Brave new worlds

June was a bit of a slow reading month for me, so instead of doing another one of these posts, I’ll do a rollover June-July one later. For now, let’s talk about the film I saw on Saturday at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Brave. I don’t want to be a Spoiling Sebastian, so I will talk about it in the same annoyingly abstract way I talk about my own projects.

Brave poster
This poster puts me right in the mood for further devolution from the United Kingdom!
I love Pixar but I’m always slightly scared of them. Something about their style of film – superficially kid-friendly but with themes that can penetrate all the emotional defences of their adult audiences – makes me think that at some point they’re going to snap and go really dark, killing off the entire cast of a film just to make everyone cry. (If you’ve seen Toy Story 3 you might know one of the bits that made me think that.) Did they kill off the entire cast in Brave? I’m not saying.

What I am saying is I really like it. Mostly I like it because it’s an original fairytale. This is something filmy people seem to have trouble with. I don’t know if it’s down to lack of imagination or lack of faith in ideas that haven’t been doing the rounds forever, but almost all fairytale movies seem to be based off an existing tale – whether they’re trying to subvert it in some way or playing it straight. Of course this is good sometimes; our knowledge of and attachment to existing stories can mean we’re more invested in them. But isn’t it nice to take a holiday from what we know from time to time so we can explore new stories, worlds and characters?

Up poster
Apart from anything else, Up is a great example of how Pixar can even do wacky talking animals in a clever and original way.
It’s not just fairytales of course; in every genre it’s a problem, particularly for movies. Sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and reimaginings are so dominant that you could be forgiven for thinking every story that can ever exist has already been written, and they can only be rehashed in various forms with minor variations here and there.

Of course, it’s hard to write an entirely original story, but we can at least try. At least look like we’re trying, by not using the same exact characters with the same names, the same settings, the same plot devices. Try inventing some new characters, shuffling the tropes around a bit, adding a few wildcards. That’s what Brave does, and I appreciate it very much. It may not be as quirkily beautiful as Wall-E or as emotionally gut-punching as Up, but not much is.

On another note, I’ve heard vague mutterings that the SNP (Scottish National Party) are trying to position Brave as a sort of propaganda film for Scottish independence from the UK. As someone who paradoxically likes the SNP but hates nationalism in general, this seems a bit stupid. I enjoyed it a great deal as a story, and seeing so much Scottishness – even exaggerated Pixar-ified Scottishness – on a cinema screen was a fun novelty, but I don’t see how anyone could sensibly make the leap to thinking it’s indicative of some great Scottish spirit waiting to be freed, it being made by an American studio and all. I think people can tell the difference between fiction and reality.

But maybe I’m giving us too much credit, especially when it comes to Pixar films. I mean, the first ten minutes of Up. Jeezo.