Brave

Brave

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Some might argue that she's been a long time coming, but Pixar's first female lead is well worth the wait. Brave's sassy Scots Merida blazes a 'modern princess' trail as bright as her unruly locks. And though she might be considered a cousin of sorts to Tangled's Rapunzel, Brave is all about adventure and - unusually for a genre littered with wicked stepmothers - daughter/mother bonding rather than finding a handsome prince.

Princes, in fact, are something of a problem for Merida (Kelly Macdonald), particularly after her mum Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), tells her that her hand in marriage is first prize in a competition between the sons of the surrounding lords. With a spirit as rebellious as her curls, Merida heads off into the forest for a spot of archery practice to let off steam... and finds herself on the doorstep of a woodcarver who has a suspiciously crooked nose and control over a broomstick (Julie Walters).


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As anyone who has ever read a Grimm fairy tale knows, you should be careful what you wish for and, unsurprisingly, the magic Merida conjures up for her mum is a lot more than she bargained for (although the jam looks nice). To tell you exactly what happens would be to spoil one of many inventive surprises that Mark Andrews' and Brenda Chapman's film has in store but suffice to say that any daughter (and most likely son) who has ever wished their mum would stop telling them what to do and listen for a change, will be able to relate. This may be the 10th century, but the fateful mum/daughter exchange: "It's not fair!" never goes out of fashion.

As communication becomes a problem in a very physical sense, mum and daughter must learn to listen to something more primal than the sound of their own voices if they want to restore their relationship. This might sound like typical teen fodder but there is a lightness of touch, sharpness of comedy and beauty of visuals at work here. Scotland is rendered in all its glory, from deep moss greens to the crisp white of snow-covered mountains, offering a perfect backdrop for Merida's metaphor hair. As with all good animation, much of the emotion and spirit comes from the strength of the visuals, rather than the scripting, with Elinor's attempts to virtually straitjacket her daughter and Merida's insistence on freeing her hair, saying more about their relationship than 10 pages of script.

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When verbal exchanges are called for, however, they have a refreshing authenticity, with Billy Connolly (who plays Merida's father), Macdonald and others clearly being given a fairly free rein when it comes to incorporating Scots slang into the mix. In fact, Kevin McKidd's Young MacGuffin (he pulls double duty as dad, too), speaks so quickly in Doric that many of the jokes will be lost on non-Scots, although that, in itself, is all part of the gag. The end result feels surprisingly Scottish in spirit, even though it was largely crafted in the States.

And while the film holds parent and child bonding at its core, there is plenty of action on the periphery - including an age-old curse, and the threat of an ancient killer bear - to satisfy any child's spirit of adventure. Rather neatly, there is also a riddle which, though easy for adults, is oblique enough that kids will feel smart if they get it - and Andrews gives them enough time and hints to work out the solution without being patronising. While Brave may occasionally shy away from darker territory in order to retain its appeal for even the youngest of audiences, there are still plenty of 'big' ideas here for small minds to think about. And no matter how good you are with a bow and arrow or quick-witted you are in speech, sometimes it's just as important to keep mum.

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2012
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A princess gets more than she bargains for when she asks for a spell.
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Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell

Writer: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Brenda Chapman

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, John Ratzenberger

Year: 2012

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2012

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