Pixar’s Brave is almost what I had expected walking into the theater. Another brilliantly animated film from the makers of Toy Story and Up, Brave carries the same charm and visual magic but falls just a wisp short of story .
The story follows Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a Scottish princess, as she attempts to work out some escape from the pursuit of three dimwit suitors, the first-born sons of clan rulers in her father’s kingdom. A tomboy before a princess, the central conflict emerges between Merida’s unwillingness to participate in the competition for her betrothal and her mother, Queen Elinor’s (Emma Thompson) insistence that she act her royal part. This conflict begins during an archery tournament, in which (much to the embarrassment of the Queen) Merida skillfully outdoes her suitors.
The ensuing fallout that ensues persuades Merida to seek solace in the wild forest, where she follows some wild forest spirits to a witch who may just have a spell to change her mother’s state of mind. Unfortunately for Merida (or her mother), it is the usual case that spells of this sort come at a price, and that price here is the Queen becoming a bear. And because fairy tales require a fairy tale ending, the spell also comes with a two-day return policy at the cost of a lesson learned.
While mother and daughter resolve their differences to break the spell, a new conflict arises out of her father King Fergus’s (Billy Connolly) past; he carries a wound from another spell-struck bear, Mardu, who has some ties to the history of the kingdom.
The strongest parts of the film are the beautiful renderings of the Scottish Highlands, from the dark forest to snowy mountain ruins that sit solemnly over the grand Scottish territories. But we don’t see enough of them as the plot proceeds mostly in and around the castle with few and very quickly traveled ventures to other locales.
The characters who fill these settings are full of charm; Merida and her horse Angus energize viewers with the fluidity of their animations, while much comic relief is afforded by her triplet brothers and the many Scottish clansmen. The Highlands are full of allusions to the kingdom’s history, especially regarding Mordu’s tragic past.
If Mordu were given some additional characterization, Brave may have veered closer to The Lion King than its current visualization brought it. But then the movie would’ve been much longer, or maybe its heavily touted mother-daughter themes would have been diminished or abandoned. I consider Mordu and think another movie entirely would’ve been made. When he shows up, he really steals the screen, but maybe I just missed him all the while.