A Brave Undertaking for Pixar
“Brave” represents a comeback for Disney/Pixar. Last year’s “Cars 2” wasn’t a bad movie – it just wasn’t up to the level we’ve come to expect from the studio that’s produced such stellar films as “Up,” “Toy Story 3,” and “Wall-E,” in the last few years. (“Cars 2” did go on to earn almost $200 million at the box office, so what do critics know, right?)
But there’s something unique to “Brave” that deserves a word of caution. It’s not just that for the first time a Pixar film has a female protagonist – that theme is long overdue and absolutely welcome. But “Brave” has a dark psychological twist, and while it maintains its fairy tale conventions, it may not be the hero story parents are expecting or that the title implies.
The hero in question is wee Scottish lassie Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Her impossibly sumptuous bounty of curly red hair is only outdone by her adventurous and occasionally stubborn spirit. The haggis hits the fan when a trove of uninspiring suitors for Merida to marry is brought before her, causing a serious rift between mother and daughter.
Taking matters into her own hands, Merida seeks the aid of a reclusive, woodcarving witch (Julie Walters), unleashing a curse upon her mother with unexpected results.
This surprising plot turn will not be heralded by everyone who wanted more traditional heroic endeavors or heartwarming adventures, the kind found in recent films like “Tangled,” or “How to Train Your Dragon.” But Pixar’s mantra has been to pioneer, not duplicate. So while there are elements common to other films, “Brave” has its own tone and a decidedly different story to tell – one whose details should be left undisclosed for maximum enjoyment.
Other Pixar essentials abound. The gorgeous Scottish landscape is filled with rapturous rolling green pastures, verdant forests, and watery inlets, further blurring the line between real cinematography and CGI animation. (The 3D treatment is excellent but not required.) Much of the comic relief comes by way of the oversized King, the neighboring clans, and Merida’s mischievous little triplet brothers.
But the heart of the story revolves around the way Merida and her teenage angst, and Elinor the well-intentioned mom who only wants what’s best for her princess daughter, come to grips with their differences that will, of course, bring them closer.
Unexpectedly heavy stuff for a kids’ film? Perhaps.
But if not from Pixar, then who?
Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.