Brave represents for the companies that made it a finely tuned amalgamation of the new and the old. Blending a decidedly old-school feeling Disney epic that could have been made back in the studios animated heyday with a more new-school Pixar based production that emphasizes technological advancements with decidedly more progressive themes and concepts, this sweeping, touching, and funny epic will delight young and old with the perfect, classic blend of Disney and Pixar magic.
Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) lives the life of Scottish royalty as princess with her one-legged father of a king (Billy Connolly) and her constantly doting and pushy queen mother (Emma Thompson). Despite having three younger, nearly identical triplet ginger haired brothers, Merida definitely identifies more with her father’s warrior-like personality than with the mother who so desperately wants her daughter to trade in her bow hunting skills for something more refined in the eyes of potential suitors. When her mother thrusts her into a situation where the local clans all bring their finest young men to court her, Merida sees no other way out than to place a curse upon her mother given to her by a dimi-witted, wood carving witch (Julie Walters in a wonderful, but far too brief appearance) who can seemingly only turn things into bears. What she thinks will change her fate, actually transforms her mother into the creature her father hates the most and a race to break the curse before the second sunrise ensues when Merida immediately regrets her actions.
With a deep love of Scottish culture and folklore, the writers, directors, and animators of Brave have created the most detail oriented Pixar film to date. While Pixar still remains the undisputed current champion of animation despite last year’s misstep with Cars 2, this marks the first time that one of their productions contains both a historical element and a progressive female protagonist. The sweeping moors, lochs, and forests of the highlands are positively breathtaking, but even more wondrous is that the film (despite some slightly wrongheaded marketing) is actually a strong mother/daughter story.
Neither Merida nor her mother has all the right answers and through their journey together they gain a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities to each other as a mother and as a daughter. The parental relationships in the film are strong across the board despite the film still ostensibly being a classic Disney Princess styled outing. Merida sort of stands as an anti-princess against her predecessors, belonging to the same rarefied air as Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Mulan as characters willing to rise above their trappings, but here through a tightly structured and emotional story, it actually manages to be satisfying without pulling back on Merida’s independence. There’s also something deeply heartwarming about her relationship with her jovial father. Their give and take makes the rift between mother and daughter that much stronger and better defined.
It’s not all perfect, though. The overarching story here really isn’t anything more than a less shoddy version of Disney’s Brother Bear films. There is an additional villainous bear the used to be a prince that feels tacked on so the film actually has a villain and the outcome, much like a classic Disney film, never once feels in any sort of doubt, but it’s fun for the entire family in a way that few animated films have found ways to be. Quite often animated films are made with young children (specifically young boys who buy more toys) in mind, but this story has something for every member of the family in it. Or you could just watch it on your own and let it wash over you, which is the sign of any great animated film.