In ancient Scotland, teenage Princess Merida (Kelly McDonald) finds herself continually at odds with her strict but loving mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The biggest point of contention between the two is marriage and when Elinor tries to marry Merida off to a local prince, Merida flies into a fit of rage and inadvertently casts a drastic spell on her mother. The mother and daughter set off on a journey to break the spell before it becomes permanent, learning to accept each other in the process.
Coming off the back of the lacklustre Cars 2 and potential development problems as original director Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews and much of her footage was cut from the film, Brave marks a departure from the norm for animation powerhouse Pixar. Delving into fairytale territory for the first time, the story of princesses, witches and magic is material more readily associable with Pixar’s parent company Disney. Unsurprisingly though, Pixar realise their medieval setting with the kind of flair and vision you would expect. The visuals are stunning across the board, from Princess Merida’s vibrant red hair to the sprawling landscapes, the art department creating each setting with astonishing detail.
In Princess Merida, Pixar have not only their first female protagonist but one of their best characters in general. Without any particular villain, the film is all about Merida and the choices she makes along the way drive the narrative. Despite her bratty teenage ways that lead to her mother’s curse, she’s an infinitely likeable character and the strength and courage she shows in trying to break her mother’s curse only makes us root for her more.
It’s surprising then that even with all the surface changes, Brave is Pixar’s most conventional film in years, lacking the ambition and imagination of Wall-E or the nostalgiac heartbreak of Up and Toy Story 3. The story is handled well but it’s a classic fantasy that isn’t hard to predict along the way, lacking the same wow factor that has so often accompanied Pixar’s films.
That aside, Brave is still an incredibly entertaining film that’s pitch perfect pacing keeps the film from ever lagging. The strength of the central relationship between Merida and Elinor provides appeal universal enough to hit parents, children and everyone in between. Combine that with the luscious visuals, big laughs and a sterling voice cast and the end result is one of the most charming films of the year so far and a very welcome return to form for the most consistent studio in recent memory.
Check out our EXCLUSIVE interview with Brave director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian here.