Movie Review: Brave – California Literary Review

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Brave

Directed by Mark Andrews Brenda Chapman
Scenario of Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi

With :
Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger

What is the duration Brave? 100 minutes.
What is Brave assessed? PG for scary action and crude humor.

CLR [rating:4.5]

Photo from the film: Courageous

Princess Merida (voice: Kelly Macdonald) in Brave.
© Walt Disney Pictures

Oh yes ! A good little fable

Disney and Pixar have taken an unexpected turn by going more classic than usual, but still with a few new twists. The arrival of Brave invites you to reflect on how few of their films featured normal human characters, and how few of these characters were girls. Additionally, the film has a central theme that’s fairly new even in Disney’s long history – a strong mother-daughter relationship, in which the mother is neither a tragic memory nor the “wrong step” persuasion.

Kelly Macdonald leads the cast of Brave like Merida, a headstrong princess of the Scottish Highlands. She is the firstborn and only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Raised among wild heather and misty mountains, it has a deeply romantic soul. This isn’t your typical take on Disney princess romance. In fact, it has no essential connection with losing one’s heart for a prince. Adventure is Merida’s first love, and above all, she craves the freedom to determine her own destiny. Her good humor makes her the apple of her father’s eye, but also brings her into constant clashes with her mother, whose sole purpose is to cultivate a courteous attitude in the fiery young girl.

With her darling bow and wild corkscrews of flamboyant red hair, Merida isn’t one to let down. She is happiest outside the castle walls, exploring the world atop her trusty horse and “shooting arrows into the sunset” (as her father puts it). She’s a sniper and has the makings of a skilled huntress – a happy Katniss Everdeen, raised in barbaric abundance rather than dystopian famine. His elderly father, a renowned bear hunter, could hardly be prouder. However, as she approaches womanhood, the responsibilities of the crown begin to encroach on her enjoyment.

The Kingdom of Scotland, fortunately free of English conquerors at this point, rests on a fragile alliance of warlords. Queen Elinor’s well-meaning efforts are aimed at making Mérida a comely wife to one of the neighboring princes, and thus a safeguard for future peace. At the appointed time, the lords of neighboring provinces (Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson) come calling with their eligible sons in tow. Unsurprisingly, each of the royal prospects is a variety of unassuming doofus. Despite her mother’s pleas for her to behave, Merida finds it too orderly and restrictive. Following a cheerful refusal from all her suitors, she sets out to reshape her own destiny. Given her boldness and excellent grasp of folklore, it’s no surprise that she knows exactly how to pursue such a thing. She simply follows the wisps! Deep in the woods lives an old witch (Julie Walters) who has the power to change a person’s fate. Meanwhile, there’s more than a mother’s disappointment lurking behind Merida. A massive, malevolent bear called Mor’du prowls the woods, feared by all with good reason.

Even with its healthy stock of ironic falls, Brave is as traditional a fairy tale as Disney has told it in about 20 years. As such, the narrative follows a classic and fairly predictable pattern, but the little surprises are nicely quirky and well-executed. Through a series of accidents and mishaps, Merida and her mother come to understand each other in many crucial ways, and healing from their breakup is what ultimately brings the story home.

This film marks a new level of visual presentation from Pixar. The world of Nemo was great, but Brave is nothing short of exceptional. Too often, long-form computer animation nails either the large-scale atmosphere or the small details, while somewhat neglecting the other. In this case, everything is flawless from the stunts to the texture of the kilts. Somewhere in the middle, Merida’s unruly braids are an impressive example of how far technology has come.

Additionally, Patrick Doyle gave Brave a stellar soundtrack. As strange as it may seem to watch a Pixar movie without a single song from a member of the Newman family, you’re not likely to feel cheated. True to traditional Scottish themes and styles, this score is just as lively and dynamic as James Horner’s music for Brave heart, of which this film has more than a few affectionate echoes. There’s actually a lot more Scottish Gaelic music and Highland bagpipes in Brave than in Mel Gibson’s film, which wowed audiences with the more popular but decidedly Irish uilleann pipes.

The character works in Brave is excellent all around. Billy Connolly was made for dubbing, at least in the very particular niche of Windy Scots. Fans of his manic and profane comedy can finally share it with their very young children – those who are too young to remember it. The Muppets Treasure Island. Emma Thompson and Julie Walters are perfect in any setting, and the three boastful lairds played by McKidd, Coltrane and Ferguson epitomize all that is chaotic and hilarious about good-natured Scottish stereotypes. Kelly Macdonald holds the story with great heart and provocative good humor. It must be a thematic justification for her to play a character so imbued with the power to control her own destiny. Remember, if you will, the dark conclusion of There is no country for old peoplein which his character learned an entirely different lesson.

Non-speaking comic relief goes to Merida’s brothers, a trio of tiny ginger mops named something like Hamish, Haggis, and Huey. They only exist to sow hell, steal cookies, and set off slapstick. Meanwhile, the main antagonist also does a lot without having to say anything. Mor’du the Bear, a mythical threat figure and sort of King Fergus’ Moby Dick, is downright creepy. Action and danger can test the smallest of kiddos, but no more than, say, the dragon in Sleeping Beauty. It’s still much less disturbing than this sadistic and malformed kid from toy story. Everything is good for growing children’s minds.

Having committed itself heavily to an atmosphere of Celtic legend, the Disney/Pixar machine took time to craft something unusually rich, less reliant on shine and flash. It works wonders and the results are there for the whole family. Brave is a good mainstream counterpart to another recent film, a visually inventive but narrative-less Irish production called Kell’s Secret. The enduring popularity of Celtic myths and music will always make this kind of story a sure bet for success, but some inevitably have to prove better than others. Brave sits comfortably near the top of the heap, not only of exuberant Scottish fairy tales, but of what Disney has offered in recent years.

Brave Trailer

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