Brave Part I: Art and Character

I don’t have time to write a full review of Brave, but I do want to comment on it. I’m a huge fan of Pixar, and Brave has a number of strong elements that vividly demonstrate those areas where Pixar’s films are truly superior. Unfortunately, the film also has some significant weaknesses, mostly in areas where Pixar’s films used to be truly superior. This makes it a great film to analyze, so here are some quick, unorganized thoughts, with deeper analysis to come next week. This post will contain heavy criticism and spoilers, so be warned.

In short, the story is pretty simple. The tomboyish daughter of a boorish king is constantly fighting with her prim and proper mother, ruling queen of the realm. As she kicks against this overbearing child-training from her admittedly loving parents, she destroys the trust that they have placed in her. Then she tries to solve this rift with a hastily-purchased witch’s spell, but this backfires when her mother is magicked into a bear. Her distraught father attempts to kill this bear, which he thinks killed his wife, and so mother and daughter flee into the woods. While hiding out together, they bond, and eventually everyone sees everyone else’s side, the spell is lifted, and everything goes back to normal.

Brave vs. How to Train Your Dragon
There are a lot of obvious similarities to the 2010 Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon, and if Brave hadn’t experienced so many delays during its seven(!) years of production development, they might even have gone head to head at the box office. It reminds me of the old days when Pixar and Dreamworks would compete with similarly themed films (Antz vs. Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo vs. Shark Tale, Monsters, Inc. vs. Monsters vs. Aliens, etc.), and the pop-culture, gag-based, teen-centered Dreamworks movies never could match the methodical, story-driven, family-centered craftsmanship of Pixar.

Things are different now, though. The Dreamworks Animation team have vastly improved their story departments and art direction, and while the tired Shrek and Madagascar franchises still rely on celebrity voices and raunchy jokes, How to Train Your Dragon featured an ex-Disney director (more on that later), great structure, good art, and lots of fun. Meanwhile, Pixar’s recent films have been slipping in many ways… so how do these two movies compare?

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Movie Poster Color Design

A few years ago I posted on the color design in Black Hawk Down, using the color charts created by Brendan Dawes. These film mosaics are great way to see the color progression in a single movies at a glance, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see how color design has changed across films from year to year?

Unfortunately, all the films of the last century contain too much data to try to see at one time, but programmer Vijay Pandurangan has come up with the next best thing: a way to chart the dominant colors of movie posters. After downloading 35,000 posters and sorting them by year, he crunched to numbers to produce this image, which shows the color trends over time. The most obvious change we can see is an overall increase in blue over orange during the last 98 years of movie marketing, which vastly accelerates in the early 1980s.

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