Sunday 29 July 2012

Brave review

Brave (PG, 100 mins)
Director: Mark Andrews
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Pixar’s 13th feature, a magical Scotland-set adventure that represents their first fairytale, is a triumphant return to form for the animation studio following the uncharacteristically poor Cars 2.

Though it’s the first Pixar film with a female lead, Brave develops along the lines that many a Disney princess fable does, where an independently minded character who yearns for something more in their life gets more than they bargained for in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for sort of way.

That lead is Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired princess who is a bit fed up with the expectations placed upon her by her parents; the king (Billy Connolly), who years before lost his leg to a savage bear that still supposedly roams the land, and queen (Emma Thompson), who wants Merida to comport herself in a more princess-ly way.

She’d much rather be a warrior but instead finds herself betrothed, with a clan gathering organised to find her a suitable husband, the clan chiefs presenting their buffoons of sons to win Merida’s hand, much to her annoyance.

Distancing herself from the goings-on, Merida stumbles across a witch from whom she gets a potion designed to change her fate. This leads to a major plot point around the halfway mark that is better left unspoiled, but let’s just say that fates are indeed changed.

What follows is a film about communication between parents and children, and listening to each other’s point of view, even as it deepens into a stirring mythology. Visually it’s an indisputable masterpiece, with every facial nuance and blade of grass and patch of heather alive with the shimmer that $200m worth of computer animation provides. A glorious Patrick Doyle score and a couple of splendid songs are just gravy.

The decision to use predominantly Scottish actors for the voices is an endlessly sensible one, and we can only imagine the kind of horrors the original choice for Merida, Reece Witherspoon, may have inflicted on our ears. Luckily we don’t have to, since the perfectly cast Macdonald combines spirit and warmth to create one of Pixar’s most memorable human characters.

Connolly is a delight, as are the trio of clan chiefs, voiced by Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson and the especially good Kevin McKidd, who also gets to add his Doric tones to his chieftan’s near unintelligible son. Even the non-Scots like Thompson and Julie Walters as the witch with a big part to play in the plot get it just right.

In particular, it’s the sense of Scottish-ness that Pixar absolutely nails, from the visual majesty to the smallest vocal intonations. You couldn’t call it realistic exactly, since it’s a medieval fantasy, but still it’s one of the most authentic Hollywood portrayals of Scotland you’re likely to see, deftly sidestepping the pitfalls of going all Brigadoon on us.

If a criticism is to be levelled, it’s that perhaps it’s a bit thin and one-note when it comes to the plot, that perhaps it resolves a bit easily, neglecting the depth of theme and character that graces the very best of Pixar.

But the flipside of that is that it chugs along at a lick, with little to no flab and a single mindedness of purpose that suitably reflects Merida’s character, with Pixar once again showing that when it comes to animation, even though they're not perfect, they're still the best in the business.

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