Voice-cast: Kelly McDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson.
Writers: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.
There is a fire in the belly of Princess Merida that burns as bright as her wild tangerine mane, but that passion never fully engulfs Brave, the expectedly wondrous new work from Pixar Studios.
Riffing on the notion that the heritage of the Scottish people is filled entirely with feuding clansfolk with horrible teeth who booze and fight as soon as eat and breathe, it is the combined vision of three animation veterans, steeped in both narrative and technical experience. Brenda Chapman’s star rose as part of Disney’s 90s heyday before she joined the start-up Dreamworks team (she last directed The Prince of Egypt); Mark Andrews is Pixar-based (the Oscar-nominated short, One Man Band) but did time at the short-lived WB Animation outfit (Osmosis Jones, The Iron Giant); Steve Purcell hails largely from a video-game and television background. Their last combined work was as script and story contributors on Cars.
This eclectic mix of experience and aesthetics may go some way to explaining why Brave never quite becomes the sum of its parts. Ostensibly a mother-daughter story in which both come to realise the importance of their womanly bond, Brave also weaves in ancient woodland mythology, fight-or-flight action thrills (littlies will get a jolt in some bear-attack moments), two rather perfunctory ‘Disney’-esque musical interludes and some broad comedic shtick (supplied by all the menfolk, none of whom have any bearing on the plot). It is all perfectly engaging, but is let down by characters who feel overly familiar. Largely absent from Brave is the absorbing family dynamic of The Incredibles, for example, which held our emotions as the visuals worked their magic.
If the script is unfocussed, the images that unfold are certainly not – Brave is a beautiful piece of modern animated art. Princess Merida’s corkscrew red hair is mesmerising to watch; one sequence, in which she scales a rock wall to taste of a sacred waterfall as the sun bathes the vast Scottish landscape, is truly breathtaking. Indoor sequences are a little less well-defined; the darkening effect of the 3D glasses reduces the clarity of the many candlelit scenes (some hurried action mid-movie is hard to follow). But overall, as we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the artform moves a further step ahead with Brave.
Highly-touted as the studio’s first female lead, the strength of spirit embodied in Merida (expressively voiced by a wonderful Kelly McDonald) keeps the film afloat when needed. Tweenage girls and their mums who have reluctantly sat through Cars 1 & 2 to appease Dad and the boys will love her energetic spunkiness and blossoming rebellious streak. It is frustrating that Brave does not ultimately honour her; it could have embraced its own moniker and the fearlessness of its lead and taken a few more risks.