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Brave movie review: a Pixar pioneer

This is the story of Merida, a princess with dazzling ginger hair who prefers archery and horseback riding to wedding some ridiculous prince. Finally, a bold princess who doesn’t consider marriage to be a woman’s final destination, though her mother would beg to differ. Set in the Scottish highlands, Brave is one of the most beautifully lush digital films ever made.

Brave princess

Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) adores her poised mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and cunning father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and even tolerates her three wily brothers. Due to her father’s influence, Merida is a skilled archer, something the Queen isn’t exactly thrilled about.

When Merida comes of marriageable age she is made aware of her clan’s tradition:  the other three Scottish Lords, Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) and Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) will bring their firstborn sons to compete for the princess-bride. Merida is naturally rattled by her new fate and scrambles to find a way out of this age-old tradition.

Merida declares that the princes must compete in archery and as the firstborn child of Lord Fergus, Merida will join the other competitors in an effort to win her own hand. This is a pretty unconventional plot twist for a Disney princess and perhaps way overdue.

Brave princess jumping from bear

Though Merida aces the competition, her plan to avoid marriage fails and prompting her escape into a magical forest despite her mother’s protestations. Merida says, “I want my freedom!”  To which Queen Elinor replies, “But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?”

Ah, reality. Women can have what they want but there will be sacrifices along the way. This is where the young princess must truly learn what it means to be brave.

In the forest, Merida meets the Witch (Julie Walters) who represents the dark side of female independence. The aging spinster with dark powers manages to mess things up for Merida in a big way. We’d think this bright princess would be more cautious when dealing with a haggy sorceress, but of course, this is Merida’s only example of an independent woman. Merida soon understands that the life she is after is something she must forage for herself. And instead of a magical spell, she’ll need her mother’s help.

Brave King and Queen

Though there is no conventional romance in this fairy tale, the love story is really between mother and daughter. Scottish native Kelly MacDonald does an excellent job voicing Merida, capturing all the angst, frustration and embarrassment any teen girl must endure while trying to separate emotionally from her mother. Emma Thompson is pitch-perfect as Queen Elinor, who loves her daughter deeply but is reluctant to allow Merida to gallop into an uncertain future. The nuance and sophistication in this relationship is more impressive than any of the fantastic digital spectacle and the element that most surprised me.

Bottom line: Brave dazzles visually and emotionally, with a princess prime for the 21st century. Your sons and daughters will both delight in this trip to a magical Scotland, where anything, including female independence, is possible. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Disney

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