Brave is essentially the western version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – insert bourgeois bear instead of pigs, minus the narrative complexity and add a healthy dose of Scottish derriéres.
Merida (Kelly MacDonald), Pixar’s first female protagonist in a historic setting (another first for the animation company), is a teenage princess rebelling against her responsibility-obsessed mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The queen sets tradition in motion when she organises the three neighbouring clans’ comically incompetent princes to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. Bow in hand, Merida prefers to be more like her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and, in an effort to change her fate, she foolishly enlists the help of a witty, whittling witch (Julie Walters), which is when things get a little … hairy.
The majestically rendered Scottish highlands as well as Merida’s hypnotic fiery locks (1 500 separate curls, to be exact) are a testament to the technological advancements made in the animation genre. Adults, however, may be slightly disgruntled with the lack of surreptitious adult humour that Pixar is known for. Brave lacks the wit of The Incredibles or the emotional weight of Up – although the superficial script may be a symptom of the director change from Brenda Chapman to Mark Andrews during the film’s production.
But there is no shortage of kilts and giggles, reliant mostly on the male characters in the film. Billy Connolly’s voice is enough to elicit more than a few laughs along with Merida’s three mischievous little brothers, breaking the drawl of propriety that constantly flows from the queen. The subplot of an ancient tale of four brothers and the destruction of the kingdom comes across as irrelevant and disjointed as you can hardly compare one brother’s verve for power and domination to Merida’s reluctance to be married to a complete stranger at 16.
But there will, as always, be a happy ending. And with the sinister Scottish woodland, folklore and mysticism weaved into the feel-good story, there’s plenty to captivate the audience, although perhaps not enough to take you up, up and away.