“Brave,” the thirteenth movie from the animation juggernaut that is Pixar, will probably go down as one of the studio’s lesser efforts. Having said that, there is still much to appreciate about this production as it gives the studio an opportunity to make their first period piece, and they give a female hero the lead for the first time ever as well. And as always they offer us brilliant animation to look at, memorably funny characters, and a good dose of John Ratzenberger thrown in for good luck.
At the center of “Brave” is Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the daughter of The Scottish King Fergus and his wife Elinor. Elinor is very strict about Merida being the perfect princess, but Fergus is enthusiastic about his daughter learning how to defend herself, and we get to see how good she becomes with a bow and arrow. It’s no surprise that she enjoys hitting a bullseye on a target far more than putting on a torturously tight corset.
“Brave” soon becomes very concerned with the relationship between mother and daughter, something I don’t feel I have seen much of in movies of recent years. Merida is at that age where the rest of her life is being prepared for regardless of whether she wants it to be a certain way or not. Her natural reaction is to rebel against any intention of setting her up for some arranged marriage, and that becomes the case when three Scottish clans visit Fergus’ kingdom to offer their first born sons as her future husband.
Looking more closely at this particular princess, she’s a combination of Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” Jasmine from “Aladdin,” and Mulan from “Mulan.” Like all those lovely ladies, she is an heir or sorts but ever so eager to follow her own path in life; in other words she is the classic Disney princess of today.
After an emotional blowout with her mother, Merida rides her trusty horse Angus (sure to be a plush toy favorite) into the forest where she runs into an elderly witch (is there any other kind?) who appears to spend her time making wood carvings. Pay close attention to this particular scene as it is bound to have many “easter eggs” for Pixar fans to take in. The animation company always loves to put in nods to their previous movies, and the ones in “Brave” make their biggest appearances here.
Anyway, the witch makes Merida a cake to give to her mother which she says will change the princess’ fate; she will not have to marry one of the suitors from the Scottish clans visiting (not to mention wreaking havoc on) her kingdom. Now we all know that dealing with witches brings nothing but trouble, but so eager is Merida to control her destiny that she is unswerving in her attempts to make her dear mother eat that delicious looking cake. But after her mother eats it, she turns into the same kind of bear her husband King Fergus lost one of his legs to and, while we’re at it, one which looks similar to those in those Charmin toilet paper commercials.
From there, the race is on to transform Elinor back into human before this change becomes forever permanent.
Pixar again continues to outdo itself in the realm of computer animation, and Scotland serves as the perfect setting for this kind of story. Scotland has always been a grand setting for characters filled with honor and passion, and it makes sense that the studio behind “Toy Story” and “The Incredibles” would want to use it for a movie. The look of the land is extraordinary in its computer animated creation, and from a distance it becomes hard to tell at times what is real and what is animated. It has been said that Pixar ended up rewriting their animation system for the first time in 25 years when making “Brave,” and the results are remarkable to see.
While Merida may not be different from the average Disney princess, actress Kelly Mcdonald does give her an appealing personality that serves to make the character unique. Having left such a memorable impression in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and the Coen Brothers’ Best Picture winner “No Country For Old Men,” Mcdonald is perfectly suited to give a strong voice to this wonderfully feisty character with beautiful red hair (I’m serious).
Mcdonald is also surrounded by a voice cast which enthusiastically rises to the occasion to create such wonderful characters. Billy Connolly (“X-Files: I Want To Believe”) is a complete hoot throughout as King Fergus, and he gives Fergus a big heart on top of serving as the movie’s comic foil. Emma Thompson proves to be a wonderful match for Mcdonald as she voices Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, and she gives Elinor a strong vulnerability as she strictly prepares her daughter for her future life as a princess.
“Brave” also has some inspired vocal performances from Kevin McKidd as Lord MacGuffin and Young MacGuffin, Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh, Robbie Coltrane as Lord Dingwall, Julie Walters as The Witch, and John Ratzenberger’s turn as Gordon the guard is further proof that there are no small roles, only small actors (and Ratzenberger is no small actor).
While “Brave” might seem like a bit of a letdown compared to other “groundbreaking” Pixar productions, there is still a lot to appreciate about it. Whatever the case, your children will still be dragging you by force out to the nearest movie theater showing it, and the odds of you owning it on DVD or Blu-ray are very high. You may as well make peace with the fact that your family will end up watching this movie several hundred times at home in the near future, and you are sure to memorize all the dialogue even if it’s against your will.
But even if your kids end up enjoying “Brave” more than you do, there is still much for adults to like about it. Many wonder if Pixar is starting to lose its magic touch, but they haven’t when it comes to making movies for both kids and adults alike to enjoy. And once again, even the lesser of Pixar’s cinematic endeavors tends to be better than most other movies out there. “Brave” is no exception to that.
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