Brave was 2012’s offering from studio behemoths Disney-Pixar, focusing on rebellious red-haired Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who looks like Rebekah Brooks if she had grown up in medieval Scotland instead of the pits of hell.
The plot has dashes of Pocahontas, a twist of Mulan, with a slice of 21st Century post-feminism. Young Merida just wants to be free to ride her horse around the highlands, shoot arrows at trees and steal cakes from the castle kitchens. Attempting to put her back in her place is her mother – hardline traditionalist Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants her daughter to grow up as a proper princess, rather than some wildling wench.
This maternal tension comes to a head when Elinor tells Merida that she must choose one of three suitors from the Scottish clans, in order to maintain peace within the kingdom. Merida is having none of it, and storms off in a fit of teenage wrath – helpfully encountering a witch/craft woman who provides her with a magic cake which will “change” her mother. Elinor changes rather more than Merida was hoping for, and the pair are forced into hiding until Merida can work out how to reverse the spell. Cue some mother-daughter bonding and vague lessons about the importance of family and personal freedom.
It’s a solid piece, following in the Disney-Pixar tradition of creating children’s films that won’t make their parents want to pull their teeth out. The animation is frankly incredible, with some beautiful scenic shots reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films. My only qualm is that some of the character art might be bordering on the excessively exaggerated: Billy Connolly’s father figure is a hulking ginger giant, whose fingers look like over-stuffed sausages when he places them on his wife’s delicately drawn shoulder.
Brave is a decent offering but unfortunately not quite an instant classic, lacking the consistent laughs of Pixar movies such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, or the emotional depth of Disney’s Pocahontas, Lion King or even 2009 Disney-Pixar release Up. Brave just doesn’t contain any convincing threat: there are no “adult” themes of loss, death, or war that made these prior animated films so powerful and ultimately enjoyable. You also don’t get the sense that little Merida has really learnt anything along the way – except perhaps not to take dodgy cakes off little old ladies (just say no, kids).
This isn’t to say that there is no positive message in Brave. It is refreshing to see a Disney Princess film in which there is no love interest, and the princess manages to end up as a badass single lady. It is also nice to see the relationship between mother and daughter looked at in this depth, although this does leave King Fergus (Billy Connolly) rather out in the cold. I was also disappointed by the lack of sassy animal companions (oh Timon and Pumbaa, can’t you appear in everything?)
In short, children will no doubt enjoy it, and Merida provides a strong female role model for young girls (and boys). For adults it’s watchable and easy on the eye, but don’t expect either belly laughs or heart-rending sobs.
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