directed by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
(Disney, 2012)

Brave is quite loveable, for several reasons, not the least of which is that if this movie doesn't make you want to run off and be a jolly Scottish person, then nothing else will. But the kilts and the Highlands and terrific animation aren't the only excuses to see this cute, fun movie. It's got great voice talent and charm that's as strong as a Scottish brogue.

While it's true that Brave could have been a bit, well, braver in its choice of themes (mothers vs. daughters, freedom vs. expectations), it's still pretty engaging and the vistas of the Scottish Highlands are awesome. The good folks at Pixar know how to build breathtaking worlds and they are in top form here.

Brave is essentially a princess movie sculpted along the lines of Disney's princess movies. Since the action is set in ancient times, there are strict laws and customs that have to be followed, especially if you're a girl and most especially if you're a princess. When flame-haired Princess Merida (Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald), a skillful but impulsive archer, is told that she has to choose a suitable husband from the sons of the clan lords, she asks her loving but exasperated mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) if she can at least choose the contest in which they will compete for her hand -- her choice, of course, being archery.

This is Merida using her head: she's an archer on the level of Legolas and Katniss. The winner of the contest isn't surprising, considering it's been in every trailer. But that doesn't stop the drama as much as it ratchets up the suspense. Her actions haven't resolved the dispute, only thrown oil on a burning fire. The clan lords lose patience, clamoring for her to make a choice that she clearly doesn't want to make.

That's when Merida stops using her head and lets her fiery nature take over. That's also the moment when she does something very selfish that endangers her mother's life. Merida is then forced to use her wit and skill to save both of them.

There's a distinct feel of two stories being mashed together in an attempt to inject some girl empowerment into a narrative that wants to have a modern sensibility while still retaining the feel of an ancient folk tale. But overall, the message of how parent-child roles can flip over easily, and that people have the right to choose their own futures, holds up. The story moves smoothly in spite of getting caught in a few places. It's not Cars or WALL-E -- in fact, it's actually quite a bit more like Tangled -- but it's still appealing, funny, sweet and a wonderful feast for the eyes.

review by
Mary Harvey

28 July 2012

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