Pixar’s ‘Brave’ Scottish adventure is worth breaking out the kilts for

Merida takes aim in 'Brave'
Merida takes aim in ‘Brave’

It seems you can always count on Pixar to raise the bar, in animation and in movies in general. Whereas everyone else is regurgitating the same fairy tales that have been regurgitated several times over, they’ve done what apparently is unthinkable: they made a new one.

In Brave, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is the Princess of Scotland in the 12th century. She is the oldest child and only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The latter is particularly tough on her for not adhering to traditions. This comes to ahead when the suitors arrive for her betrothal. The one thing she does have control over is which contest they must win for her hand. In a clever ruse, she selects archery, her own strong suit, and then sneaks into the competition and bests every one of the suitors’ shot.

Next scene, of course, is a heated argument with her mother, who is absolutely livid. Merida rides out to cool off and finds herself at a mini-Stonehenge-like location just outside a forest. It is at the entrance to the forest that she sees a trail of will o’ the wisps, which she believes will lead her to her ultimate destiny.

She is brought to the woodcarvings shop of an old witch (Julie Walters). After realizing what she’s dealing with, she barters her necklace for everything in the store, and a spell. The way she phrases it is that she wants her mother to change. This is in reference to a change in attitude or mind, but when worded so vaguely, the old adage “be careful what you wish for” will certainly apply. The spell she learns can be reversed, but she’ll need to decipher a cryptic hint, and the clock is ticking.

This is one grump old bear in 'Brave'
This is one grump old bear in ‘Brave’

First thing’s first: yes, the animation is spectacular. A lot of hard work clearly went into Brave. Just doing Merida’s hair alone must have been a major challenge. But of course, that all means nothing if the picture fails to deliver, but it does greatly.

There’s more meat to Brave than your typical princess story. No time-consuming musical numbers here, but instead a focus on story,  character, and adventure. And while there aren’t any rolling heads or samurai swords like a certain other Scot film, the action in it is quite exciting. In addition in several moments of well-executed suspense and tension.

But Pixar may have set the bar too high. This effort doesn’t quite measure up to their last few films, namely Up and Toy Story 3. It just doesn’t have the emotional resonance as powerful and deep as that those ones had.

As always, preceding the feature is an animated short. This time it is La Luna, in which three generations of men – elderly, middle aged, and child – travel into space from a ladder in their boat. It’s an amiable piece, and the lack of spoken dialogue gives it a certain charm.

Lastly, on a more serious note, the movie includes a couple tributes to Steve Jobs, who purchased Pixar back when it was known as The Computer Graphics Group (and before it had even started making animated films) and was the company’s CEO. The film is dedicated to his memory and one of the clans is called Macintosh.

Pixar didn’t take home the gold during the last awards season, but this time I’m pulling for them. Because, in the end, there can be only one.

Leave a Reply