Pixar’s ‘Brave’ hits the mark
July 7, 2012
3 out of 4 stars
Starring the voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson.
Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.
It's all well and good to break conventions, but there's a time and place for everything. Considering the subject matter and production details of Pixar's latest movie, "Brave," this seems like a guideline that would bear close scrutiny.
As the eldest daughter of Clan DunBroch, Scottish princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) has her whole life already plotted out for her by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who expects her child to follow in her footsteps and enter into an arranged marriage with one of the neighboring families, with which she and her husband, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), must patch up relations.
The rebellious teenage girl shows less enthusiasm for that custom as she does for the many other restrictions that have been placed on her during her life simply because of her gender, filling her days with dull classroom lessons instead of the freedom of outdoors she craves.
When Merida undoes years of tradition by humiliating her potential suitors on the archery pitch, it causes a huge rift between her and her mother, who's shamed by her daughter's outspokenness.
Unable to make Elinor understand her position, Merida seeks out a way to change her mother's mind about the whole affair.
With the help of a mysterious old woman (Julie Walters), she does indeed find a solution to her problem, though it creates a whole new problem when Elinor is transformed into a bear.
While mother and daughter look to reverse the enchantment, it seems Merida may have changed her fate and the fate of her countrymen for the worse as the clans start to revolt against each other.
With her authentic Scottish brogue, Macdonald is a godsend when you consider the original voice of Merida was Reese Witherspoon. The "Walk the Line" star is nice enough with her chicken-fried country charm, but the last thing we need is another American mumbling their way through a European accent like Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."
Macdonald also provides just the right amount of pluck and power for a heroine who's firmly, almost stubbornly, set on choosing her own path in life.
As her parents, Thompson and Connolly make the perfect odd couple — the dainty, eloquent lady of the estate and her massive, rowdy Highland husband, who's still as much a fighter even without the leg, which he lost years ago to, you guessed it, a monstrous bear, specifically the demon bear known as Mor'du.
When you get this boisterous Scotsman in contact with his fellow noblemen (Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane), you know there'll be a lot of drinking, fighting and, best of all, kilt-lifting.
The gorgeous rendering of the Scottish countryside is exactly the kind of high animation standard you'd expect from Pixar, as are the vibrant red locks of Merida and her rambunctious triplet brothers, Harris, Hubert and Hamish, the three of whom illicit more laughs than anyone without uttering a word — come on, who wouldn't prefer cake to haggis for dinner?
Such detailed natural surroundings are something we haven't seen from the studio, at least not since "Finding Nemo" or "A Bug's Life," but we get even more of a veer away from Pixar's usual tales with the element of magic, seen with the will o' the wisps which guide Merida at her most trying times.
This feels more like a customary Disney storybook tale than any of Pixar's other features. Merida may be the first female protagonist for the company and certainly their first princess character, but she's still little more than Disney gals Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas and Rapunzel all rolled into one.
The girl who wants to be seen and heard is no big thing these days, but here's a twist: Merida doesn't have any kind of love interest in mind when she protests being traded as a commodity and doesn't find romance by the story's end.
Well, 'tis better to have never loved and lost then to have had a half-hearted plot turn tacked on at the last second. Just look at last year's car-tastrophe.
Pixar may borrow a little too liberally from Disney's stores, but "Brave" still boasts enough original content to stand on its own, though with archers like Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games" and Hawkeye of "The Avengers" beating her to the punch, Merida is hardly the most prolific arrow-shooter around this summer.
Even so, she and the movie in which she stars — as well as the stellar short film that accompany them, "La Luna" — still hit the bullseye with ease.
Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs' Carmike Chief Plaza 4.
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