Now, that’s what I call girl power.
Merida, a princess in medieval Scotland, has flaming red hair and a temper to match. She can shoot bow and arrow better than any of the unappealing suitors for her hand, and she’s determined to choose her own future.
She’s also the first heroine to star in a Pixar animated movie.
“Brave” should be hailed as a return to form for Pixar, after a disappointing 2011 in which “Cars 2” failed to get an Oscar nod. This may not be the best Pixar movie ever, but it’s a first-rate family story told with some of the best digital animation in the world.
Any mother who regularly butts heads with a spirited daughter, and any daughter who chafes at how Mom wants to make decisions for her, will relate big time to this story — and dads and brothers have characters to identify with here as well.
Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald, “No Country for Old Men”) openly rebels as her mother (voice of Emma Thompson) constantly reminds her that a princess does not chortle, does not stuff her gob with food, does not put her bow on the dining table. Should not, in fact, possess personal weapons.
That’s hard enough to bear, but when Mom decides it’s time for Merida to take a husband, in the name of keeping peace with the other clans in the kingdom, open rebellion ensues.
There’s lots of voice-over talk here about fate and destiny, which doesn’t really go anywhere beyond Merida wanting to determine her own.
The Pixar magic comes when little bright blue spirits in the forest, called Will o’ the Wisps, lead Merida to a witch (voice of Julie Walters) masquerading as a wood carver.
Merida seeks a spell on her mother that will change Merida’s fate. The witch’s spell turns mother into a bear, which isn’t good in a castle where the king (voice of Billy Connolly) hates bears. His leg was bitten off by one years ago.
If Merida can’t reverse the spell within two sunrises, Mom will remain a bear forever. Meantime, she has to hold off all those hunters in kilts, including Dad.
The eye-pleasing animation includes breathtaking scenery, exciting horseback rides, battles involving various combinations of clans and bears, and mystical forest settings that evoke mood perfectly.
If the movie falters, it’s in the development of secondary characters such as the three suitors for Merida’s hand, or her impish little redheaded triplet brothers, who are forever up to sneaky (and often funny) tricks.
A subplot involving the legendary bear that bit off the king’s leg also feels a little half-baked.
But Pixar is so good at what it does, you can’t escape admiring when it perfectly creates a bear that instinctively acts like a queen, with all her dainty manners, as she learns to fish in a trout stream or turns the castle into bedlam.
The Scottish setting means predictable gags involving bagpipes, haggis, kilts and “Braveheart” — all of which are entertaining. The accents get too thick to understand only once or twice. Mostly, they add to the fun as well.
Some early, slightly deflating reviews for “Brave” leave me mystified. There’s a lot to like here and very little that’s off-putting, and the story line about mothers and daughters rings like a bell with truth.
I’m certainly going to recommend that my college-age niece, the one with flaming red hair and a temper to match, see this with my sister.
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