Did the Right Film Win? 2012 Animated Oscars

So I finally finished my video on the 2012 Oscars.  Sorry this one took me so long (and it was a pain to edit today also!).

In 2012 we had 5 nominees and they all have their strengths.

Brave– I recently talked about that in my Pixar review.  It is a flawed film that doesn’t deliver what it promises in the first 15 minutes.  It is supposed to be an epic legend but turns out to be a domestic dispute between a mother and a daughter.  I don’t mind that but it is a letdown when we are promised something mythic.  I do like Merida, the music and the animation is top notch.  I personally feel they took a lot of the lessons from Brave and used them to make Frozen better.

Paranorman- My favorite Liaka film and a film that made my top 50 animated films (so clearly I like it).  I really like the character of Norman and the fresh take they have on the bully narrative with the bullied becoming the bully.  I think it is very scary and funny with unique world building and character design.

Frankenweenie-  This was a new one for me.  I had avoided it because I really don’t care for Tim Burton’s style of movies.  However, I must admit that I thought it was charming.  I really liked the relationship between Victor and Sparky.  It makes you want to cry when he loses his dog and all the homages to the classic horror films are a lot of fun.  I also enjoy how they made it in black and white.  Overall a very entertaining film with a lot of heart.

Pirates Band of Misfits- One of Aardman’s best films with incredible attention to detail it is an underrated film.  They pack in the laughs and yet still tell a good story with the Captain wanting to win Pirate of the Year and his interactions with both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria.  If you haven’t seen it trust me it is worth a watch!

Wreck-it Ralph– A film that starts out and ends strong but gets mired in a bland Sugar Rush world in the middle section.  Most people love this film but I think it is good but not perfect.  I like the character of Ralph but Vanellope I find annoying.  With the power cord train station they promise you all the worlds of the video games and yet spend 75 minutes in Sugar Rush, which to me is a disappointment.  But it is still an enjoyable film.  The villain reveal is done very well and I love Sergeant Tamora.

Like I said in the video, I think most people would pick Wreck-it Ralph for 2012 Oscar.  I can totally see that.  Of course, Brave won in a bit of an upset.  I personally would give it to Paranorman but I know I’m in the deep minority on that.  They are all enjoyable films. 🙂

What would be your pick?

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Pixar Review 31: Brave

braveAre you ready to test your fate?

Let’s talk a little Brave. This is Pixar’s attempt to enter the princess movie and their first movie with a female protagonist (and until Inside Out only).

I’ll say it right from beginning Brave is my least favorite Pixar film.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.  I do.  I like all the Pixar films but the problem with Brave is it doesn’t deliver the type of story it promises to tell.  My next lowest Cars 2, flaws and all, is actually consistent from frame 1 a spy movie and stays very close to the genre throughout.  Brave promises an epic legend and in the end we kind of get a nursery rhyme style fable (like an Aesops Fable).

I love the way Brave starts out.  We see the Princess Merida independent and free spirited out climbing mountains and touching the sky.

As a fellow curly haired girl I love Merida’s look and her hair!  It’s gorgeous.  You don’t see curly haired heroines often and I love hers!

brave9Much like Little Mermaid Merida is angry with her parental figure and seeks something greater than the confines of the life they have planned for her.  If you haven’t gathered from the blog this is a character archetype I relate too very strongly as I always wanted to do things my own way and be my own person.  This is why I loved Ariel and Belle

Merida’s main source of conflict comes with her Mother Elinor (voiced by the great Emma Thompson) who wants her to take her responsibilities as princess and future queen seriously.  They fight and argue, neither listening to each other at all. I think nearly all girls I know can relate to this dynamic with their mother.

"BRAVE" (L-R) MERIDA and QUEEN ELINOR. ©2012 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.Elinor decides to force her daughter to participate in a Highland Games that will decide her betrothal to one of 3 idiots.  I do really like that they do not make one of the suitors a possible love interest.  That would have been such a cop out.

But Merida decides she will shoot for her own hand in a both prideful and desperate attempt to change her fate (can you blame her for not wanting to marry one of these guys?).

Well, her Mother and her fight after this display and embarrassment (I like that both Mother and Daughter are at fault here).  In frustration Merida swipes a sword through her mothers tapestry with her family and storms off into the forest.

brave22As she races in the forest her horse throws her and she ends up at a cottage with a goofy witch.

brave211In Merida’s defense the witch does look harmless enough and is actually a pretty funny character.  In some ways she’s a little bit like Ursula although much less developed and memorable.  Merida asks her to change her Mom so she can change her fate.  I honestly don’t think she would ever assume her Mother would be turned into a bear or hurt physically in any way.  She wants her Mother to all the sudden be accepting of her life choices and not make her go through with the betrothal, which at the moment is her fate.

brave23The witch warns her about tempting fate but she does anyway and gets a cake to give to her Mother.  She eats it as do her troublemaker triplet brothers.

All of them get turned into bears and that’s where Brave starts to lose me.  Like I said before it goes from being epic in feel, a legend, to being a nursery rhyme about a woman turned into a bear.  One might say it goes from being very grand and big to being small.  I still think it is watchable.  It’s certainly a million times better than Brother Bear which has an oddly similar story.

brave13Merida goes back to the witch to find out what they must do and are told they have 2 days to break the spell or Elinor will remain a bear.  To break it “fate be changed mend the bond torn by pride”.  So that’s pretty much the rest of the movie.  Elinor and Merida learning to respect each other.

But even that would be fine but the tone varies greatly between slapstick with the brothers who are also bears, pretty scary scenes with the bear Mor’du and sentimental scenes of Merida fishing with her Mom.   Small children may be scared by the Mor’du.  I know one of my nieces had to be taken out when I took them to see Brave. It’s very realistically done.

brave12The animation throughout Brave is stunning.  Whether it is the fierce bear Mor’du or the grand vistas of Scotland it looks so beautiful.

Disney's Brave

brave15

The voice acting is great in Brave with Kelly MacDonald a striking Merida, Thompson as Elinor, Billy Connolly as King Fergus, Julie Walters as The Witch and Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and John Ratzenberger all contributing talent.  The music by Patrick Doyle is some of Pixar’s best.

I also love the songs by Mumford and Sons and Julie Fowlis.

I do also love the core message about family and mending those bonds no matter how different we might see.  I like the resolution and that it doesn’t involve meeting a man or being rescued.  There also aren’t that many movies that explore the relationship between a Mother and a Daughter especially in animation and I think many girls can relate to the generational and communication gap between Merida and Elinor.  I certainly can and felt many of those same feelings when I was Merida’s age towards my Mother (who was a near perfect Mother).  Most girls I know want to do their own thing.  They want to create their own fate not have it decided for them by anyone else.

All of that works in Brave.  It just feels disappointing because of what we expected to receive from the introduction.  Not the epic quest we were hoping for.   I do like the ending with Pixar pulling off the emotional scene very well as they always do.

Another problem I think it has is a story like this usually has a central villain like an Ursula who antagonizes the heroine or shows some kind of real threat.  The witch in Brave is only briefly seen and isn’t really a villain.  We all know how Brave is going to end so without the villain it becomes kind of muddled and predictable.  Frozen also doesn’t have a central villain until very late in the game but to me at least that works much better because you have other unpredictable elements like 2 princesses and an ending which again for me really worked.  Plus, Frozen is a musical which is a favorite genre of mine and much better comic relief in Olaf.

brave2So for me Brave is a missed opportunity.  A lot of the problem probably comes down to the change in directors midway through from Brenda Chapman to Mark Andrews and the other issues they had making the movie.   It’s not bad.  In fact, I enjoy watching it but it could have been a real masterpiece.

They never will but I would love for them to go back to the world of Brave and give us a true legend.  I want battles and a wicked Queen out to take Merida’s thrown.  That’s the kind of legend we were promised (especially in the trailers) for Brave but we didn’t get.

Still definitely worth a watch.

Overall Grade- C  Not bad Pixar considering this is the lowest grade I will give one of your movies.

Also a lot of people were very upset that Wreck-it Ralph didn’t win the Oscar.  I actually think both movies suffer from the same problems.  They don’t for me deliver what they promise in the introduction but they both have characters I really like. I also gave Wreck-it Ralph a C and I stand by that grade.   If it were me giving out the award that year I would have picked Paranorman, which is funny, creative, well paced, quite scary, with a very unique take on a bully villain.  I watched it with my friends last Halloween and it holds up very well.  I also think Pirates Band of Misfits is great, but that’s just me!

Pixar Review 30: Legends of Mor’du Review

legend of morduIn these Pixar shorts reviews I have only looked at original shorts and none of the spin-offs of movies except for Mike’s New Car and that was only because I thought the audio-commentary was the cutest thing I’d ever heard.  Well, I am making another exception for The Legend of Mor’du.  I wanted to review this short because I think it is a good example of the potential of Brave and the type of story it could have told.  In this brief short we get a true legend.  The kind of story you would tell your children and they would learn a great lesson. That just isn’t the case with Brave.  I don’t think Brave is a terrible movie but I do think it fails in a lot of ways (will save most of my Brave thoughts for the review!)

legend of mordu2The Legend of Mor’du tells the story of a man with 4 sons and each has a gift- compassion, wisdom, justice and the eldest has strength.  The father decides on his deathbed to give the kingdom to all sons instead of bequeathing it to the oldest.  legend of mordu4This enrages the oldest who is not only strong but extremely prideful.  He feels his inheritance has been stolen away. He demands his claim and when they refuse the brothers turn against each other bringing the kingdom into war.

legend of mordu11The witch telling the story meets up with the Prince and offers him a chance to change his fate much like Merida is given in Brave.  And as in Brave the Prince must chose family over his own pride in order to change his fate. Like most Pixar stories family is always the most important element of life and a person’s journey (probably more so than even Disney).  But the Prince drinks the potion seeking to overthrow his brothers and he turns into a great bear named Mor’du.

legend of mordu12All he needs to do is restore the bonds with his brothers but his pride causes him to embrace the bear, defeat his brothers and fight the soldiers who of course see him as the vicious bear.

legend of mordu3The bear Mor’du slays many warriors and the armies flee the kingdom leaving it desolate and fractured.  Mor’du is left alone to wander without family to support him or people to rule over the rest of his days.  The lust for power and his wounded pride forever changed his fate and the fate of the entire kingdom.

legend of mordu14Then the witch asks her audience ‘will you tempt fate?’.

Now that is a story!  It is clear, concise, with a lesson where the character is tested and in this case fails.  There is a clear good vs evil and an epic feeling to the journey, which is necessary in this type of story.  If you think of something like Lord of the Rings Frodo is given a job to do.  He must return the ring to Mordor or the Dark Lord will find it and “cover all the lands of a second darkness”.  There is this clear battle between good and evil.  And the weaknesses of Frodo and his entire team including Gandalf and Aragorn are tested and pushed to their limit.  This makes the journey exciting and gives it an emotional heft.

Such stakes are a must for such a story.  The Legend of King Arthur is another example of this kind of epic storytelling.  Arthur wants to lead with all goodness, courage and peace. But he falls for the lady Guinevere leaving him and his high ideals vulnerable to being wounded and hurt.  Lancelot comes and he and Guinevere fall in love despite their attempts not too.  This leads to conflict and the challenge to Arthur’s vision of Camelot.

You see how such a legend needs to be a tight story with clear consequences of good vs evil?  The characters individual weakness always comes into play and often leads to tragedy (even in Lord of the Rings many are asked to pay the price for the end goal including Gollum).

The Legend of Mor’du has all of these elements and it works as the legend it is trying to be.  It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pride and that loyalty to family is always key to our fate.

Brave attempts such a tale far less successfully and you will find out why in my next Pixar review… (quite the lead in right!).

Overall Grade- B

Pixar Resurgence?

Nobody could be more thrilled with the recent overwhelmingly positive response to Inside Out than I am.  It is a spectacular film in every way and deserves to be heralded as such.  It’s one of those movies I could watch every week for the rest of my life and never get tired of.  It is emotional, funny, bright, colorful, heartfelt, smart and creative. But there is one thing in these responses that has annoyed me a little bit.  People are way over-doing it on the Pixar  ‘return to form’.  Pixar had a few less good pictures but they were by no means the bottom of the barrel when it comes to animated movies.

Collages1I have to be careful because I don’t want to spoil my reviews for Brave, Monsters University and Cars 2 but these movies are flawed but they are not that bad.  All 3 of them lie strictly in my C average movie category which for Pixar is a failure but seriously let’s have a little bit of perspective here.

crazy nightsYou want to know what is a truly awful animated film?  How about 8  Crazy Nights which has a character named Whitey who is frozen in outhouse feces.  You are going to stand here and tell me that Cars 2 is worse than that?  Give me a break.

fly me to moonHow about Fly Me to the Moon which is 85 minutes of terrible fly puns including a fly exclaiming “lord of the flies!”.  It’s mind numbingly bad.  It’s bad in every way something can be bad- it looks awful, jokes are puns and cringe-inducing, story is stupid, voice performances lame.   You going to claim Brave is worse than that?

hero of color cityHow about last years Hero of Color City?  A movie that took me a week to watch it was so painful.  In a year that had The Nut Job, Hero of Color City swooped in and took the crown as not only the worst animated film of the year but one of the worst MOVIES I’ve ever seen.  The animation is awful, characters are all grating and awful, voice performances suck, it’s a cheap rip off of Toy Story and the humor is all in poor taste.  I’d like to hear anyone try to claim Monsters University is worse than that garbage.

And I haven’t even seen either of the Titanic animated movies, Doogle, or Foodfight, which I have on good authority from many sources, are the actual worst animated films ever made. I’d certainly rather watch any of the bottom 3 Pixars than The Lorax ruin a Dr Seuss’ book.  At least Cars 2 just took aim at itself and not a beloved literary classic.

I could probably think of 50 animated movies that I think are worse than Cars 2 or Brave.  I would certainly way rather watch either of those again than Dinosaur, Brother Bear, Chicken Little, or Home on the Range from the Disney canon.  I’d rather watch both all day than nearly all of the Disneytoons library minus the Tinkerbell films.  Have you seen Hunchback 2? It’s nauseatingly bad.

Anyway, you probably get my point.  Yes, the last 3 Pixar movies have problems but they are not terrible films.  They are still beautiful to look at with a lot of creativity, color and care put into them.  In fact, I own all 3 and enjoy watching them on occasion.  I realize that Pixar set the bar very high for themselves and so perhaps the negativity is natural.  People expect brilliance when you create one masterpiece after another.  So much so that when I do my Pixar ranking it is going to be nearly impossible.  The lowest grade I will probably give a Pixar movie is a C- because they all have elements that I like and are at least an average animated film.

On the other hand, maybe this response is a good thing?  Perhaps it makes sure they know they can’t be lazy and expect people to accept it. It’s a message that I wish Dreamworks would get more of but instead their lazy films like Home get rewarded and their ambitious films struggle (speaking of Dreamworks I can think of about 6 maybe more of their movies I would put below any of the Pixar bottom 3).

Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion but I’ve just heard this so much this week that I decided to say something.  With that off my chest,  watch Inside Out.  It’s one of the greats.