"Brave" is set in a Mythic Scotland, where some of the clans still paint themselves blue, Northmen invaders threaten, and there are bears in the woods (but no lions or tigers--). Fergus (voice by Billy Connolly) is the "king" of a loose-knit four-clan alliance. He is inclined to indulge his daughter, Merida (Kelly MacDonald), who has grown up as a wild-haired, wild-riding young woman who is far handier with a bow and arrow than she is with a comb and brush. However, he is also inclined to indulge his civilized wife, Elinor (Emma Thompson), who is determined to make a "proper" princess out of Merida and see her married to the son of one of Fergus' allies. With neither marriage nor propriety anything Merida cares for, a clash between the two strong-willed women is inevitable.
Things come to a head when the clansmen come to present suitors, and are humliliated by Merida. The epic scolding she gets from her mother causes her to flee into the woods, where she comes across the hut of an old woman who reluctantly admits that she is a witch. Merida makes a rash bargain with her for a spell that will "change her mother" and "change her fate,"--without determining any details as to how this is to be accomplished.
Of course, the spell causes things to go from bad to horridly worse, and then it's up to Merida to try to set things right, without letting her father know what's happened.
The character of Merida is a very real teenager, and her relationship with her mother is an honest one. (Athough, teenager like, her first impulse is to shirk responsibility. When catastophe happens, her response is "The witch did it! It's her fault!") Elinor is also a very real mother figure, and neither omnicompetent nor a total wet sock. It's very amusing to see her both trying to maintain her dignity and to help her daughter, even while bespelled. The other characters are mostly caricatures for Merida and Elinor to play off, but they are well done and mostly turn out to have some extra depths.
Pixar's mastery of digital animation continues to grow. I intend it as complimentary that the backgrounds and scenery are so beautifully done that you cease to notice them as artwork and just accept them as you would any other movie backgrounds. While the character designs are cartoony, they are still remarkably realistic. I was struck by details such as the interaction between Merida's lips and teeth: unlike more "rubber-featured" cartoons, it's evident that there's a rigid skull under the skin, so that you see teeth when she's talking when you should, and don't see them when you shouldn't.
Although the "be careful what you wish for" plot isn't new, "Brave" is still a strong story, freshly presented and beautifully mounted.
Recommended for all ages. Fight scenes may be scary for the very young.
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