Film review: Pixar’s latest serves up some pleasant surprises

By Rebecca Cusey, Special Contributor

 Brave
Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor

Brave, the first release from Pixar to star a female lead, is a bit of a conundrum for the movie critic. It’s one of those flicks in which a writer should not reveal the central surprise that comprises the bulk of the movie.

Is it a review if I say I liked it very much and just leave it at that? I suppose not. I will tell you, however, that the film is nothing like what you expect going in, having seen the trailer and ads.

The set-up is there, to be sure. Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) looks at first glance to be your now-typical modern girl-power female warrior. A mess of raucous red hair and inappropriate table manners, she does not want to marry the leader of a local clan and settle into a feminine world of gentility. She’d rather shoot her arrows and ride her horse and let her hair flow untamed.

Girls are as good as boys. They can fight too. Blah blah blah. That seems to be about the only story we get nowadays.

A princess, skilled in archery, defies the customs of her culture in the animated hit, Brave. IMAGE COURTESY DISNEY/PIXAR

But Brave only begins there. That Merida is strong and capable is a given, a starting point.

Her mother (Emma Thompson) desperately wants Merida to conform, and not entirely for selfish reasons. The two females talk but do not speak the same language, hear each other but do not listen.

And so Merida comes to her choice and a spell that sets the story on its path. The story we expect to be about girl empowerment is, instead, about family love.

That’s all I can say.

The film differs from Disney princess movies in tone and content. Although there are funny and light moments, there is no wisecracking animal sidekick such as the chameleon in Tangled or the genie in Aladdin.

Nor is there a villain with evil schemes. The witch who does show up is more of a goofy shopkeeper and not at all sinister or bad-intentioned, although she is tricky. Little spirits inhabit the woods, but they are helpful sprites. The movie is not a musical, in the sense that there are no singing cutlery, menagerie or undersea creatures.

As one would expect from Pixar, the animation shines, with Merida’s hair alone radiating tangled, curly glory. The Scottish setting is rendered in lush vibrancy, now green and rich with moss, now foggy and mysterious, but always beautiful. Set against a score from Scottish composer Patrick Doyle and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, the film evokes the feeling of the Scottish highlands of long, long ago.

Rated PG, there are a few suspenseful sequences which will scare the youngest viewers, but no disturbing violence, no sexuality and no inappropriate wink-wink jokes.

In fact, the film is an unexpected and delightful departure from ordinary animated family fare. It’s a misty and lovely foray into the heart of families and their love for each other, love that is stronger than either the stubborn will of the heart or exterior dangers.

Ms. Cusey is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. This review first appeared on Patheos.com.

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