Directed By: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Tag line: "Change your fate"
Trivia: This is the first Pixar film set entirely in the historic past
From Snow White to Mulan, Disney’s animation department has turned out its share of well-realized female characters. With 2012’s Brave, the gang at Pixar threw their hat into the Princess ring with a lively, energetic redhead named Merida, and, while the movie surrounding her isn’t one of the studio’s best, watching this feisty Scot do her thing is reason enough to see it.
The setting is Scotland, in Medieval times. Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald), daughter of Lord Fergus (Billy Connolly) and his wife Elinor (Emma Thompson), is about to learn the identity of her future husband; as tradition dictates, the eldest son of each clan will compete against one another in the Highland Games for Merida’s hand in marriage. But even as the various clans assemble outside, the young girl announces she has no desire to be tied down, and demands that she be allowed to choose her own path through life. Elinor, who has been trying her best to turn Merida into a proper young woman, will have none of it, and remains as determined as ever to end her daughter’s tomboy ways.
Following a quarrel between the two, Merida angrily rides off into the woods, where, as fate would have it, she meets a witch (Julie Walters) claiming to possess special powers. Merida desperately wants to change her fate, so the witch hands her an enchanted piece of cake, which she claims will do just that. But instead of altering Elinor’s strict adherence to tradition, the cake transforms the Queen into a huge black bear! Now, Merida must race against time to change her mother back before the spell becomes permanent.
Whereas most Pixar movies feature original, highly imaginative plotlines, Brave comes across as ordinary (especially in the film’s second half, which, while exciting at times, feels like your standard, run-of-the-mill adventure yarn). And even though I enjoyed Billy Connolly’s take on Fergus, most of the remaining male characters (i.e. - the clan leaders and their sons) weren’t particularly interesting (though kids might get a kick out of Merida’s ornery younger brothers, a set of triplets who also eat the cake and become bear cubs).
But what saves the movie from drifting into mediocrity is the character of Merida, a headstrong Scottish Princess who thumbs her nose at tradition to do as she pleases. In what is easily my favorite scene, the three suitors are competing against each other in an archery contest when Merida, ignoring her mother’s pleas, grabs her bow, rushes onto the field, and announces, quite defiantly, “I’ll be shooting for my own hand” (see if you can guess who wins). While her temper does occasionally get the better of her (she tears an important family tapestry during an argument with Elinor), Merida remains the most appealing individual in Brave, and her sometimes-tumultuous relationship with her mother gives the film all the heart it needs.
There are other aspects of Brave that work quite well, including its depiction of ancient Scotland (the animation is, start to finish, beautiful) and its score (I’m a sucker for Celtic music, which is featured throughout the film). Yet it’s Brave’s lead character that stands tallest.
If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be exactly like Merida.