Sorry Mel, this is better than Braveheart
Expectations are inevitably sky-high when a new Pixar film is released. And if the latest film, Cars 2 (2011), lacked some of the beautiful and profound simplicity one has come to associate with the studio, that’s forgivable in light of the trend-setting artistic triumphs of films like The Incredibles, Up and Toy Story.
Brave, Pixar’s 13th feature-length film, will surely delight both hard-core fans and more casual movie-goers. Without getting speculative, the film seems aimed (and destined) to please yet another segment as well: those who have long grumbled about the absence of female Pixar leads. Here she is then: the blazingly crimson-haired, adventurous Princess Merida of Scotland, who is all the more engaging in Macdonald’s beautiful Lowland lilt.
With subtle echoes of Grimm’s fairy tales and a heroine that recalls both Mulan and Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Brave is a surprisingly funny yet serious tale about identity, fate, tradition and a troubled mother-daughter relationship. It’s warmly empathetic – a Pixar trademark – but doesn’t avoid creating a few stock characters. Case in point, Merida’s father (Connolly) is almost identical to the Viking father in How to Train Your Dragon. This doesn’t really matter, especially as stock characters are almost vital to a fantasy/fairy tale.
We meet Merida when she finds herself prescribed by tradition to marry one of three very ungainly, teenaged suitors who incompetently compete for her hand in marriage. The queen mother (Thompson) is in charge of civilising Merida to a state of adult compliance, but the nonconformist tomboy understandably prefers to keep shooting her arrows from horseback while riding through mesmerising Scottish CGI-woods. When a magic spell suddenly backfires and turns four innocent family members into bears, the film takes a tragic, dark turn. Without spoiling much, the situation demands a learning of the kind of lesson that is so integral to both fairy tales and family entertainment.
You gladly accept Brave’s few familiar shticks. After all, no other studio can sheath them so disarmingly in aesthetic and moving storytelling.
Dir: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
US animation, 2012, 100 mins
Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters
Premieres August 30