Not only does Merida, a Disney-Pixar princess, have two living parents, but she isn't willing to sit idly by while three young men of dubious appeal compete for her hand in marriage. Especially when her archery skills far outweigh theirs.
"Brave" is the animated adventure that women and girls have been waiting for since Snow White fled into the forest or the Little Mermaid sacrificed her voice for life on land.
3.5 stars = Very Good
- Starring: Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly.
- Rating: PG for some scary action and rude humor.
Merida is a Scottish teen who, at this point, isn't interested in getting married and wants to control her own destiny. She chafes under her mother's rules about what a princess does and doesn't do. Queen Elinor has many: A princess doesn't chortle, "stuff her gob" (mouth to us) or place her weapons on the dinner table and, above all, must strive for perfection.
Merida, a headstrong girl with wild, curly red hair, is especially appalled by the future that seems to await her. Three lords of the kingdom, each representing a different clan, will present their first-born sons for a competition with marriage to Merida as the prize.
"Mother, suitors, marriage?" Merida challenges, while the queen counters, "I would advise you to make your peace with it. It's marriage, it's not the end of the world."
When Merida stumbles upon a witch masquerading as a woodcarver, the girl asks for a spell to change her mother. In a clear reminder to be careful what you wish for, she watches Queen Elinor undergo a beastly transformation and tries to reverse the curse before it's too late.
"Brave," featuring the expressive voices of Kelly Macdonald as Merida and Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson as the king and queen, boasts remarkably detailed and spectacular animation. Merida's red hair, an explosion of corkscrews, is a work of art, and so is the Highland countryside, while the faces of the king and clans leaders look carved from jagged stone -- especially their beaks.
The movie is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor, and a couple of scenes involving bears sent some little ones at a preview diving into their parents' laps or to the lobby for a breather.
King Fergus, Merida's brawny father, whose neck is as big as a century-old tree trunk, is attacked by a bear in the opening moments of the movie and he survives, minus a leg. A protective mama bear appears later, as does a growling attack bear slashing at hunters.
(It all might be a little less intense in 2-D, rather than 3-D, which is how I saw the movie, paired with an Oscar-nominated short, "La Luna.")
On the lighter side, Merida's identical triplet brothers provide much of the comic relief, as do men in tartan kilts, which they sometimes lift or, briefly, lose.
The music is lovely, with Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis performing two new songs, "Touch the Sky" as Merida zips through the forest on her Clydesdale horse, and "Into the Open Air" as mother and daughter enjoy a rare romp.
Merida may be the spunkiest girl to ever come out of Pixar Studios or Disney. The fact that she even has parents to argue with is a rarity in an animated world that typically draws on fairy tales where the mother is long dead and sometimes replaced by an evil stepmother.
Two directors and a co-director -- Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell -- are credited with the screenplay although Ms. Chapman came up with the story. It's a more sophisticated adventure than many of its Pixar predecessors but the first anchored not by toys, bugs, monsters, fish, cars or even an aspiring gourmet chef who happens to be a rat.
It's about a flame-haired girl with a complicated relationship with the mum she loves and sometimes loathes, an aptitude with a bow and arrow and sword, and an independent streak that doesn't come as an accessory with most princess costumes or characters.