When one says a Pixar film isn’t “Pixar good”, what do they mean? Simply put, the film in question isn’t up to par with the caliber of films that Pixar has a reputation of putting out. The thing with critics recently is that they feel the need to compare a film to the other films released by the same studio, director or series. Does it make sense? No. Is it fair? Absolutely not, but it is human nature so I don’t really fault anyone for jumping to that sort of analysis. The same has been done with films by a certain director (Tarantino, Scorsese) or films within a series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings). To a much higher degree, the same can be said of Pixar and it’s this outright writing-off of a film because it doesn’t match up to its predecessors that bothers me.
Pixar’s animation resume is stellar having made 12 films before Brave with an average rating on Rottentomatoes of 90%. The average rating on Metacritic, an arguably more telling rating system, is 83. That’s a pretty incredible track record and it’s understandable that human nature would call for a comparison of a film with the other Pixar films. It’s not fair, because Pixar films are so good. What’s more, a Pixar film can be a great film in its own right, but still be on the low end of the Pixar list. As seen below, Brave, with a 75% and 69, respectively, falls 11th out of the 13 Pixar films. However, a 69 Metacritic score makes Brave tied for the 3rd highest-rated wide-release of 2011 and 26th out of 125 total films.
So, according to these numbers, is Brave “Pixar good”? Not quite. But then again, these numbers are based directly on critics who score the film with the mindset of comparing Brave to all of the other Pixar films. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies and snakes eating themselves. The scores and ratings of a film by critics who say that the film isn’t “Pixar good” will certainly reflect that very result.
But let’s forget about the Rottentomatoes and Metacritic scores. What about the actual film deems it not up to par with other Pixar films? The sheer look of the film, the landscape, the color and the cinematography are absolutely magnificent and on par with or better than most other Pixar films. It’s humorous, adventurous and it’s cute, like other Pixar films. It’s Celtic. It’s beautiful. It’s imaginative. So what is it about Brave that bothers people?
I’ve heard it said that there’s no story, but what people really mean by that is that there is no Pixar formula. That’s the formula that Pixar uses relentlessly in at least half of its films where someone is lost and most of the film is spent showing their journey back to what they are separated from. It’s a basic formula that was lifted straight from The Brave Little Toaster (1987). All of the Toy Story’s use that formula. Finding Nemo is that formula personified and Monsters, Inc. is that formula turned inside-out. Do you know which films DO NOT rely solely on that formula? 3 of the 5 highest rated Pixar films on Metacritic: The Incredibles, Wall-E and Ratatouille (Remy doesn’t want to get found). Oh, and Brave. Brave doesn’t use this formula. Instead, it combines just a tiny bit of that Disney princess theme with a warrior/huntress/rebellious teenager flavor. Wicked witches and magic spells are present. There’s not an evil stepmother to overcome, but an actual loving, misunderstood mother who wants what’s best for her misunderstood daughter.
I’m afraid that there are no toy cowboys riding on remote control cars or little plastic army men repelling down staircases. Trash heaps aren’t cities. Cars don’t have mouths. Free-hanging doors don’t lead to bedrooms. Robots don’t fall in love nor do houses fly across the world with the help of hundreds of balloons. There’s nothing wrong with the story. It’s just not stuffed with crazy little filler nonsense that audiences have come to expect from Pixar films. Audiences’ attentions aren’t held by the cheap suspense of whether or not the characters will find or get found. Instead, they are bored with a simple, yet loving, story of the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter and their effort to understand each other. And it’s for those very reasons that Brave is “Pixar good”.