'Brave': Pixar's latest is lovable and endearing
"Brave," the new offering from Pixar, isn't as good as the studio's best ("Finding Nemo," "Ratatouille," "Up"), but it's a lovable, endearing film nonetheless, says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman and featuring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson and others," "Brave" is playing at several Seattle theaters.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Brave,' with the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, from a screenplay by Andrews, Steve Purcell, Chapman and Irene Mecchi. 95 minutes. Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor. Several theaters.
Once infallible, Pixar proved with "Cars 2" that it can stumble like any studio. So it's a relief that "Brave," though it doesn't rank with the very best of Pixar (to my mind "Finding Nemo," "Ratatouille" and "Up"), marks a return to form. The story of a princess in ancient Scotland who hopes to shake off tradition and choose her own fate, it's a lushly colorful and appealing tale, never quite sublime but always entertaining and often delightful.
Merida (voiced charmingly by Kelly Macdonald, who I'll always remember as Maggie Smith's long-suffering maid Mary from "Gosford Park") is a headstrong teen, equipped with a live-wire mop of red hair and a trio of perpetual-motion little brothers who flit through the film like unusually entertaining fruit flies. In accordance with tradition, Merida is told by her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), that she must marry one of three preselected young men (the sons of lords, representing key clans). This doesn't sit well with Merida, who wants control over her life and soon follows a line of airy will-o-the-wisps through the forest to a mysterious witch/woodcarver (Julie Walters). A spell is offered to her that could well change her fate — for better or worse.
Ultimately, "Brave" becomes a mother-daughter story, a dynamic that Pixar's never before explored in any depth. We watch as Merida unwittingly places her mother in peril, then must use her wits and strength to somehow save her. Along the way, we see Merida grow up, just a little; she still wants what she wants, but learns that a parent's wisdom matters, too.
Though things seem to wrap up a little too easily in the film's final scenes, and a few moments of dark peril seem unnecessarily scary for very young viewers, the technically ambitious "Brave" has a lovable, endearing quality that makes it irresistible. Perhaps it's Macdonald's lilting voice, tripping up and down as if it's dancing, creating a sense of conspiratorial intimacy. Perhaps it's the funny supporting cast (and yes, there's room here for Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger, voicing a guard named Gordon), which finds freshness even in the old joke that some Scottish accents are unintelligible even to fellow Scots.
Perhaps it's the movie's sheer prettiness, with its rainbow of greens and blues in the Highlands hills and lakes, or the way Merida's bouncing mane becomes practically a character in itself. (At one point, Merida is made to tuck her hair away neatly under a headdress; one rebellious tress keeps popping out, as if it has something it wants to say.) Perhaps it's those three little brothers, who quickly become an adorably redheaded sight gag. Or perhaps it's just that it's a sweet story, simply and gently told.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org