A 'Brave' Heart
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
After stumbling (at least, on a creative level) with last year's "Cars 2," Disney/Pixar gets back on track, and in a very big way, with "Brave" - it's 13th computer-animated feature, and one that represents a breakthrough for the studio in many ways.
First and foremost, it's the first Pixar film with a female protagonist: Merida, whose long, curly red hair is as striking as her courageous spirit, her quest for independence and her incredible skills as an archer. Second, it's Pixar's first period piece, since it takes place during ancient times amidst the rugged Highlands of Scotland. Finally, it's Pixar's most grown-up effort yet, surpassing even 2008's "WALL*E" with emotional depth and thrilling intensity that might be a little too scary for kids (especially during the last act).
But through it all, "Brave" represents a fine return to form for Pixar, since it makes good on the superior filmmaking and storytelling standards set by the likes of "Up," "Finding Nemo," "Ratatouille," the aforementioned "WALL*E" and all three "Toy Story" films.
"Brave" tells the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the rebellious young Princess-to-be whose audacious spirit puts her at odds with her royal parents, the heroic King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and the more dignified Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). When Merida pledges to find her own destiny rather than follow the customs of her land, she sets off a chaotic reaction that could spell doom for her kingdom. After meeting an eccentric witch (Julie Walters), Merida is granted one wish that goes horribly wrong, which forces her to discover the true meaning of inner bravery before it's too late.
For the first half of its brisk 95-minute running time, "Brave" has everything it needs to qualify as a classic Disney fairy tale: a kingdom, a princess, a witch, magic, a big heart, lots of humor and an exciting adventure (what it doesn't have is a love story). But then it takes an abrupt turn that sends it off in a very different direction - one that's noticeably darker and more uneven than what preceded it. But at least it's not predictable, so the filmmakers deserve credit for taking chances with such a rousing, unexpected and - dare I say it - brave climax, even if it might be too extreme for kids.
There are times where "Brave" feels a little like 2010's "How to Train Your Dragon," but that's a minor complaint that's largely due to its time period and location. Otherwise, a movie like this doesn't get to earn its title without taking some risks, and like the best of the Pixar films, it takes them head-on and succeeds wonderfully. Not that having its first female lead should qualify as a risk by any measure, but judging by the results, here's hoping that Pixar does it a lot more often.
Verdict: SEE IT!
-- Scott Mantz
Copyright 2012 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.