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John Ary On The MacGuffin Algebra of BRAVE!!

John Ary here with my second stab at Brave.  

It took me a few days to figure out exactly why I disliked it.  I was really into the movie during the first act.  The animation is beautiful.  The main character is fantastic.  The setup with the rival clans and the pressures the family puts on the daughter are interesting.  

Then there’s a plot twist in the second act that took me out of the movie.  For some reason, everything after the plot twist felt hollow and I couldn’t figure out why.  I then came to realize just how unimportant the themes of the movie are to the plot.  It wants you to think the movie is about destiny and free will, but ultimately you could swap these themes out with others like saving the environment, animal cruelty or the family dynamic.  It doesn’t really matter what theme you want to substitute for destiny.  Any theme will do.  All that matters here is that the daughter and the mother have a some sort of conflict to get them into the second act.

I came up with an equation that spells out my point.

X+Magic Cake= Plot Twist
(Plot Twist+Princess) / Conflict = Understanding
Understanding+X = Happy Ending

Substitute any theme for X and you end up with basically the same movie, just with a slightly different opening act.

The equation probably won’t make much sense to you if you haven’t seen the film, so I go deeper into the plot with some spoilers in the video below.

Pixar movies for the most part work because they feel like they are about something important.  WALL-E illustrated a strong message about ecology and self-reliance.  Toy Story is about friendship, how to handle change and making judgements about others.  The Incredibles is about learning how to be yourself.  If you try to swap out these themes, you would have radically different movie experiences.  That’s simply not the case with Brave.

For more video reviews, features, and exclusive content, check out our Youtube channel and you can also follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 22, 2012, 11:17 a.m. CST

    unfortunately Pixar is approaching the equation Pixar = poop

    by cozy

  • June 22, 2012, 11:21 a.m. CST

    Looking forward to it

    by Rufus

    The formula's always been there, except for them it comes from the heart and not a formula.

  • June 22, 2012, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Seems like a rigid way to view storytelling...

    by Apocol0id

    I mean, making formulas? Can't we just accept the stories we're told?

  • June 22, 2012, 11:38 a.m. CST

    Taking the kids in an hour.

    by tomandshell

    I hope it exceeds my expectations, but the reviews are polite rather than ecstatic.

  • June 22, 2012, 11:50 a.m. CST


    by Dreamfasting

    My problem with it as a McGuffan isn't so much that it's interchangable, as that it feels tediously well-explored territory. "I don't want to marry any of X, Y or Z" just doesn't really feel any different from the "I don't want to marry X, I want to marry Y". It's still about following passion. The only difference seems to be that her passion isn't an unrealistically perfect prince on the sidelines. If you want to do a subversive movie, how about doing one that flips the rebellious emotional theme on its head and suggests that the passions of youth are not enough in themselves to make a healthy relationship or healthy life.

  • June 22, 2012, 12:17 p.m. CST

    It is a much quieter pixar release.

    by jellypop

    There has been hardly any advertising for it here in the UK. Is it slipping under the radar on purpose?

  • June 22, 2012, 12:18 p.m. CST

    *spoiler* If you stay through the credits

    by wade

    you see that the witch does deliver all of the carvings.

  • June 22, 2012, 12:25 p.m. CST

    Just make Incredibles 2 and all will be forgiven

    by SkitZo

  • June 22, 2012, 12:30 p.m. CST


    by John Ary


  • June 22, 2012, 12:35 p.m. CST

    A Masters Of The Universe t-shirt? Really?

    by ravenloff

    I have been an avid fan of this website since, oh, 1998 or so, reading it pretty much every weekday if not every day for little tidbits about movies. I thought that was all well and good. A few days ago, I came across the startling stat that the average age of a "full-time" gamer is 28. Let that sink in a little bit. A man, 28 years old, spending 40 hours a week playing video games. Games. Let that sink in a bit further. I've gamed. I game. I probably will continue to game somewhat, if severely reduced as the result of acute epiphany. But 40 hours? A grown man? And here we have a grown man wearing a t-shirt of a cartoon that was made to sell toys to children. Our society is in deep, deep shit and I, for one, will no longer be a party to the problem. We're currently coasting on the hard work of people a generation or two behind us. Once that slows to a complete stop, we're fucked, well and good. Get up. Get out. Do something productive.

  • June 22, 2012, 12:38 p.m. CST

    Everytime I heard her say "fate" it sounds like "feet."

    by Chris

  • June 22, 2012, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Is that what the movie is about? Her feet?

    by SkitZo

  • June 22, 2012, 12:51 p.m. CST

    this is much better

    by Margarita Ania Rodriguez cuban hustlers

  • June 22, 2012, 12:51 p.m. CST


    by John Ary

    Oh crap. I misunderstood her. She wants to change her FEET, not her FATE. That makes more sense. I take back everything I said in the video above.

  • The irony speaks for itself and there's really not much anyone can add to that. But are you implying that John Ary resembles your slacker stereotype because he's wearing a MOTU t-shirt? I don't want to make that assumption so why don't you take this opportunity to clarify your point before I continue.

  • June 22, 2012, 12:55 p.m. CST

    @ zombie_fatigue - touche'

    by ravenloff

    It's not irony. It's self-realization. I popped back in to see if I hadn't made that clear and I hadn't. The worst part about is that everyone hear knows it's true, but the apathy, mine included, keeps us from doing something about it. Time to shake that off. Good luck to those that also try to. I'm done.

  • June 22, 2012, 1:01 p.m. CST


    by DoctorZoidberg

    Your points on adults playing games excessively is well taken, and for that matter I would apply that to any golfer or other 'pasttime' that becomes 'full time'. Nevertheless, wearing a fun T shirt does not equate to being a slacker. I for one am married, a physician, father of two, work out every day, etc etc. I also own several t-shirts with superhero logos on them, watch cartoons, and will even buy a toy for my desk on rare occasion. Being man enough to connect to your childhood isn't a personal failing. It is only an issue when you are an adult who doesn't have to connect to your childhood because you never left it to begin with.

  • If you are at the point where you are coming on here to make fun of guys wearing cartoons on their t-shirts, you are on your way down the darkside of geekdom: the bitter, self-loathing side. Because let's be honest. All of your doomsday concerns about society going to pot due to manchildren is just a projection of your own fear of not living up to some expectation. Trust me: there are plenty of hard-working, productive people on here who strike a healthy balance between their geeky obsessions and their real world responsibilities. For proof take a look at John Ary's resume on his website. The man has done and continues to do great work professionally in addition to a ton of volunteer work. And he's not the exception. This site is filled with professionals, folks with families, successful artist and designers, etc. So, with all due respect, spare us this =i've woken up and you should too= attitude. If you feel you aren't living up to your potential, that's on you. It's not He-Man's fault ;)

  • June 22, 2012, 1:19 p.m. CST

    Old dudes wearing Man-e-face shirts or Mekaneck trousers don't bug me

    by Samuel Fulmer

    As long as they aren't wearing them to their jobs or funerals.

  • June 22, 2012, 1:20 p.m. CST

    Even though if a lawyer arrives at court dressed as Orko

    by Samuel Fulmer

    That's totally acceptable!

  • June 22, 2012, 1:34 p.m. CST


    by Cimarrian77

    im sitting here in my office on the 5th floor literally LOOKING DOWN on the occupy 99% give us everything for free losers and im wearing a Star Wars shirt. Im more successful than any of those peices of shit will ever be and i can STILL wear these shirts to work. I love America!

  • June 22, 2012, 1:34 p.m. CST

    What a BS way of saying "I didn't like it."

    by daggor

    You can swap story elements all of the time. In "The Hangover," instead of a wedding, it could be a college final, a reunion, a funeral or a big business deal that frames the Vegas-trip-gone-wrong. In Brave, if it the main character was trying to protect bears or the woodlands, it would still work, but it would make less sense for her to be desperate enough to use a magic cake on her mother.

  • June 22, 2012, 1:36 p.m. CST

    cimmarian77, that's still going on?

    by P

  • Ary is saying that the theme in the film feels arbitrary or superficial. Plot and story are not the same thing at all.

  • June 22, 2012, 1:49 p.m. CST


    by Cimarrian77

    of course it still going on. When i have to walk by the literal scum of the earth to make it to my job, it will still be going on. they either need to act like grown ups and get a job or kill themselves.

  • June 22, 2012, 1:50 p.m. CST

    i do want to see Brave though.

    by Cimarrian77

    probably wear a MotU shirt. LOL

  • June 22, 2012, 1:54 p.m. CST


    by John Ary


  • June 22, 2012, 2:01 p.m. CST


    by ChakaMudd

    I'm with doctorzoidberg and cimmarian77 man, not much to stand on there. I love having shirts that connect me with my childhood, but it doesn't mean I want to hop into the bubble bath with my Castle Greyskull and Snake Mountain (with voice changer) and play MoTU while my children look on. The shirts are a great way to be an adult and express my interests. PLUS, my children love that their father like to play and connect with them in that way. And that sir, is invaluable.

  • June 22, 2012, 2:13 p.m. CST

    I agree, the banks suck...

    by Cimarrian77

    the banks, wall street, the government. They all fuck us over, but you need to just realize thats how life is. life sucks and then you die. and you pay taxes in the middle of it all. But no one is going to give you anything for free. you need to make your life successful. its a struggle and theyre gonna fight you the whole way but being smelly losers in the park is not the way to accomplish anything.

  • June 22, 2012, 2:14 p.m. CST

    Bringing math to an art fight.

    by JumpinJehosaphat

    So, it's not that we're against formulaic storytelling, but that we're against certain formulas?

  • June 22, 2012, 2:17 p.m. CST


    by Cimarrian77

    lol. U made me remember my Snake Mountain with the rubber glove/ snake that u could pop out. i terrorized my cat to no end with that thing.

  • June 22, 2012, 2:23 p.m. CST

    I just wanted to give you all an update on Ravenloff

    by P

    He just called (threw away his computer away so as not to be tempted by anything geeky) and said that he is on a road to recovery. He's donated all of his nostalgia t-shirts to Urban Outfitters and is selling his action figure collection to help pay for therapy. After stopping off at Men's Wearhouse, he's on his way over to cimmarian77's office to look for a job. But first he has to make an appointment with doctorzoidberg to have the stick removed from his ass.

  • June 22, 2012, 2:25 p.m. CST

    Why do people have to analyse the shit out of a movie

    by SpazMatic1074

    Either you love it or hate it. We get it. There's no logic or reason behind it. There is no reason to review a film twice just because you don't know why you don't like a Pixar film. OMFG they can't have one fail in the bunch? Oh wait.. Cars 2 was fail also. Well I don't have an opinion on the film because I haven't seen it yet. I can't wait to see this. I'm mostly scottish. Hot scottish redheaded girls rule.

  • taking full responsibility for one's action is what actually gets you what you want most in life. Not "saving the environment" or "animal cruelty" (which are never ever addressed in this movie btw). The plot twist threw me completely off at first because this was unlike anything I'd ever seen in that kind of movie. After about ten minutes, I realized the balls Pixar had to to this and was even more awed by their genius and their will to stick by it until the very end! You may not like the plot twist. Fine. But reducing a beautifully crafted film like his to mathematics has me scratching my head as to why I should even watch your video reviews anymore. Furthermore, the fact that you didn't get a simple theme in a Pixar film is leaving me kinda speechless...

  • June 22, 2012, 2:39 p.m. CST


    by John Ary

    That's the funniest thing I read all day.

  • June 22, 2012, 2:40 p.m. CST

    Fuck these video reviews.


    People aren't always somewhere they can play sound, people. If you are going to do a video review do BOTH a video and a written piece. As it stands you are getting the click traffic from me without actually giving me a review in return! And what of the deaf site visitors? Have you heard of accessibility? Nah I'm kidding with that last part but still, fuck video reviews.

  • case in point, this suddenly appears to stream on netflix: it sucks- i can't imagine how many clueless parents buy or rent this stuff for their kid who wants to (and would be better off) see the real product. I remember in the 80's I wanted to see the Baron Munchausen movie and mom came home with some shitty cartoon version that had been released at the same time.

  • June 22, 2012, 3:41 p.m. CST

    The plot supports the themes

    by Obi Wanna Cannoli

    The plot twist introduces a situation where both mom and daughter are forced to start to understand each other instead of talking around each other. The whole plot after the plot twist is this understanding that grows between the two of them. The theme is not just free will but also dealing with the teen year angst between a mother and a daughter. I don't see how you could change the theme without having to change the plot. Maybe this formula will explain everything... x = (–b ±√(b2 – 4ac)) / 2a

  • June 22, 2012, 3:43 p.m. CST

    zombot : The porn version "Brave : Fire Snatch" is even worse

    by Obi Wanna Cannoli

  • June 22, 2012, 3:49 p.m. CST

    another hilariously bad ripoff after cars 2 came out: Little cars 3!


  • June 22, 2012, 4:39 p.m. CST

    Bravehearts came out after Braveheart

    by Obi Wanna Cannoli

    Looks like every other porn set in someone's living room except for the dude is wearing a kilt.

  • June 22, 2012, 4:46 p.m. CST

    Abraham Lincoln vs the Zombies...

    by Cimarrian77

    saw it at the redbox last night. lol.

  • June 22, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    In 17 years, Pixar has put out 2 'meh' movies

    by SifoDyasJr

    the rest have been great, and more than a few have been brilliant. I'll go see Brave later tonight. I don't think it will be at Wall-e or Up levels, but I know I'll be entertained and get my money's worth.

  • June 22, 2012, 8:37 p.m. CST

    @wookie_blowjob Totally agree, but I have an admission

    by ChakaMudd

    Very cool thing to do BTW. But, I must admit that, while I'd rather troll around in a great tee, I kinda like a sharp button down occasion. Hmmm... maybe that's because the chicks dig it ;) Not a bad thing when single.

  • June 22, 2012, 8:41 p.m. CST

    @cimmarian77: OMG, forgot about the pop-up Snake Mountain!

    by ChakaMudd

    I still have my MoTU toys in storage; recently I purchased a MIB Battle Armor He-Man from an Estate Sale! Not this Pantene version: But this version:

  • Wouldn't it be AWESOME to submerge Greyskull, attach some alka-seltzer ballasts, and make it rise from the depths??? Wish I'd thought of THAT when I was a kid - I did sink Greyskull as a kind of Atlantis story.

  • I'm a creature of habit and have been coming here so long that I haven't really bothered checking out the other sites. I enjoy the talkbacks so I'm interested in other sites with a similar setup. Thanks. (sorry for the repost)

  • I will never understand why people think that movie is so wonderful. It's average at best... other than Mama Incredibles ass. That's pretty stellar.

  • June 22, 2012, 10:43 p.m. CST

    Just got back from seeing it and it was very good

    by SifoDyasJr

    Probably middle of the pack in my Pixar list--Above Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life, but below Wall-e and Toy Story. The animation was freaking gorgeous throughout. Any shortcomings in the story (it drags a bit in the last third) are more than made up for by how hilarious it is throughout. I'd give it 3 stars out of 4.

  • June 23, 2012, 3:23 a.m. CST

    You are overthinking a lame kiddie movie

    by Rupee88

    It's just like people overthinking Prometheus which was just a crappy movie, through and through...well narratively it was. But it sounds like Brave in that it is pretty to look at but just not a good story or characters.

  • June 23, 2012, 3:27 a.m. CST


    by Rupee88

    i think someone above said CHUD and Hitfix. Also and collider are decent. But I spend the most time here. I think the Talkbacks here are the best for some reason, even without the edit feature. The "news" stories on AICN are not especially good. I just like some of the reviews but spend 99% of my time reading the Talkbacks. Yout get a lot of dumb posts but I like the honesty and you get a better read on what all the "fanboys" think than other sites, esp bullshit propaganda that the studios put out and encourage with their payola. Anyway I don't know why I hang out at this site so much but I do.

  • June 23, 2012, 3:28 a.m. CST


    by Rupee88

    The Incredibles fucking rules. That and Toy Story 2 are the best Pixar movies. The first Toy Story is next in quality and then all the rest are mediocre to good at best.

  • June 23, 2012, 4:26 a.m. CST

    I wear a She-Ra t-shirt while fucking your

    by Dingbatty

    girlfriend/wife/daughter while you are working hard doing overtime, because you never are home enough to pay attention to them. When I'm done, they can finish themselves off with a game controller with haptic technology.

  • June 23, 2012, 4:28 a.m. CST

    @raveloff Here's some great Brave - Rule 34 for you:

    by Dingbatty Now who says geeks aren't productive or are contributing value?!?

  • June 23, 2012, 4:29 a.m. CST

    "aren't contributing." Fecking typo.

    by Dingbatty

  • June 23, 2012, 7:04 a.m. CST

    Thanks rupee.

    by P

  • June 23, 2012, 5:59 p.m. CST

    This review is ridiculous

    by History101

    Theme swapping? Really. I don't see it but I do see Nemo's parent need to let go almost screamed every other line. Stop anylzing the politics and just enjoy

  • June 24, 2012, 4:21 a.m. CST

    People who don't see the value in this analysis

    by Jared Bond

    are the people who don't require much more from movies than diverting their attention for 2 hours. But I'll say this-- Brave won't do nearly as well at the box office as Pixar's other films. Why? Because it just won't resonate with audiences. And why's that? This video probably nails it. It doesn't matter if people realize why, they will nevertheless be bored and unaffected.

  • June 24, 2012, 9:14 a.m. CST

    I think Pixar are still making the same solid movies...

    by ApneicMonkey

    ... people just want to hate on them now for whatever reason. It's just nitpicky bullshit - Pixar still makes better movies than any other animation studio... and most regular film studios for that matter.

  • June 24, 2012, 3:26 p.m. CST

    @sifodyasjr. Those 2 films being...?

    by Ozman X

    A Bug's Life and Cars 2, right?

  • June 25, 2012, 10:55 a.m. CST

    Skipping this one.


    Too many creepy gingers.