Disney princesses have been increasingly leaving the damsel in distress stereotype behind and more than holding their own in defending themselves. Think 1998’s Mulan, or most recently Rapunzel from Tangled. Even so, one constant has been the handsome male protagonist/love interest. In Brave, the latest animated film from Disney and Pixar to hit the screen, even this concession is taken away.
Medieval Scotland is home to Princess Merida, whose fiery attitude matches her flaming red locks. Voiced by Golden Globe nominee for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting role in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film,” Kelly Macdonald (who just happens to be Scottish AND a redhead), Merida is more attached to her favourite bow than her fairy tale sister in Snow White and the Huntsman, and has no thought of hanging on a man’s arms.
Returning from riding on her stallion, to “fire arrows into the sunset”, as her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) comically puts it, Merida is abruptly informed by her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) of her betrothal to a first-born son from one of their kingdom’s allied clans.
After a heated argument between mother and daughter, Merida takes off into the woods, only to chance upon enchanted will-o’-the-wisps, which lead her to the dwelling of a witch, voiced by Julie Walters. Believing that changing her controlling traditional mother will change her fate, Merida bargains with the witch to give her a spell, which, to her complete bewilderment, turns Elinor into a gigantic black bear.
When she discovers that the spell will turn permanent by the second sunrise, through an incantation that hints at the curse’s sole loophole: “Fate can be changed, look inside, mend the bond torn by pride,” the mother and daughter duo frantically journey together to reverse the spell. To make it less easy for them, they have to ward off attacks from the legendary demon bear, Mor’du, and later from Fergus, a famed bear hunter. In true Disney fashion, and befitting a cartoon, subtle humour is injected along the way.
This drastic feminist bent isn’t the only thing that signals a departure from the tested Disney formula. Showcasing the work of Pixar’s new animation system, revamped for the first time in 25 years, Brave offers a visual experience unsurpassed by any other animated film. Be it the brilliant will-o’-the-wisps, which despite being inanimate objects, closely resemble minute fairies, or even Merida’s trademark locks, which bounce in the wind almost flawlessly, every messy strand ironically floating perfectly in place, Pixar’s 13th animated feature is a feast for the eyes.
Complementing its fantastic cinematography is Brave’s magnificent audio. Featuring another first – the use of the new Dolby Atmos sound format, it imparts a sense of 3D to the sound.
Convincing Scottish accentsfrom the talented voice actors give the characters both depth and realism, from Merida’s heavily accented teenage drawl, to Elinor’s elegant and sonorous voice, and all other characters in between, including the young Mac Guffin, whose lightning-fast ramblings are practically indecipherable even to the quick-tongued Scots themselves!
Even the non-speaking characters are by no means boring. A case in point are the mischievous triplets. Their childish antics (from stealing trays of cakes to snipping off part of a sleeping castle guard’s bushy moustache), make the film one for the laughs.
Their humourous antics, however, don’t even come close to those from the 3 clans who are dim-witted, boisterous, and give masculinity a bad name. From the grumpy Lord Dingwall mooning in public (“Feast your eyes!”) to all 3 clans picking fights with each other over nothing, only to deliver slaps or bites, instead of blows, the 3 shiploads of men are a great comedic distraction from an otherwise serious plot.
Perhaps one of the few drawbacks of this film is its predictable Disney-themed storyline. Seeming to have an affinity for bears, Disney plays with human-animal transformation in a number of its movies, most prominently, Brother Bear (2003), where lead character, Kenai, is mystically transformed into a bear by all-powerful spirits, who only to change him back to his human form once his past wrongdoings have been reconciled, ditto in Beauty and the Beast and now Brave.
Brave also features an eccentric old witch with a short stature, crooked nose, and overtly large eyes. Just as in other Disney films, the hag offers a transformation spell, or curse rather, in a deceivingly innocent form, much like the harmless looking poisoned apple in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), or the potion in The Little Mermaid(1989) to drive the story along.
Though the storyline is one aspect Disney and Pixar could have significantly improved, Brave makes palatable life lessons such as filial piety, the importance of treasuring family, and most vitally, learning to listen and compromise. Original or not, it’s a movie that can bring you to tears, with mother and daughter slowly learning about and accepting each other as they are. Merida gradually becomes more ladylike, while Elinor slowly but surely grows to understand Merida’s love for the forest.
Brave is a movie all Disney lovers will, without a doubt, adore, and serves a good reminder to those who simply need one on how blessed we are.
- Movie: Brave
- Rating: 4/5
- Release Date: Aug 8
- Runtime: 93 Min
- Language: English
- Censorship rating: G
- Genre: Comedy / Animation / Adventure
- Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
- Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson