July 2, 2012 3 Comments
Having been gifted with a bow by her father on the very same day that he lost his leg to the demon bear Mor’du, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) has grown up to be a free-spirited and untraditional princess in the King’s image, much to her more conventional mother’s (Emma Thompson) chagrin. When it is announced that she is to be betrothed to one of the allied clans – either Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) or MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) – she breaks with tradition in order to fight for her own hand in marriage, and her own freedom as a result. Resorting to magic in the hope of settling all differences with her unyielding mother, however, she is soon forced to grow up and see the world from an adult’s perspective.
Considering just how much publicity Brave has generated – about its directorial reshuffle, Caledonian setting and use of a female protagonist (a first for Pixar) – it is surprising just how little we actually know about the plot going in. All of the promotional material released focuses on the same jokes, spectacular CGI scenery and a slightly new edit of Merida’s angsty narration. It’s no wonder that many were beginning to have doubts. Did Pixar’s Brave really have nothing else to offer?
Thankfully, Brave is no disappointment, the film previously titled The Bear and the Bow duly delivering on both with some pulse-pounding action expertly complimenting the side-splitting cultural humour and well-handled mother-daughter relationship. The animation is amongst the best we’ve ever seen, Merida’s unruly red hair and penchant for daredevilry impressing equally as the studio once again strikes the perfect balance between spirit and spectacle.
The real star of Brave, however, is the smart script (co-written by original director Brenda Chapman, replacement director Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi). While Chapman’s story proves engaging enough, the gags and personalities written into the screenplay take it to a whole other level. A product of the writers’ extensive research and naturalistic ad-libbing on behalf of the Scottish cast, Brave’s dialogue is a thing of beauty, only rarely falling back on the usual stock idioms as the creative team instead looks to loot the local dialect for even funnier phrasings.
Of the star-studded cast, Macdonald is absolutely wonderful in the lead role – the first teenage character she has played since Diane in 1996’s Trainspotting, proving at once strong-willed and sympathetic, while McKidd’s decision to base Young MacGuffin’s gibberish accent on his native Doric adds charm and authenticity to a character that could otherwise have been very one-note. Ferguson and Thompson also delight as Lord Macintosh and mother respectively, even if their voice-work is not quite as distinctive, while Julie Walters milks a cameo as the film’s witch for all it is worth. Nobody is master of the Scottish accent quite like Connoly, however, and he duly steals the show as the one-legged King Fergus.
Brave isn’t perfect, however, and suffers in comparison to rival DreamWorks’ own Celtic offering, How To Train Your Dragon. While consistently funny, thoroughly entertaining and utterly gorgeous to look at, the film isn’t as big a step forward for Pixar as previously suggested, The story just isn’t tight enough by the company’s usual standard, with a number of characters falling sadly by the wayside and the final act struggling to work the numerous threads into a genuinely satisfying climax. Worst of all, Patrick Doyle’s original score – a rousing smorgasboard of Scottish sounds – is periodically interrupted by jarringly artificial folk music, interrupting the film’s natural pace and rhythm.
These issues are far from disastrous, however, and for the most part Brave is a handsomely shot, enthusiastically voiced and welcomingly well-researched take on a nation’s ancient myths and legends. Whatever precedents Chapman and Andrews’ film might set for the studio, the themes of maternal misunderstanding and adolescent maturity that form Brave‘s core are strong enough in their own right to carry the film, with the usual outlandish characters keeping the jokes coming thick and fast. Just don’t let your expectations be coloured by the disappointingly substandard short – La Luna – which precedes it.