There are so many fairy tales that feature a wicked stepmother, or absent or negligent parents, it's refreshing to see one devoted to the loving, if sometimes fraught relationship between a mother and daughter.
That would be Brave, the latest animated collaboration between the Disney and Pixar studios, an entertaining story of a girl, her bow and arrow, and her destiny. But underlying the elements of magic and adventure is a quiet family tale in which a girl's best friend proves to be her mother—and vice-versa.
Like its feisty, appealing young heroine, a medieval Scottish princess called Merida, Brave dances to its own drummer in many ways. It's the first Pixar film to feature a female protagonist, whose job it is to carry the story. It's one of the few Disney cartoons in recent memory spun from a completely original story (by Brenda Chapman, who also receives co-director and co-writing credits), and not based on a classic fairy tale, historical vignette, or previous film.
And it's the first "Disney Princess" movie (yes, Merida dolls are on the way) that doesn't feature a romantic interest. This girl isn't waiting for her prince to come; she's too busy finding herself.
Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) grows up in a craggy hillside castle with sweeping ocean views on one side and a deep, dense forest on the other. Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is a big, blustery, fun-loving force of nature who gives his daughter her first bow and arrow as a wee lass. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is an elegant, refined lady who despairs of ever teaching her teenage daughter proper princess decorum.
When her mother deems the time has come to gather the lairds of the outlying clans to come present their sons as potential suitors, Merida has a fit. Custom demands a competition for the princess' hand in marriage, but when archery is chosen as the contest, Merida scandalizes her mum by entering the lists and "shooting for ma own hand."
Of course, she out-shoots all the men, and after she and her mother quarrel, Merida flees into the refuge of the forest. There, she begs a witch (Julie Walters) for a spell to "change her destiny" by changing her mother. But, as so often happens, the spell doesn't go exactly as planned.
Chapman and her team (writing partner Irene Mecchi and co-writer/directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell) trade in classical fairy tale situations—the old witch in the wood, a magical spell to be broken, animal transformation. But the feminine/feminist viewpoint gives the story a cheeky, modern YA vibe, and the character comedy is good-hearted, sophisticated, and funny. (Whenever the women are away from the castle—which looks appropriately vast, drafty, and rough-hewn—the king and the clansmen quickly descend into brawling chaos without their civilizing presence.)
And while Merida does ultimately ride to the rescue, she's not obliged to don armor and become a warrior to save the day (the fatal flaw of the recent Snow White movie). She can be "brave" without turning into a killer, while her mother demonstrates her mettle (and her love) in no uncertain terms as well.
|Gorgeous Celtic-inspired faux tapestries are another highlight|