View Comments
Movie Review: Brave
Brave. Picture: Supplied.

There's been much talk about Brave as the first Pixar movie with a female hero - and much sniggering because the company's first female director, Brenda Chapman, was replaced before the film was completed.

Thankfully, Chapman and her replacement, Mark Andrews, have not settled for a familiar proto-feminist fable of the kind Hollywood loves to peddle to show how progressive it is while actually providing few interesting roles for women.

Instead, Pixar's first fairytale opens out into a more interesting examination of the strained relationship between mother and daughter, a theme that reaches from Scotland of yore to millions of Pixar fans around the world.

Brave also touches on the more masculine concerns of politics and power, with the embattled Queen Elinor and daughter Merida teaching the men that empty, unquestioned tradition is not the key to stability.

The result is one of the year's most beautifully crafted and emotionally engaging films, a major step up in quality after the seemingly unstoppable company spun out and hit the wall with Cars 2.

It joins the ranks of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille amongst Pixar's finest offerings.

When Brave opens, its heroine, a feisty independent-minded Celtic princess with a character-defining explosion of bright red curls, is defying convention and living the life of her male counterparts, preferring shooting arrows to sewing, riding horses to reading.

When Merida (vivaciously voiced by Kelly Macdonald) comes of age her mother (Emma Thompson) announces that it is time for her to marry one of several suitable young men, sons of the head of the various clans, in order to reaffirm the shaky Highland alliance.

Merida, however, declares that she does not need a man to live happily ever after and, during the tournament, makes her point by beating all the suitors in the archery contest.

An outraged Queen Elinor tries to get Merida to bow to tradition; she believes that marrying one of the clansmen is important, no matter how unworthy they are.

But Merida will have none of this and, after destroying the family tapestry, flees into the forest. There she stumbles upon a witch (Julie Walters), a lovable crackpot who spends her time denying her real nature, then granting her a wish that will alter her fate and allow her to choose her own husband, or not choose at all.

It's a stunning twist, one that's both wonderfully surreal and deeply traditional.

Soon Merida and Queen Elinor find themselves fleeing from an on-the-warpath King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and alone in the woods together, each forced to see the world through the other's eyes, and mend their shredded relationship.

Some reviewers have tempered their enthusiasm for Brave because it seems so conventional. However, the fairytale form has blinded them to the movie's giddy eccentricity and dark undercurrents.

While the storytelling is as good as any previous Pixar movie and the characters as lovable and funny - Fergus' fellow clan heads are a hilariously motley crew - the company also raises the bar visually with Brave.

Merida's eruption of fiery-coloured locks has been getting all the attention - the follicular detail is breathtaking - but the landscapes have a richness and a depth that has never been achieved before in an animated feature (this is where 3-D truly comes into its own).

And Pixar continues to evolve its signature aesthetic - the gorgeously stylised faces and bodies set against beautifully rendered hyper-real backgrounds. It's a new kind of visual language that's eliciting emotion and communicating meaning far more effectively than most adult-oriented, live-action films.

Indeed, Brave might well describe Pixar itself, which continues to break new ground even when telling the most traditional of tales. <div class="endnote">

</div>