‘Brave’ review

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Pixar’s newest feature is bursting with charm, humour, warmth and more Scottish accents than you could toss a caber at. Though this somewhat slight film doesn’t quite hold up when compared to the Pixar classics, as a stand-alone venture Brave pretty much hits the mark.

Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) – the wild-haired, archery-mad teenage daughter of Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and King Fergus (Billy Connolly) – is horrified when she discovers her parents plan to marry her off into another clan to maintain peaceful relations in the land. Merida rails against the idea and, following a terrible argument with her mother, flees the castle.

Alone in the forest, the young princess encounters the home of an old witch (Julie Walters) and, desperate to “change her fate”, Merida asks the witch to cast a spell on her behalf.

The resulting magic is, shall we say, not exactly what Merida had in mind and before long she is faced with a turn of events that threatens to rip apart not only her family but the whole kingdom. As you might expect, Merida must break the spell before time runs out. And, along the way, dodge some bears.

Brave is a film built staunchly upon all the themes you’d expect to crop up in a Pixar film: family values, love and – of course – bravery. It is in almost every way one of those timeless stories that you would find in the pages of a fairy tale book. Indeed, in places the story feels a little too familiar. After languishing in the imaginative glow of Up, Wall-E and Monsters Inc, it’s almost a little strange watching a Pixar film built around a story that is relatively conventional.

The best and most original stuff here actually revolves around Merida’s relationship with her mother. Although the catalyst for their rift is clichéd (rigid parent tries to rein in unconventional child), the characterization helps to vastly improve upon the familiar format.

Thompson’s Elinor is world-weary and sympathetic while Macdonald’s Merida is authentically teenage and believably petulant. Merida’s apparent refusal to accept responsibility for her actions and reluctance to vocalize her guilt gives her character a real depth, ensuring she is no two-dimensional Disney princess. By contrast, she is rash, stubborn, selfish and at times almost unlikeable.

By the end of the film, Merida’s inevitable redemption feels completely earned. In fact her plain, heartfelt apology for what she has done is perhaps the most tear-jerking moment of the whole film.

Also working in the film’s favour is the animation. Focusing on the raw beauty of the Caledonian wilderness, Brave’s visuals really shine when they capture the frightening aspects of the harsh environment: rushing waterfalls, wild animals and deep, dark forests.

Ultimately, though, the stakes in Brave just never feel incredibly high. And that’s not because the characters are undeveloped or unlikeable. There’s just something about this world that feels a little small.

Having said that – and considering all the life, sweetness and humour packed into these hundred precious minutes – it stands as evidence that sometimes good things really do come in small packages.

Released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th August 2012 by Disney.

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