By Richard von Busack
Scotland, sometime in the second half of the first eon: in Brave, the clans are uneasily united under mountainous King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly). Bears are still a threat. Much celebrated is the time the King fought off the demon bruin Mor’du, losing his leg in the process.
Budding Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a charming red-headed girl warrior who loves to speed on her charger, thwacking arrows into targets.
Her mother decides it is time for her to marry. Three unsuitable suitors sail in: a chinless twerp, a beaky punk, a pudding-faced lummox. Having spirit, the princess runs away. In the darkest part of the forest, Merida encounters a cracked and elderly wood carver (Julie Walters) who is bribed for a spell to change her mother’s mind. This spell backfires drastically.
The moral of Brave is “legends are lessons.” This Pixar cartoon proves the rule by doing what fairy tales do best. This animated film doesn’t just divert a kid with fantasy, it also commiserates with children. It illuminates the turmoil that exists in the best families. Any adolescent daughter or mother might feel Brave’s allegory keenly, especially when the argument here goes to DefCon after the elder pulls rank: “I am the Queen. You listen to me.”
Yes, Brave is a galloping, hilarious adventure; Merida ends playing charades with a nine-foot tall bear, in a passage worthy of Chuck Jones.
But it’s also a very serious film: it observes the animal level of the fury in a family feud.
If Brave deserves its PG, this isn’t because of the quality of the violence, but because of what that violence expresses. Hardly any cartoons, and few enough features, go where this movie goes. And there were times when I felt I hadn’t been this rapt by a medieval fantasy since Lord of the Rings.
3D or not 3D, that is the question. Not. The darkness of the forest greens made to make Merida’s fine red hair pop out, but the plastic goggles mute the color spectrum so much it’d be better to have it flat. And Brave’s reconciliation seems too smooth, given the scale of the fight. A really serious rip in a family always shows, even after its mended.
Opening for Brave is the short “La Luna”, which has been around at the Oscar Shorts series earlier this December; the 3D actually improved the Roberto Rosselini touches in this story of a Mediterranean trio of men (grandfather, father and little son) floating in a millpond-calm sea, sailing off to tending to the full moon. They sweep the moon of falling stars. They stars glow gently, tinkle like Christmas ornaments when they touch, and look as if they’d be sweet and crunchy to eat, like some kid’s breakfast cereal. The takeaway: it’s interesting that the most feminist film Pixar has ever made has as it’s coming attraction a story of male bonding.