PLOT: Merida (Kelly McDonald) is a fiercely independent Scottish princess, forced by her inflexible mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) to choose a suitor from the three clans that help her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) rule the land. Desperate, she seeks out a witch for help, but soon regrets her decision.
REVIEW: Those of you who were bitterly disappointed by the surprisingly manic CARS 2 will be happy to know that BRAVE is indeed a return to form by Pixar; a studio whose filmography has been jam-packed with some of the best films of the last decade and a half, animated or otherwise. More than WALL-E or UP, BRAVE echoes the classic Disney formula, with a young, headstrong princess anchoring the film. However, it's how they subvert the formula that really makes BRAVE interesting.
Rather than have this turn into another TANGLED (not that there was anything particularly wrong with that), the Pixar team takes BRAVE into unexpected territory- and I'm going to try an keep this as spoiler-free as possible (other reviews have given away the big twist). Be aware that the trailers from BRAVE, with a quick exception, only feature scenes from the first half hour of the film, and after Merida's visit with the witch (Julie Walters), BRAVE winds up being anything but your standard princess in jeopardy film.
So- don't do in expecting all of the Disney archetypes. There's no handsome prince, or love story. Rather, the heart of the film is Merida's complicated relationship with her mother- which plays itself out in a way that suggests that perhaps Merida's unflinching individuality, which in itself is a good thing, also hides a selfish streak that she'll have to overcome. In fact, the title itself- BRAVE speaks to a far different kind of bravery than the type one might think. Merida doesn't have an army of foes to conquer, and there not even any real villains to speak of here (not even the witch qualifies). Dare I say it, but like WALL-E, this Pixar outing even gets a little cerebral.
However, this is still a fun Pixar movie through and through- and while there's more subtext and substance than the typical animated adventure, there's also a lot of fun to be had. McDonald makes for a spunk, intensely likable heroine, and one that will likely win over a lot of young viewers. She's modern in that she's not defined by her love for a handsome prince, and is quite capable of rescuing herself- thank you very much. Emma Thompson brings some heart to the film as the conflicted Elinor, essaying a Scottish accent that's convincing enough that the friend I was with had no idea it was her until I pointed it out.
There's also a lot of laughs to go along with the heart though, with occasional cut-ins to a subplot featuring Billy Connolly's laddish king contending with an out-of-control drunken party at the castle, alongside his fellow, soused lords, voiced by Kevin McKidd (who also voices his unintelligible offspring), Robbie Coltrane, and Craig Ferguson. And yes, a la BRAVEHEART there's a lot of drunken Scottish mooning (no undies under the kilts folks)- giving us the first opportunity to see how Pixar animates a big old butt.
Other than naked asses, the other area where BRAVE really breaks new ground is in the quality of CG animation, with Merida's flowing red locks being a real knockout. The 3D is also refreshingly well-conceived, although the story is good enough the extra eye-candy isn't a must. While BRAVE maybe didn't quite blow my mind like WALL-E (one of the best sci-fi films of all time), or leave me drowning in a puddle of my own tears (the first five minutes of UP), BRAVE is yet another piece of top-notch entertainment from Pixar.