Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Pixar/Walt Disney Studios Films
Now Showing

It's taken 13 films, beginning with Toy Story in 1995, but Pixar have finally fashioned a film around a female protagonist: Princess Merida in Brave. But given that it took Disney -- a champion of female heroines in animation -- until 2009 to have a black leading lady (The Princess and the Frog), one can forgive Pixar's delayed embrace of sexual equality.

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdondald) is the flame-haired first born and only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), the former as permissive a parent as the latter is a disciplinarian. Duty dictates that Merida must one day marry the son of one of the neighbouring Scottish clans, and her mother is determined that Merida will be a true princess -- accomplished, well mannered, lady like -- when that day arrives.

And when it does, it is all too soon for Merida. With a nature as wild as her hair, the horse riding, arrow-shooting princess wishes to be the mistress of her own fate, a wish which is granted when she happens upon a witch's cottage in the woods; the old lady in-residence (wittler, not witch!) conjuring a potion to change Merida's mother's mind.

But the princess should have asked to see the fine print, for once administered the potion doesn't so much alter Elinor's mind as her body: the Queen is transformed into a bear, and if Merida doesn't reverse the spell within two days' time, Elinor will remain as such.

That is if her husband, a man who lost his leg to a grizzly (seen in the film's opening sequence; one of many in Brave which are quite dark in tone), and continues to bear a grudge, doesn't discover the interloper and put her to the sword.

Brave is essentially a film about mother-daughter relationships, as strained as they are loving. But in the princess-bear dynamic it plays somewhat like How To Train Your Dragon, with both beast and disapproving parent rolled into the one, and the Queen-as-bear providing most of the film's humour.

Merida's younger brothers, three pint-sized, red-haired mischief makers, also add laughs but which seem more in keeping with a DreamWorks film, while the Scottish-English voice cast, which includes Craig Ferguson and Julie Walters, though impressive is without distinction; even the usually raucous Connolly is kept in-check.

That the animation in Brave is beautiful is a given: the hills, forests and lochs both realistically rendered and storybook rich. The 3D, of course, is completely unnecessary.

And even if Pixar's foray into fairy tales and female empowerment isn't all that we hoped it would be, Brave still manages to be far, far and away superior to last year's soulless cash cow, Cars 2.

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