Why the Academy Made the “Brave” Choice
Just recently, the Academy Awards were administered to last year’s films. The biggest hullabaloo over the whole thing fell on Ben Affleck’s nomination snub for directing Argo. Well, that and a handful of critics raving that The Master should have received more nominations than it did. But all that’s a digression for me: I’m interested in the animated stuff.
You really shouldn’t be surprised.
But this year, I actually managed to see every film in the animated film category, from Frankenweenie to Wreck-it-Ralph. Again, this is hardly surprising: I have found myself specializing more and more in animation, throwing myself into the higher study of it and analyzing it in all its forms. More on that later. We’re talking Oscars now. Specifically, that the Academy made the wrong choice this year in giving the aware to Disney-Pixar’s Brave.
Now, I made this statement on my Facebook and there was protest. Brave is an excellent film, argued said protest. It is beautiful! It’s story is excellent! Etc. And a lot of this is true: Brave is a very good film. Not excellent, mind, but definitely well made. I even pre-ordered it: it’s sitting on my shelf right now. In point of fact, I wrote an academic essay for it, arguing that it defied the standard princess paradigm to open up a new version of the classic tale. It’s actually quite admirable that the film was willing to delve into the mother/daughter dynamic, and the character of Merida does invite a good deal more analysis than is currently given on her. I fervently hope that there is more written about her, as I truly believe that she’s the first in a new line of Disney princesses, ones that will forge a new territory for girls, one that does not insist upon predestined ideas of heterosexual romance. You don’t have to have a prince, and you sure don’t have to rush into marriage anytime soon.
Yet Brave was, for me and several others, a disappointment. After the horror which is Cars 2 (also known as Pixar’s greatest mistake), I and several others were hoping that the studio would redeem itself. The previews and such for Brave made it seem like it might do just that. Beautiful animation! A stirring character! Awesome music! (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this, and it is worthy of the accolades given to it. Then again, any soundtrack that includes songs written by talent like Mumford and Sons likely deserves it.). And remember that whole “there’s a twist that you’ll never see coming” bit? Yeah, that paid off great.
You see, what many don’t know is that Brave‘s production history was a bit of a trainwreck. They originally brought on Brenda Chapman to helm it, and she had a heavy hand in writing the initial script. However, creative differences caused them to part ways, and the script played hot potato in Pixar studios for a while. Which is likely why the film feels so gosh darned conflicted about the story it wants to tell.
But Matt, I imagine my totally imaginary audience asking me, what film did you think should have gotten the Oscar? Well, before the awards were announced, I had it down to two: Paranorman, produced by Laika that was something of a critical darling, and my contender: Disney’s Wreck-it-Ralph. The other two contenders: Pirates! A Band of Misfits and Frankenweenie weren’t much of contenders at all. Frankweenie is a decidedly mediocre film, with excellent visuals but a poor story and characters that are essentially pulled from every Tim Burton piece ever. Pirates! might be a great fun romp with some good laughs, but it is hardly award-winning stuff. No, the award should have gone to either Paranorman, which was a critical favorite for telling a moving story about a boy outsider, or Wreck-it-Ralph. Since I’m being totally honest and playing favorites here, I’m going to outright say what I mean: it should have gone to Wreck-it-Ralph.
This is because Ralph does what an award winning film should do. It takes traditional story telling paradigms and twists them in unique ways. For starters, films about video games are few and far between. Good films about video games are rarer still, and Ralph is nothing if not an excellent film about video games. It enters that world and shows it to even an outsider with a clarity of vision and purpose that is outstanding. The outside viewer, the person who’s focused on trailers, likely thought it would be a delightful fan romp through the digital world. And they would be pleasantly mistaken.
For Ralph instead addresses higher issues. There is a great deal within the film about predestination and the idea of free choice. It asks whether or not we are determined to act in a certain manner, whether we are essentially born good or bad. It also ventures into the idea of changing your fate and raising above society’s expectations for you. There’s a lot to unpack and dig into with the film. And that’s just with the basic story. it’s not even including sharp visuals that bring to life a variety of worlds, from the gritty, winking parody at modern gaming to the almost too bright candy coded world.
Even more appealing for me are the characters themselves. Each and every main character is well-rounded, dynamic, and has complex motivations. Even characters that could have been written off, such as Fix-it-Felix, the hero of Ralph’s game, could have easily been written off. yet instead they are developed with care and craft, each dealing with his or her own issues and demons, fighting against self and society in ways that are downright inspiring.
In point of fact, I have trouble coming up with flaws for the film. It does play a little into the Disney stereotypes and tropes, but I’m not one to think that Disney-tropes bring a film down if played corrected (that wasn’t even my real issue with Frankenweenie, which plays Disney tropes to the hilt). I confess that it might be that certain characters would be found unappealing, and that some people might be turned off by the video game nature.
In point of fact, that is what I believe denied Ralph the Oscar. The Academy looked at it and saw the video game piece. You see, the Academy has proven again and again that it is unwilling to embrace digital ideas. It denied Social Network awards on pretty much the same grounds (I actually saw that one). A movie about video games winning awards? Preposterous! Give it to that one Pixar film with the Scottish girl! We like that stuff.
Really, I’m likely to write another post about the Oscars and the Academy in general, and I’m already getting the feeling that this one is running long. But it’s an argument that I feel needed to be made.
I do apologize for not making this perhaps as funny as some of these will be. Just wait, I’m sure I’ll hit something more humorous sooner or later.