Just because they singlehandedly deplete the world's stock of sunblock to protect their fragile skin, and they might be someone's stepchild, doesn't mean gingers don't deserve our respect. Who better to give it to them than Pixar, who the world trusts to bring them quality animated films that please both children and the adults who need them to be quiet for awhile? Brave continues the tradition, as expected, with a feisty heroine, gorgeous setting, and non-annoying messages about the importance of familial bonds and repeating history.
As a little girl, it was easy to want to be Cinderella or Snow White, because they were pretty, sang well, and really knew how to clean a floor. Getting older sharpened my vision, making contemporary princesses kind of boring because they never really changed much (with rare exception, like Mulan or Rapunzel in Tangled). But now, there's Merida, the fiery-haired lass at the center of this story, who gave even an old fuddy-duddy like me something to aspire to. She's smart, funny, spiritual, great with a bow and arrow, rides a horse like the wind, and refuses to be put in a box that her Scottish family and kingdom understands. She is a real spitfire.
Merida has come to the age where taking a horse on an obstacle course and climbing waterfalls is no longer how she is expected to spend her days. Her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) and father Fergus (Billy Connolly) have started accepting suitors for her marriage because it's just what you do, but you can imagine that Merida won't go quietly into that dark night. She particularly butts heads with her mother, whose lessons on their kingdom's history and being a lady never cease, especially when Merida puts her bow on the table at dinner. When Merida embarrasses the family in front of all her kingdom's clans, she seeks refuge with a witch (Julie Walters) who promises to fix everything. Which of course, in storybook land, means turning mama Elinor into a grizzly bear.
It's impossible not to appreciate the heart-tugging screenwriting by the co-directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (along with Irene Mecchi and Steve Purcell) that creates a family that is imperfect but full of love, with parents who are doing the best they can and kids that have good hearts--because that's what we all are, and it's nice to feel kinship with the funny, charming people onscreen. But even set among spectacular 3D visions of Scotland, with will o the whisps and moss everywhere, my experience was tarnished a little bit by the fact that I knew exactly where the story was going. The minute the conflict between mother and daughter was set up, and Merida makes her deal with the witch, I could tell you the rest of the plot. This isn't unusual for someone whose job is to see several movies a week, and who has seen more than a few animated movies. I just found the movie to be a little less interesting than Up, whose third act surprised and delighted me.
I don't mean to be all Merida on you (which means rebellious and high-spirited). And I'm not sure I should be making it seem like a source of pride that I could figure out the plot of a kid's movie. But even though there were no surprises in the story, the journey was well done and more than enough to make the movie another fine entry into the canon of Pixar magic. Look out William Wallace--Scotland has a new face, and she has a beautifully Brave-heart.