidays.
Brave’s prologue establishes Merida as a bit of tearaway, and a courageous one at that, before introducing her three scampish brothers, and unleashing the fearsome Bear King on his fellow king, Fergus (Billy Connolly). Fergus’s missing leg – lost in that scrap – is the source of much Pixar mischief in later scenes.
Brave has plenty of Pixar wit Most of the funny emanates from Merida’s three brothers, Harris, Hubert, and Hamish, the comic triplets who unleash levels of carnage that would impress even The Incredibles’ Jack-Jack. They provide the most inventive comic beats we saw, as they steal and sabotage to their little hearts’ content while mum and dad prepare to receive Merida’s (unsuitable) suitors.
The biggest challenge was Merida’s hair “We’ve been doing hair since Sulley in Monsters Inc.,” said Andrews of Merida’s tumbling locks, “and we had Violet’s long hair in The Incredibles, but hair is a big pain in the ass. All the technicians crapped their pants when we went with kilts and the hair, but everybody embraced it. We had to have a huge technological upgrade just to make this film.”
The Scottish accents are flawless Considering that most of the cast are Scottish, this isn’t such a big surprise, but it's still nice to hear authentic Celtic tones all the same. This isn’t something Hollywood has always nailed (Scotland is still recovering from Christopher Lambert). Andrews promises that, despite the overlap in casts, there’ll be no Trainspotting-style subtitles in the US. “No way,” he stressed. “Kevin McKidd, who voices Lord MacGuffin and his son, talks in his regional dialect and he’d call up his Mum to remind himself how to say certain things when we were recording. We’re going to leave it unintelligible – that’s the gag.”
All those traditional Pixar Easter eggs will feature The director wasn’t about to tell us how they snuck a Pizza Planet truck into the Scottish highlands or where to look out for A113, but rest assured, they’ll be there. “Everything’s in there,” Andrews grinned, “all those little insider jokes; you’ve just got to find them. It’s going to be hours and hours when the Blu-ray comes out!” He did let on that John Ratzenberger has a Begbie-grade Scottish accent.
See for yourself when Brave gets its UK release on August 17
Roll Posted on Friday April 6, 2012, 13:48
Good to be assured!
I was slightly worried about this one after the trailer (looked less exciting than the stellar and similar-ish How to Train Your Dragon), but looking forward to it more now after reading this!
Pelle Posted on Saturday April 7, 2012, 17:19
After that horrible shitload of John Carter I wouldn't trust anything that Andrew Stanton says.
devondude Posted on Tuesday April 10, 2012, 15:34
Even after this, I'm still not looking forward to this film. It looks too much like a Dreamworks production (which is actually rather irritating), and the idea really does not interest me at all! I can't imagine this getting as big of an audience as other Pixar releases. Yes Cars 2 is technically their worst film, but it still took a large amout at the box office! This looks like it'll have the smallest audience of any Pixar film so far (not saying that is a bad thing, just looking at the budget:profit ratio, it's not going to be good). But I do wish the film well, I just won't be spending my money on it.