Dirs: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman. US. 2012. 100mins
The thirteenth animated feature film from Pixar Studios, Scottish-set Brave is essentially a body-swap movie impressed upon a comfortable fable-of-yore narrative template, wherein an at-odds parent and child rediscover their love for one another against a backdrop of magic-infused conflict. Amiable and action-packed without being overbearing about it, and marked by a new level of visual complexity, even by Pixar standards, the film peddles with assurance and panache the pleasant tale of a new young heroine.
Brave’s detailed animation work is gorgeous.
Brave’s ancillary home video value will be robust, allowing viewers the frame-by-frame ability to more fully savor the movie’s creative visual depth. But its top-notch 3-D treatment makes for an immersive theatrical experience that should resonate with audiences worldwide. Releasing Stateside on June 22 after playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival (Brave also closes the Edinburgh International Film Festival) , the film seems poised for a summer of domination with family audiences.
Able narrative cross-cutting in short order establishes young, red-haired Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the daughter of Scottish Highlands King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), as a skilled archer and headstrong lass. When cornered into choosing from three suitors for an arranged marriage, Merida balks. After happening upon an eccentric, wood-carving witch (Julie Walters), Merida turns to her for assistance; unfortunately, the witch’s spell proves ill fated, turning her mother into a bear.
With less than two days to reverse the spell before it comes permanent, Merida first whisks her mother out of the castle into the nearby forest, and then back into its walls, in the process discovering information about another bear that previously cost her father one of his legs.
While they don’t actually switch bodies with one another, Brave is at its core about the sensitive chasm between Merida and Elinor, and a parent bearing witness (no pun intended) in more piercingly direct fashion to the unique skills and desires of a growing child, while said child simultaneously comes to realise the full value of a parent having their best interests at heart. The payoff of the other, more conventional legend elements is a bit stilted, but the universality of this strand keeps the film emotionally grounded.
Brave’s detailed animation work is gorgeous. The increased textures of things like animals or Merida’s hair are areas in which animation rendering have been steadily improving over the last half-decade, but the complexity here of some of the movie’s clothing, sails and other tapestries is downright remarkable. While Elinor is rendered a bit more traditionally cutesy in bear form (for the most part standing upright), it’s somewhat justified and explained within the narrative.
The movie’s vocal performances are agreeable and, though accented, tamped down enough in brogue so as to not be indistinguishable. Connolly is amusing as the barrel-chested and loud but largely deferential Fergus; Thompson channels the commingled tenderness and exasperation of a parent struggling to accept the impending adulthood of a beloved child; and Macdonald is quite spirited as Merida.
Patrick Doyle’s score is agreeably multi-flavored, highlighting the movie’s Scottish roots without tipping over into cloying reverence for the sake of homage.
Some of the action, including a third act showdown with a nastier bear, may be a bit intense for very young viewers. Slapstick-style action with Merida’s rascally triplet younger brothers, though, will prove enchanting. Enrico Casa Rosa’s La Luna, a charming six-minute short, plays in front of Brave.
Production companies: Pixar Animation Studios
International distribution: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Producer: Katherine Sarafian
Executive producers: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
Associate producer: Mary Alice Drumm
Co-director: Steve Purcell
Screenplay: Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi, based on a story by Brenda Chapman
Cinematography: Camera: Robert Anderson; Lighting: Danielle Feinberg
Editor: Nicholas Smith
Production designer: Steve Pilcher
Music: Patrick Doyle
Main voice cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Sally Kinghom, Eilidh Fraser, Steve Purcell, Patrick Doyle, John Ratzenberger