Disney has never done very well in creating strong female characters that weren't still stereotypes – or slightly altered versions of the Disney princess mold. But when Pixar took on the challenge, there was hope that young girls may finally get a relatable young woman to admire. Brave
may not match the calibre of story that's come to be expected from the studio, but it does introduce a wonderful new female character that will inspire long after the credits roll.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) has always been a free spirit who couldn't wait to get back to being a tomboy after her princess training. A trait her father, Fergus (Billy Connolly), nurtured since she was old enough to hold a bow and arrow, and one her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), tried desperately to eradicate. However, tradition dictates that at 16 Merida is to be promised to the eldest son of the other three tribes who can best the other suitors in a competition. Her refusal to participate creates a significant rift with her mother, only made worse by consulting with a witch (Julie Walters). In an attempt to reclaim her future, Merida unwittingly turns her mother into a giant bear and must figure out how to reverse the spell before it becomes impossible to do so.
The first half of the film, pre-mama bear, is the strongest. The passion from all the characters is captivating. Merida is a fiery little redhead with adamant convictions about her own future and a stubborn streak that will see that it happens her way. Fergus is an exceptional king, remarkable storyteller and loving father (portrayed in a way that only Connolly could deliver). Elinor is also very caring, but unwilling to divert from traditions in spite of the protests of her loved ones. Their interactions are funny, heartfelt and a real draw into the story world. But once the conversations become one-sided (i.e. Elinor becomes a very expressive but speechless bear), the engagement experienced up to that point dips somewhat.
Even though the story may not meet expectations, the animation remains beyond impressive. Pixar's attention to detail is one of the key elements that make their films exceptional. Merida's hair flows wildly around her face, flying in the wind behind her and paralleling her untamed spirit. The bear version of Elinor is stunning in the way her weight realistically shifts with every step and her gestures have an authentic bear-like quality. And the landscapes stir a desire in the viewer to visit the real Scotland to witness such history-laden beauty in person.
Pixar has set the bar so high, that even when not at their best they are still better than most.
Directors: Mark Andrews
, Brenda Chapman
and Steve Purcell
Starring: Kelly Macdonald
, Billy Connolly
and Emma Thompson