Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Directed by: Mark Andrews (debut), Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of Egypt”), Steve Purcell (debut)
Written by: Mark Andrews (“John Carter”), Brenda Chapman (“Cars”), Steve Purcell (debut), and Irene Mecchi (“The Lion King”)
As refreshing and empowering as it is to see an animated film where the main female princess protagonist isn’t waiting around for Prince Charming to whisk her off her feet and ride into the sunset, “Brave,” Pixar’s newest addition to their immensely impressive catalog (with the exception of the “Cars” franchise), isn’t what you’d expect from a studio whose focus has always been great storytelling. In fact, “Brave” borrows so much from past Disney contributions, it’s really difficult to refer to it as an original screenplay.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the technical animated aspects of “Brave,” you still can’t get any better than Pixar animators. The detailed scenery in Scotland where the story takes place is breathtaking as is the creation of the lovely, red-headed Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a young, rebellious princess who refuses to marry a suitor (Princess Jasmine, anyone?) based on tradition and her mother’s wishes. Merida sees herself as a strong-minded warrior who can stand up for herself.
Instead, Merida, whose hair color was obviously chosen because of her fiery spirit, runs off only to complicate things when she meets a witch who casts a spell on her family. It’s at this point of the story where “Brave” veers off ineffectively. The twist is so silly and has no real bearing on the overall mother/daughter relationship narrative at the forefront. Merida is a vibrant character and MacDonald’s voice work brings her to life and offers little girls an opportunity to see themselves in the role of the hero. The last time Pixar got close to this was the mother and daughter characters in 2004’s superhero feature “The Incredibles.” Disney did the last really successful job with the female hero in 2010’s “Tangled.”
While “Brave” has its scene-stealers (Merida’s trio of trouble-making little brothers will cause the most laughter), the script is lacking in imagination and conflict. Give Pixar credit for trying something they hadn’t before in their 17-year history, but “Brave” feels more like a miniscule speck floating around in a grand Pixar universe.