Princess Merida might conquer evil in Brave, but the film was soundly slayed at the Chinese box office. (Photo/CFP)
By Jiang Yuxia
In the three weeks since its June 19 China premiere, Disney-Pixar's latest 3D fairytale Brave has dominated the worldwide battle of the box office by outmuscling fellow animated feature Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Brave, which raked in $121.5 million globally in its opening weekend, follows the adventures of an unconventional princess fighting for her freedom in the Scottish Highlands. But not everyone in China has been swept up in the red-headed heroine's tale。
The movie, which features Pixar's first female lead in its 17-year history, has struggled to match its global success in China, and has been pulled from major cinemas in Beijing to make way for domestic movies。
Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave is set in medieval Scotland in the 10th century. Headstrong and heroic, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is also a skilled archer who clashes with her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) in protest against an arranged clan marriage。
To escape her fate as a teen bride, the sassy lass turns to a witch (Julie Walters), who casts a spell on her mother that turns her into a bear - an unfortunate transformation given Merida's father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is an avid bear hunter。
The studio spent more than five years making the movie with mixed results. The frizzy-locked princess looks as if she is enduring a bad hair day, yet the grand scenery of historical sites in Scotland such as the Callanish Stones and Loch Lomond are depicted as accurately as they are stunning。
"The movie was enjoyable, but it wasn't as exciting as I expected," said James MacIntosh, a Scot studying at Beihang University。
"The caricature of Scottish people is funny sometimes. For example, Scots with ginger hair do tend to fight a lot. But the story is shallow and it isn't representative of modern Scottish society or even ancient Celtic society, where women shared equal status with men."
While the plot is fun (who hasn't wanted to turn their mother into a bear at some stage?), tired, old-fashioned fairy tale clichés drew scorn from movie critic Qu Xiao。
"Brave is very American, and its message of independence and being a free spirit conveys mainstream values," he said. Brave enjoyed 494 screenings in cinemas across Beijing for its China premiere, second only to The Hunger Games' 735 screenings. However, by Monday Brave had a significantly more timid 80 screenings, with this dwindling to just a dozen on Wednesday。
According to leading Chinese entertainment industry research center EntGroup, the movie had raked in 19.95 million yuan ($3.14 million) in China as of June 24.
Brave always faced a test of courage in China given that it premiered outside of school holidays and hit screens during the senior middle high school exam period, when students are far less likely to be out watching movies。
Mao Yuan, an usher at the Chaoyang Theater, recalled the 6:40 pm screening on Saturday for Brave attracted just five moviegoers to the 100-seat theater。
"The movie's name is a big problem," pinpointed Qu. "As is often the case with Hollywood movies, it hasn't been promoted much in China. It's been hard for people to even realize Brave is a Pixar production."
He noted the film might have attracted more moviegoers if its Chinese name had been translated in line with its Pixar predecessors, such as Toy Story (The General Mobilization of Toys) in 1995 or Cars (The General Mobilization of Racing Cars) in 2006.