With the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, John Ratzenberger. Written by Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell. Rated PG (for some scary action and rude humor). 100 minutes.
There’s no question that Pixar has had an incredible run of amazing films including the “Toy Story” trilogy, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles,” “WALL-E” and “Up.” Then there was “Cars,” which got mixed reviews but was a huge financial success and had its defenders. However, last year’s arrival of “Cars 2” was a disaster. Box office aside – it did okay financially – it was the first Pixar movie that was treated as a failure. So the arrival of “Brave” left some wondering if the magic was over or it was “Cars 2” that was the aberration.
The good news is that Pixar is back. BRAVE is an inventive animated tale for all ages loaded with humor and resourcefulness. It shows that they’ve gone back to the formula that works: you have to start with the script. While there’s no question that Pixar’s cutting-edge computer animation has transformed the way feature cartoons are made, their secret was always the fact that you cared about their characters and what happened to them. The contrast with, say, the “Ice Age” films couldn’t be plainer.
Here the story is set in ancient Scotland where Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) is noted for her untamable mop of red hair and her skill at archery. When her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), and father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), decide it is time for her to marry, she doesn’t care. The rival clan leaders bring their sons but Merida has no interest in these goofy losers. When Elinor insists, Merida rebels and runs away, seeking the help of an eccentric witch (Julie Walters).
The plot summary should probably end here, except to note that the spell Merida picks up has dire consequences for her and her mother. The bulk of the film focuses on Merida and her magically transformed mother having adventures as the girl tries to set things right. In short, this is the story of a child rebelling against an “unfair” parent. The daughter learns that she has gone too far and now has to straighten things out before it’s too late. It is something which will captivate both parents and children because the emotions expressed are real even if the magical transformations are not.
As for the animation, there’s a reason Pixar is considered the best, and if you’d never seen another of their films you’d understand it just from their work here. From Merida’s unruly red mane to the Scottish forests to the detail in every character’s expression, the film is just a delight to watch. There are a few visual gags that, in lesser hands, might be vulgar but are carried off here with wit and style.
The voice cast is solid but, unlike rival DreamWorks Animation, the actors play second fiddle to the characters. John Ratzenberger – the lucky charm who appears in all the Pixar features – is back as one of Merida’s suitors while Robbie Coltrane and Craig Ferguson are among the clan leaders. If the film falls short, it is that with three credited directors and four credited screenwriters, it’s seems a bit long and occasionally unfocused. It’s not enough to prevent one’s enjoyment of the movie, but it does keep it from falling short of Pixar’s very best.
However, with the exception of “Cars 2,” even an ordinary Pixar film like “Brave” is better than much of what everyone else is offering. It’s great to have them back.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.