Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brave / *** (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Merida: Kelly Macdonald
Fergus: Billy Connolly
Elinor: Emma Thompson
The Witch: Julie Walters
Lord Dingwall: Robbie Coltrane
Lord MacGuffin: Kevin McKidd
Lord Macintosh: Craig Ferguson

Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures present a film directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. Co-directed by Steve Purcell. Written by Andrews and Purcell and Chapman and Irene Mecchi from a story by Chapman. Running time: 100 min. Rated PG (for some scary action and rude humor).

Part of the appeal of animation is its ability to create beauty from the minds of its artists. Certainly a live action production can hold a great deal of beautiful photography, but there’s something about animation that can transcend the beauty found in the real world. This has always been the case, even with traditional hand-drawn animation, but for some reason computer generated animation artists all too often restrict themselves by trying to reproduce certain elements too realistically or even go into the opposite direction of becoming too cartoony, as in the recent “Madagascar 3”. “Brave”, on the other hand, may be the most beautiful film to be produced yet by Pixar Animation Studios, the standard bearers of everything CG animated.

“Brave” is not only beautiful in its imagery, but it also boasts one of the most beautiful heroines found in animation. Merida is a fiery redheaded princess in the tradition of most recent Disney princesses. She’s precocious, independent, tough, and downright stubborn. Merida’s father Fergus is a Scottish king in mythical times who came to fame for his exploits fighting bears. When Merida was a girl, a bear known as Mor du got away with Fergus’s leg.

Now a teenager, Merida’s life is ruled by her mother, Elinor, who is determined to teach her daughter to behave as a proper princess in preparation for her wedding day. In keeping with tradition, Merida must marry one of the other three clans’ first-born sons. Merida doesn’t want to be a proper princess. She doesn’t want to marry. She wants to behave more like one of the men by hunting and sword fighting.

On the night when Merida must choose a suitor she runs away and discovers a mysterious lady in the woods who promises to make a potion that will change Merida’s fate. When will cartoon characters ever learn that you have to be very specific when dealing with magical wishes? The Witch makes a potion for Elinor; and once she eats it, she… but I should leave that for you to discover.

The story of “Brave” is a change of pace for the usually innovative Pixar. It resembles something out of Walt Disney’s traditional storylines rather than the more unique imaginations that came up with stories like “Up” and “WALL-E”. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it’s a lot easier to see just where this story is going before it gets there. Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, their co-director and co-writers do a good job crafting a humorous and thrilling adventure for Merida and her family. It just seems more like a Disney production than a Pixar one.

The production design and art is beyond impressive, however. Just watching Merida’s full curly red locks bounce around in her face is a fascination. The writers chose a perfect setting for the Pixar production team. The highlands of Scotland never looked so stunning as they do here. There are castles, ancient ruins, lush forests, brisk mountaintops and vibrant streams. There are magical creatures more magical than they’ve ever seemed. There are frightening sights, darkness, and bumps in the night. The costumes are glorious in their rustic Celtic appearance.

I admire that Pixar didn’t feel the need to hire the biggest names in the industry to voice these characters. Kelly Macdonald (“Boardwalk Empire”) has a natural voice for this setting, and she empowers Merida with an authentic strength. Billy Connolly (“Open Season”) is an underrated comedian Stateside, but he imbues Fergus with both humor and authority. Emma Thompson (“Men In Black III”) is perhaps the biggest name in the cast. Unlike the two other leads, she’s not actually Scottish, but her accent stands up against the rest of the cast. She’s a natural for royalty and an overbearing mother.

Many critics have written about “Brave” with some level of disappointment, and I suppose that can be sensed in this review as well. While this is not Pixar’s best effort and something a little more conventional than audiences have come to expect from the pioneering animation studio, it’s still much better than most of the family fare out there. This is a rousing movie. It has humor and adventure, and it is a pleasure to look at. “Brave” might not go down in history as one of Pixar’s most memorable movies, but they have produced yet another strong and beautiful princess for The House the Mouse Built. “Brave” is worth a watch and presents a strong female figure for young girls—and all kids—to look up to and from whom they can learn.

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