Review by Pete Roche
No, she’s not Katniss.
Disney Princess who doesn’t want to be a Disney Princess. This is problematic for the Scottish teen, who
was (unlike a closeted stepdaughter or the bookworm offspring of an eccentric
inventor father) born into the role. Merida's
mother is eager to marry her off to the first worthy suitor, but this girl just wants to have fun. Merida
Kelly MacDonald (HBO’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE) voices the heroine of BRAVE, the latest feel-good computer cartoon from Pixar.
We’ve been here before, so we know what’s coming next.
Movie curses need countdowns, of course (see SHREK, CINDERELLA, etc.). Accordingly, mother and daughter have two days to bond in the wild and “mend the fabric” that unites them before Queen Elinor’s new shape becomes permanent. The deadline becomes crucial in a film that boasts no conventional villains per se.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. Disney pawed this path ten years ago with BROTHER
BEAR, wherein an impetuous teenage Inuit
learns valuable life lessons after turning into a grizzly. One supposes BRAVE could’ve been titled
STORY studio is gifted enough to make something old feel new. Brad Bird protégé Mark Andrews (INCREDIBLES)
lovingly adapts a story by Brenda Chapman (PRINCE OF EGYPT), using technical
assistance from veteran graphic designer Steve Purcell. The pace is brisk, the gags frequent, and the
Animators have reached the point, it would seem, where accurately rendering once-tricky textures like hair, feathers, and fur is not only possible, but par for course.
locks look like tangled yarn. Her
dresses have an authentic sheen. The
animals—from horse Angus and family dog to the picture’s many bears (including
a trio of cubs) are convincingly colored.
The landscapes are lush, airy, and brilliant. Scenes with water are especially stunning,
like when Merida stretches her hand
into a waterfall and goes salmon fishing with her decidedly non-outdoorsy mum
in a babbling brook. And when Merida
pulls off the ROBIN HOOD stunt of planting an arrow through an opponent’s
bulls-eye, the slow-motion warble of the shaft in flight and splintering of
wood on target is, well…pretty cool. Merida
Composer Patrick Doyle (DONNIE BRASCO,
THOR, HARRY POTTER) keeps things
bouncing along perkily (like ’s
hair) with a score inspired by traditional Celtic instrumentation. Flutes, harps, and dulcimer weave intricate
melodies over bodhran-beaten rhythms that capture—mimic, even—onscreen activity
like the plodding of horses through a forest or the havoc caused by giant,
embattled bears. Merida
MacDonald is spot-on as the emotionally torn lassie out to repair family ties while asserting her own identity. But comedian Connally practically steals the show as her thick-brogued, henpecked, peg-legged father. Peripheral characters—like
suitors and their goofy dads—also provide big laughs. Too bad Sean Connery's retired; the ex-007 actor would've been perfect for one of these kilt-wearing McClouds. Merida
BRAVE is a rousing ride that emphasizes the importance of family while stressing the merits of individuality. Teenagers of every culture clash with parents over what they should do with their lives, measuring those options against what they actually want to do with their future. BRAVE unfurls this rite of passage like a tapestry, demonstrating that it is possible for a headstrong young person to be all that she can be, actualizing her potential while maintaining healthy relations with the ‘rents.
So while BRAVE warrants a “C” for originality, it earns an “A” in execution—and another feather in Pixar’s already-flamboyant peacockian cap. 3 out of 4 stars.