Brave filmmakers went to exhaustive lengths to ensure their Scottish story felt authentic. Pixar and their astounding talented staff achieved that goal in droves.
Kelly Macdonald voices Merida, a Highland princess who finds her life joy riding her horse Angus across the rich landscape and firing her bow and arrow. The only problem is the young woman is set to be betrothed to one of three princes whose clans have descended on her kingdom for a set of games to see who wins her hand. When Merida sets archery as the sport that will decide the winner, she bucks her mother’s wishes. After the three hapless princes take their turns, Merida leaps onto the playing field and wins the contest herself.
It has to be said that the film is not what we expected when all is said and done. The synergy between the animation house in Northern California and its parent company Disney in Southern California has never been clearer as it is with Brave. Director Mark Andrews’ story feels more like a Mouse House movie than any prior. There is a point in the film where our tale turns from the Scottish medieval epic we thought it would be into the family-centered animated movie it becomes. Because of that fact, it is one of the more surprising successes in Pixar history.
The time that the creative team spent in Scotland is felt and seen on every frame. It is that kind of attention to detail that has been a standard for Pixar. Yet, on Brave, it feels even more real. From the magical Wisps that lead Merida to challenge her fate, to the foliage that could not be greener and then the score that screams Scottish sensibility and swagger, the movie is leagues beyond any animation work seen this year.
Also, perhaps achieved by national pride alone, the mainly Scottish cast delivers vocal performances that are a triumph. The thespians, especially Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson, bring a humor, heart and honor to their homeland story that will surely forever endear them to Scots, Pixar fans and wider audiences as a whole.
The heart of the story is universal. Finding one’s purpose is something we all grapple with, regardless of age. How it is handled in Brave may not take the path most would follow. Pixar has never laid out its emotional storyline by doing what is expected. Yet, they still find resonance on a multitude of levels. The complicated relationship between mother and daughter plays out onscreen as if we have seen this plot point for the first time. Pixar is nothing, if not original.
Although the story is not one bit predictable, what is portrayed onscreen is something to marvel at -- for fans of Pixar, people who treasure anything Scottish, and any audience member who simply enjoys a solid tale, told with power and grace, that will be an inspiration for not only young girls, but every other soul who witnesses the Brave bounty of brilliance.