Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger
Pixar’s animators have mastered the art of sprinkling dreamy beauty on ethereal landscapes. And what better setting for a play of light and shadows and colours than the Scottish Highlands in mediaeval times! Production designer Steve Pilcher has plenty of scope to show off what his team can do – the glint of sunlight on a horse’s mane, the trajectory of arrows from a tomboy’s bow, the baring of teeth as bears attack. Every frame of 'Brave' is almost heartbreakingly beautiful.
But the film offers something we’re not used to in a Pixar production – a predictable story line with a dollop of cloying melodrama. What begins as a subversive fairy tale – a now-deleted comment posted on the YouTube trailer, “I got uninterested as soon as the hood was pulled off” received over 2,000 likes and set off a debate on the portrayal of women heroes – ironically ends up becoming a “chick flick”.
First, we’re told bears aren’t welcome in the kingdom of Fergus (Billy Connolly), who has lost his leg to a grisly, grizzly attack. So when he gifts his daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) a bow to the horror of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), we expect her to drive out all evil bears or fall in love with a good bear cursed by an evil bear or something.
That’s about the only prediction that’s likely to go wrong. When Merida grows up all of a sudden, turns down three idiotic suitors and defies a sacred custom that ticks off Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), we know this is a make-your-own-way story. But just in case we’re on the same plane as the suitors, we must have this message reiterated with an overdose of song and dance.
Following an admittedly enticing trail of will-o’-the-wisp, Merida runs into a bulge-eyed witch (Julie Walters), whom she instantly trusts with her deepest desire – make mommy respect me; make mommy see me as more-than-a-prospective-housewife; make mommy give me a bear-hug...oh, NO! Queen Elinor turns into a bear before going on a journey of mother-daughter-self-and-mutual discovery. The two-day deadlines translate into a hundred long minutes.
Uncharacteristically, Pixar makes a mistake that many animation features that try to cater to a universal audience do – the crass humour is too tawdry for children, and the story too dull for adults. The characters are either archetypes or stereotypes. There are some nice touches, especially involving the triplet little brothers of Princess Merida.
However, the film meanders to an end whose only credit is avoiding the saccharine fairytale finish of beauty-and-beast-turned-hot-prince living happily ever after.
The absence of a handsome prince hiding in the trees, waiting to be impressed by a girl-who’s-not-any-other-girl doesn’t make this story any more original, though.