25 June 2012

I Am Disappoint: Pixar's Botched BRAVE

     I adore Pixar. I've grown up with Pixar. My brother and I used to dress up as Buzz and Woody. We quoted Finding Nemo obsessively for months following its release. We collected Monsters, Inc. toys. So every part of me wanted BRAVE, Pixar's newest offering, to be a huge, soaring triumph. I'm sure you've read reviews that said that BRAVE is merely acceptable, that the story is predictable and the humor childish, and unfortunately, that's all true. It doesn't have the same crossover appeal as Pixar's other movies (I watched Monsters, Inc. this afternoon and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I watched it at age seven) or the heart. It's not only not a very good Pixar movie, it's not a very good kid's movie (and there are some seriously stinky kids' movies out there, let me tell you). 
     The heroine of BRAVE, a scottish princess named Merida, seems like Pixar's weak attempt at a Disney princess-- and indeed, she combines the worst traits of The Little Mermaid's rebellious Ariel and Mulan's titular heroine (as well as sharing her aversion to arranged marriages). The problem is, her character never really gets beyond this. She puts her own selfish desire for a "free" life above the good of the kingdom, refusing to marry one of the suitors from the other clans and putting her mother (who is also, mind you, the queen) in danger. Although in the end she makes a speech in which she comes close to apologizing for this narcissism and choosing a suitor, the crisis of any real sacrifice is quickly averted and she moves on, her character statically bratty.
      The view of mother-daughter relationships in BRAVE is also seriously concerning. Her mother is portrayed as bossy and ruthless because she-- I don't know, doesn't want weapons on the table? (Most of the movie, I was on the mother's side-- Merida needed a good spanking). However, if Merida's character remains immobile, the mother is the one who "grows" in this flick-- grows into a worse parent, that is. After Merida transforms her into (Spoiler Alert? I guess?) into a bear in a selfish attempt to "change her fate", Merida treats her like a large, dull pet, and the mother is so impressed by Merida's foraging abilities that she realizes she has been wrong to force Merida to be someone who she isn't and goes on to say that she should do "what her heart tells her to", which is probably the worst advice a mother could give to a daughter.
     BRAVE is really too uninspired to carry any seriously damaging message. There's some druid  magic and witchcraft, poorly explained, lots of crude jokes and naked bottoms the likes of which we're used to seeing from Dreamworks, not Pixar, and a whole hodgepodge of cliches such as "follow your heart" and "change your fate" and of course, "be brave", but none of them really mean anything-- they're just words that are meant to imbue the movie with heart or meaning (a purpose at which, I must say, the fail oftener than they succeed).
    The ultimate flaw of the movie, artistically and even morally, is the lack of development: it starts with Merida changing her own fate in what is, I presume and hope, meant to be an obviously selfish and repugnant way, and ends with her "fate" changing-- just the way she wanted it, with a lot of danger and inconvenience to her family and kingdom along the way. At the risk of sounding boorish, and yes, I know that this would make for a dull narrative, the truly BRAVE thing for Merida to have done would have been to marry one of the suitors, even if they didn't make butterflies tickle her tummy, you know, just for the tiny purpose of KEEPING THE KINGDOM FROM FALLING INTO WAR. But instead, she opts for a route that puts her mother, brothers, and eventually entire kingdom, in terrible danger. As it is, a more apt moniker for the movie would be SELFISH.
   I sincerely hope that Pixar's winning streak isn't over. Yes, BRAVE is predictable and crude, yes, Cars 2 wasn't good either, but Toy Story 3 was, and Up was, and the nine other movies before those were. So hopefully, this is just a slight hiccup, not the decline of a great movie studio. I'll be awaiting Monsters University most eagerly.

Also, regarding the title of this post: no, my grammar is not that terrible, it's a MEME, people. You have internets, you should know this.

06 June 2012

Leah's Musical Reveille

Yes, a reveille is "A signal sounded esp. on a bugle or drum to wake personnel in the armed forces". That really has nothing to do with this post itself, but hey, I promised, and when I promise, I deliver.
     We have all have things that we inexplicably like, without reason or defense. For me, it's things like the movie Stardust and Anne Hathaway and sunflower seeds. I couldn't explain to you why I like these things; I just do. The Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian is another of those things which I have deeply and passionately loved while heretofor being unable to articulate the reason why.
      Spiritually, they run the gamut--their lyrics range from vaguely pleasant spiritual expressions such as "Someone above has seen me do all right/ someone above is looking with a tender eye" (If She Wants Me) and "reading the Gospel to yourself is fine" (We Rule the School) to anti-religious reproaches such as "If you're feeling sinister / go up and see a minister / He'll try in vain to take away / the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever" (If You're Feeling Sinister). This, combined with the vaguely homosexual subtexts of many of their songs (frequent swapping of the pronouns "he" and "she", references to sexual orientation confusion in songs like "Expectations" and "Lord Anthony"), shows that the band has religious sympathy (the lead singer claims to be a Christian), while having no real concrete moral basis or strong belief.
     In a way, this lack of a moral compass leads to a sense of haunting searching (similar to Coldplay's mournful "Viva La Vida" or Death Cab for Cutie's "Into the Dark") that permeates many of their songs and adds an element of intense interest, even to the lighter songs that display where the band's hope is really found.  While Death Cab's Ben Gibbard finds his hope in romantic love and truly believes that such a thing exists, somewhere, Belle and Sebastian is at least self-aware enough to realize that they find theirs (its? I'm never sure with bands) in ideals, in fantasies about the way things should be. This is summed up nicely in "Wrapped Up in Books",  a song that chronicles a couple's imaginary relationship: "Our aspirations are wrapped up in books/ and our inclinations are hidden in looks". Salvation is found, not through what actually is, but through what could potentially be. Lord Anthony, "bullied at school" imagines a time when he'll be able to "leave them without a shadow of a care," but his eventual fate does not seem as ideal as he imagined -- "Tony, you're a bit of a mess...Anthony, it couldn't get worse". In "Write About Love", the dissatisfied character in the song escapes monotony through writing about an imaginary man who fits her ideals, rather than praying for a release from monotony ("Get on your skinny knees and pray/ maybe not today"). 
       So why are they worth listening to? As Christians, we know that things on this earth are not the way they are supposed to be-- we live in a fallen world, and can share with Belle and Sebastian a dissatisfaction with injustice and unpleasantness in the world around us.  But we also have a solid, concrete hope that things will one day be put right, rather than a vague wish that things could be different, that we could change the world bu writing about it. Belle and Sebastian's idealistic vision of the way the world should be is sometimes strikingly Biblical, sometimes flat-out sinful, but always interesting and enlightening. 
     Their lyrics are poetic and throught-provoking, more so than most modern songs and most modern (dare I say it...) Christian songs, which often repeat the things we've heard already over and over again in unimaginative and repetitive ways. Belle and Sebastian communicate in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and definitely not of the norm. (A note on the "aesthetically pleasing" part: Belle and Sebastian's folksy, unusual sound will not appeal to everyone. Just be warned. I've been accused of listening to "parody music"). It's not as if every one of their songs is worth listening to over and over againt-- a few of their songs deal with completely innapropriate themes and others certain foul language (however, due to their Scottish accents and lingo, it may take a while to realize exactly what a song is about!) However, it is important that we don't dismiss something out of hand just because it has some inappropriate content at times, especially when it is something as conducive to soul-searching as Belle and Sebastian's contemplative ballads.
     So take a listen. See what you think. Your inner hipster will thank you. Some of my favorites are "Piazza, New York Catcher", a song about travelling and everyday adventures), "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" (a song about writing songs that will appeal to anyone with a literary bent), "Funny Little Frog", which is, now that I think about i,t kind of a stalker song, but like, in a cute way, ya know?