Longtime readers know that I'm a huge fan of the Disney computer animation division known as Pixar. I love their whimsy, their attention to detail, and their ability to pull on my heartstrings. I'll put in a good word for all of their films, from the highly well-regarded "Toy Story" series to the unfairly underpraised "Cars" movies. Pixar has kept up the good work with their latest offering, "Brave".
Set in medieval Scotland, "Brave" tells the story of Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald, in an excellent voice performance), daughter to King Fergus (Billy Connelly, in another excellent voice performance) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson, in a voice performance so excellent I wonder if it can qualify for an Academy Award).
Elinor wants Merida to behave regally, but Merida wants to be free and go on adventures. Merida goes on and on about her distaste for royal life, which irks me because it's such a privileged life. She's never wanting for food or clothing, nor is she treated meanly or forced to labor. She even has two loving parents, and we all know how rare that is for a Disney movie.
Merida's displeasure comes to a head when her parents tell her she needs to get married. Three prominent lords visit the castle to present their loser sons as suitors. These scenes are the ones featured most in the film's advertisements, and they are just as funny if not funnier than they claim to be. The lords are overly competitive and quick to boast. King Fergus tries to act above it all, but gets caught up in the fray himself. Adding to the comedic chaos are Merida's triplet brothers, whose antics (usually involving stealing treats) drive everybody bonkers. It takes the firmness of Queen Elinor to keep everybody in line.
Merida and Elinor have a falling out after Merida defiantly shows up the suitors in an archery competition. She runs away and finds a witch (Julie Walters, in yet another excellent voice performance), and asks her for a spell to change her mother. What she means is that she wants spell that changes her mother's mind about the marriage, but the witch gives her a spell that changes her mother into a bear. The kingdom can't have a bear for a queen, it wouldn't be proper. Seriously, King Fergus hates bears ever since one took his leg. They switch his demeanor from jolly and wise to vengeful and irrational in a real hurry.
Merida sneaks Elinor out of the castle and they hide in the woods while they try to figure out how to undo the spell. Elinor is so used to acting like a lady that she tries to maintain her manners while stuck in a bear's body. Merida convinces her to adapt and soon she's catching fish in her mouth. I don't know why the film doesn't advertise these scenes, they're just as funny as the ones with the suitors. More importantly, the relationship between mother and daughter develops in a touching, if unconventional way.
The film doesn't work so well as a mystical action-adventure, which it tries to be in a series of rushed scenes toward the end. But it does just fine when it's trying to be funny and sweet, and even the few sad scenes hit the right notes. The visuals are impressive as always, and did I mention the excellent voice performances? The Pixar magic has worked wonders again with "Brave."
Three and a Half Stars out of Five.
"Brave" is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor. Its running time is 100 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.