“The ancients spoke of it. It is the heart of this fierce land. It is carried in the wind. Born of our legends, and when we are put to the test, it is the one thing that we must always be.”
Readers of this site already know that I have a particular fondness for most of the films that have come from Pixar. The studio pretty much invented the computer-animated feature film, and they’ve been setting the bar higher with each new release. I’ve always thought it was rather fitting that the studio ended up as part of Disney. After all, it was the Mouse House that invented the animated feature to begin with. It all has a certain poetic destiny feel for me. Pixar is still leading the cutting edge. My favorite to date has been Monsters, Inc. and I am eagerly waiting for the Monsters University prequel, which is now only a year away. In the meantime, the powers that be over at Pixar have tossed us yet another original story: Brave.
Princess Merida (MacDonald) isn’t exactly happy with the usual life of a princess. While her Mother (Thompson) tries to teach her the arts of being a lady, she is happier out in the wilderness on her horse and practicing her archery skills. She is far more enthralled by her father, King Fergus (Connolly) and his tales of facing the bear that took his leg than her mother’s stories of grace and good behavior. It all comes to a head when it is announced that the other kingdoms will be sending their eldest sons to compete in a competition for her hand in marriage. She has no intention of getting married, and to someone she doesn’t love, no less.
She follows a path of will-o’-the-wisps to the door of the local witch and woodcarver. She asks for a spell to change her mother, and she gets exactly that. This becomes a pure case of be careful what you wish for. The transformation leads to some quite humorous moments as Mom has turned into a bear, the thing the King wants to kill more than anything in the world. Learning her lesson, she attempts to help her mother and undo the damage she’s done. The case of mistaken identity brings The King and the visiting kingdoms on a royal hunt for the bear.
Brave is the most straightforward film that Pixar has ever done. It is a standard fairy tale with most of the usual elements pretty much intact. There are ancient kingdoms, a princess, a witch (and curse, of course) and the usual cute sidekick characters in the form of the three little brothers. But this is not a completely traditional story, either. I am particularly pleased to finally see a fairy tale where the princess isn’t looking to score a major hunk. There’s no Prince Charming to be found here. Merida is as independent a princess as you’re likely to find. Pixar has managed to take a traditional tale and put their own stamp on the material.
The animation is another milestone for the industry. There is a scene where Merida is teaching her mother, as a bear, to catch fish in the stream. The scene is actually one of the weakest as the story goes, but it is visually magic. The creation of the water and the fish just below the surface is one of the most realistic scenes I’ve seen in this kind of animated feature. The textures on the bear characters are another step forward for the industry. Chalk up another stunning effort from the crew.
The characters are all engaging. Billy Connolly has one of those classic old-world voices and brightens up the otherwise droll character of the King. Kelly MacDonald does a fine job as the princess. Yes, Pixar has included their rabbit’s foot. John Ratzenberger has his usual cameo part. Here he’s a character named Gordon. You can’t miss him.
The film comes with the usual short feature. This one has a couple of guys teaching a young boy the ropes of their trade, and a rather stellar job it is.
I won’t say this is their best effort as far as the story goes. There are several I’d place above it. It’s better than the Cars films or Ratatouille by a long way. I think it’s the kind of story that will resonate with the kids a little less but be enjoyed more by the adults or adolescents in the audience. It gets my vote as the best princess in the Disney stable by far. A princess shouldn’t be so focused on finding her Prince Charming, “and above all a princess should strive for, well… perfection.”