We’ve been discussing live-action films for the last two weeks – John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom last week and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers a week earlier – so let’s shift the focus to an animated film for the time being. Of course, I’m talking about the Disney/Pixar feature Brave, directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman.
The animated fantasy focuses on Princess Merida, who’d rather shoot arrows than act like a traditional lady. Sight unseen, Brave seemed like a huge Oscar player. Sure, there was sour taste of the deservedly nomination-less Cars 2 that Disney and Pixar needed to purge from the mouths of voters. However, most saw the sequel’s lack of critical and awards success coming from miles away. Even Disney knew it wouldn’t get anywhere with a campaign (For Your Consideration – or FYC – ads listed no major categories for consideration. The sole exception was Best Director, but that probably has something to do with John Lasseter’s contract). Additionally, many thought Brave, with its progressive message and lack of automobiles, would see the legendary animation team-up recover from its loss and return to the Oscar fray.
While the film made an impressive debut at the box office, Brave boasts a moderate 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and even less promising 69/100 score on Metacritic. To be fair, those aren’t even terrible scores, and neither site employs a good system for determining the quality of a film. Still, it goes without saying that critics are less than enthusiastic about Princess Merida’s adventures.
So, why are critics less receptive of Brave than they are of films like WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3? For one, it doesn’t follow the traditional Disney/Pixar mold: making a cinematic masterpiece out of an unconventional idea that sounds like it’d make for a terrible movie. Though Disney/Pixar made something special with Brave, it’s undeniable that its story is very conventional. Additionally, Brave – a more emotionally charged adventure than a humor-driven one – lacks the visual puns for which Pixar is most famous.
In short, critics didn’t get what they were expecting and weren’t too happy about it. They expected visual puns and an unconventional story but received neither, so Brave’s critical approval suffered. It’s so ironic: a film studio goes against its own traditions to make Brave, a film about going against tradition, and gets harsh criticism for it.
One might think that the film’s awards candidacy limited to Animated Feature and crafts/music races, but not all is said and done just yet. While the critics groups certainly won’t help Brave but so much (if at all), the film might make an impression with the National Board of Review, which has been handing out prizes since 1929. While discussing The Avengers, I stated that “the NBR is one of the first Oscar precursors to announce its winners, making it – for better or for worse – a rather strong indicator of how the season will turn out.” Just as luck would have it, the group has been quite progressive in honoring animation. Well, at least more so than the Academy.
With a more open mind to animation – even giving the first-ever animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a spot in 1938 – the NBR has included six animated films in its top-ten lists over the years; 2009’s Up and 2010’s Toy Story 3 are the group’s most recently included animated features. The Academy also nominated both for Best Picture, though only one other animated film, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast (oddly left off of the NBR’s top-ten list), preceded them.
In short, the NBR is more open to animated features than the Academy, and if Brave doesn’t get in there, it’ll have little to no shot with Oscar. However, the Producers Guild of America might present a small glimmer of hope. A nod from the PGA in Best Theatrical Motion Picture wouldn’t seal the deal – a fact to which Shrek and The Incredibles can attest – but at the very least, it would give credence to an Oscar campaign. If Brave gets seals of approval from both the NBR and PGA, it might be on its way to becoming the fourth animated feature to score a Picture nod.
While it seems “locked” – whatever that means in June – for nothing more than Animated Feature, Brave does feel like a long-shot possibility to make Academy history. It’s highly possible for Original Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing nominations, and under current Academy rules, two of its five original tunes might make the cut in Original Song. With such recognition, it would have six nominations, tying the aforementioned Beauty and WALL-E as the animated feature(s) with the most Oscar nominations, and if it scores additional recognition in Picture and/or Original Screenplay…
Well, don’t get too hopeful just yet. As I’ve stated, the less-than-amazing reviews can and likely will hurt Brave standing with important awards groups – including the Oscars – and Disney might give it the same treatment as Cars 2, which wasn’t even nominated for Animated Feature. If the animated films in the running this year – five acquisitions from GKIDS, two Disney-sans-Pixar properties, and a potential winner in DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians, among others – live up to their promise, Brave might even miss out in Animated Feature, where it currently seems like the obvious frontrunner.
For that reason, the film really needs industry and guild support, and even that support might not be enough. There’s hardly ever a clear vision of the targets when we shoot our Oscar-predicting arrows this early, and that’s certainly the case with Brave.