Pixar's exciting, atmospheric 'Brave' salutes mothers and daughters
In the past 17 years, Pixar has given us wonderful stories
about fathers and sons (“Finding Nemo”) and the power of the family unit (“The
Incredibles”), not to mention the “Toy Story” trilogy, made up of three
outstanding “buddy” comedies. Finally, the bond between mothers and daughters
gets its due in “Brave,” a beguiling, often exciting fable that unfolds in
pastoral ancient Scotland.
The movie doesn’t have the satiric punch of “WALL*E” or the
inventiveness of “up” or “Monsters, Inc.,” but that doesn’t diminish its
strengths. Merida, the feisty, fast-thinking heroine of “Brave,” is as strong
and admirable as Disney’s Pocahontas and Mulan. Kids will adore her — and
parents will breathe a sigh of relief that this princess has more on her mind
than landing the perfect man or finding new ways to pamper herself.
Merida (vigorously voiced by Kelly Macdonald of
“Trainspotting” and “No Country for Old Men”), whose firebrand personality is
telegraphed by her wild curls of flaming red, dwells in a mist-cloaked world
not too far removed from Camelot: There seems to be a touch of magic around
every corner, whether it’s in the dense forests inhabited by sparkling,
jellyfish-like will-o-the-wisps, or an extremely peculiar cabin that houses a
daffy witch who masquerades as a woodworker. The adventure-seeking teenager is
never happier than when she’s practicing her archery — she could give Robin
Hood and Katniss Everdeen a few pointers — or scaling the formidable Fire
Falls. This pleases Merida’s dad, the boisterous King Fergus (Billy Connolly),
but does not sit nearly as well with Queen Elinor (a deliciously prim and
forceful Emma Thompson), who would prefer to see her rough-and-tumble daughter
turn her focus to beaus instead of bows and arrows: The only archer Elinor has any
use for is Cupid.
Merida’s refusal to accept the responsibilities that go
along with her royal station leads to a domestic war between the women. It also
sends Merida down a path similar to the one taken by “Little Mermaid” Ariel
(note to angst-ridden young girls out there: consulting a sketchy sorceress
inevitably makes a bad situation worse). The screwy spellcaster (Julie Walters)
triggers a crisis that both ruins and reinvents the parent/child relationship,
as Merida and Elinor are forced to set their grievances aside and work
together. Beneath the sometimes raucous comedy and thrills of “Brave” is the
message that we honor our family not by kowtowing to traditions, but by making
maximum use of our gifts and learning to appreciate each other’s differences.
Admittedly, the moral is not always delivered with the
greatest of subtlety. The male characters in “Brave,” particularly the ones
vying for Merida’s favors, are mostly brain-dead buffoons, and even in 3D they
remain stubbornly one-dimensional. The exceptions are Merida’s deliciously
devilish trio of younger brothers, a band of mischief-makers who move like ninjas
and leave chaos and calamity in their wake.
The strength of “Brave” comes from the enchantingly
atmospheric backdrop (enhanced by Patrick Doyle’s alternately spirited and
mysterious score) and the thoroughly credible tension and tenderness between
Merida and Elinor. Although they’re operating in an environment of sheer fantasy,
Macdonald and Thompson vibrantly bring these ladies to life.
As usual with a Pixar picture, the feature is preceded by a short, in this case the utterly winning "La Luna." It's the story of a little boy who assists in a decidedly offbeat sort of janitorial work, and it will leave you completely dazzled.