An Impetuous Princess Learns to Be Brave
Written: Jun 28, 2012 (Updated Jun 28, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:gorgeous animation, great mother-daughter tale, Billy Connolly
Cons:a tad somber in tone, not quite as epic in scope as expected
The Bottom Line: "If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?"
When it comes to movies, this year is dominated by The Hobbit, a film I have been eagerly anticipating ever since Return of the King came out in 2003. However, that won't hit theaters until December, so I had to have another release to tide me over in the meantime. Happily for me, another summer meant a new Pixar movie, and one that seemed to go especially well with The Hobbit to boot.
Unlike previous Pixar flicks, Brave is set in the distant past, and it happens to take place in the bonny land of Scotland, which I have always found singularly alluring. When the first trailers began to surface, I was swept away in the majesty of the animation and the lilting score and intrigued by apparent indications of an epic scope with scenes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. I found myself anticipating this movie more highly than any Pixar film preceding it.
Now that I have finally seen it, I am not prepared to unequivocally state that it is my favorite of Pixar's offerings, but it is an excellent film that does ignite that adventurous side of me. It's the tale of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a Scottish princess with an unruly mop of fiery red hair that matches her personality. She is a whirling dervish who has always been more interested in archery and running free through the forest with her horse than training to be a proper queen. When her parents announce to her that they have invited representatives of the neighboring clans to a tournament in which the princes will vie for her hand, she is appalled.
Merida has no interest in monarchy or matrimony. All her life, she's felt trapped by the role for which she is being prepared, and she is desperate for a way out. When her cleverness and skill fail to provide her with the chance to carve out her own destiny, she turns to magic in the depths of the forest... and gets more than she bargained for.
Merida is a feisty lass, and while this setting is more antiquated than most, she feels quite modern in her attitudes. Of all the previous Disney princesses, she reminds me most of Ariel in her persistent defiance, though Mulan also comes to mind as she has the heart of a warrior. She also feels younger than most Disney princesses; I didn't catch an age, but she doesn't strike me as much older than 14, so it's little wonder she's freaking out about the adult responsibilities about to be forced on her. She also feels very teenagerish in the snippy way she treats her mother, and that relationship is more central to the tale than any other.
Emma Thompson is perfectly regal as the elegant Queen Elinor (and this Austen geek loves that she shares a name with Thompson's character in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility, for which she wrote the exceptional screenplay). Her voice is still recognizable, but there's a bit of a brogue in there. Her accent is not as strong as Merida's, but that is partly because the queen is so refined; that hint of a Scottish lilt felt like perpetual wink to Elinor's wilder side.
By contrast, Billy Connolly's brogue as King Fergus is robust and unrestrained as he weaves his gleefully embroidered tales about his close encounter with a belligerent bear. This peg-legged king is a natural-born storyteller, and while his sweetly unruly spirit leaves him in frequent sympathy with his daughter, it's clear that the queen really rules the roost in this family. As much as I love the journey of understanding that Merida and Elinor take together, this boyish rascal is my favorite character.
The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, particularly in terms of landscapes, and Patrick Doyle's Celtic score complements that beauty perfectly, as do the songs that are incorporated as background. The central plot is not quite as grandiose as I expected, occurring closer to home rather than taking Merida on a lengthy journey through the Scottish highlands. Nonetheless, this film feels very much in the realm of fantasy and adventure, and as such, it has a slightly somber feel to it that is atypical for Pixar. Consequently, it isn't as funny as most, particularly in terms of dialogue, though it does have its moments, and there is considerable physical comedy, particularly involving Merida's mischievous little triplet brothers and the rather ridiculous neighboring clan leaders and their sons.
Preceding the movie is the short La Luna, which fits in well with the theme of a communication gap between parent and child and a youth's creative way of facing obstacles. In this case, it's a wide-eyed boy helping his father and grandfather complete a wondrous nightly task involving the moon. Though no actual words are exchanged, the inflection in the muttering voices makes it easy to infer the gist of the conversation. It's worth it to stay to the end of the credits, too, as the filmmakers offer a short additional scene as a reward.
In the beginning, Merida is not so much brave as she is impetuous, but by film's end, she has a much better handle on what genuine bravery involves and how best to express it. She, and maybe those in the audience, also come to understand that being brave does not always have to mean going it alone and that learning to work alongside those you love, however deep your differences, may be one of the most courageous acts of all.
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