A brave heart demands freedom!
Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane
Rated: PG (too intense for the wee ones)
Red Flags: A few brief bare unkilted bums, some scary scenes
Some full disclosure: I love wearing kilts. I love Scottish culture, primarily the dancing. So now you know that I am going into Brave with warm predispositions. But lose the plaids and the Highland airs, and Brave is fairy tale mashed up with a teen angst flick. It works because it's colorful and heartfelt, not because it breaks any new ground. Some people demand Pixar be smarter than competing CGI animation studios; I'm not one of them.
Princess Merida (Macdonald) would rather be a tomboy in flaming red locks than a heir to the throne. While her mother Queen Elinor (Thompson) hectors and natters her on how a proper princess should behave, she longs to dart out into the glens and bullseye targets with her bow and arrow. Her father Fergus (Connolly) is an oaf who rests on the laurels of his showdown with the bear that took part of his leg. Even though he gave Merida her first bow, he's not much of a presence in her life. Her three kid brothers are too busy stealing desserts.
Queen Elinor is micromanaging her daughter's betrothal, as is tradition, to the first-born from one of three bickering clans, led by Lord MacGuffin (McKidd), Lord Dingwall (Coltrane), and Lord Macintosh (Ferguson). I'll wager you that last clan was named in honor of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who bought Pixar from founder George Lucas and receives a dedication at the end. None of the three suitors is particularly dashing, but you know kids these days.
Merida, realizing she is also first-born of her clan, decides to upend everything by becoming one of the competitors in an archery competition for her hand. She's a great shot but a lousy diplomat. Queen Mum is incensed, and Merida wants to just get away from it all. Escaping into the woods once more, she comes across a witch (Walters) who offers her a spell to change Mum's disposition, but it comes with a huge side effect.
Brave is that kind of movie that mothers and young daughters will want to watch together. Most families don't do arranged marriages anymore, but you can substitute any number of issues that drive a wedge between mother and child: driving, dating, make-up, clothes, boyfriends, money. Then there's that familiar refrain: "Mom, you never listen to me!" I'm sure a few families will find some uncomfortable moments watching art imitate family life, but as I have seen with Fireproof and Courageous, a great movie will spur us to examine our lives outside the theater.
Another advisory for parents: the PG rating is no joke. Pixar pushes some lines with animated brief bare bottoms, but it also contains some scary scenes involving bears which are definitely not for young children. The maturity level of your kids will vary, so I am not going to give a guideline age.
Pixar overhauled its animation system for Brave, and you see it in the beauty of the Scottish Highlands. It is lovingly faithful to its Celtic roots, including many jigs and reels in the soundtrack. I am hoping Brave reignites interest in all things Scottish just as Braveheart did many years ago. All right, I'll admit it: anything that gets more men wearing kilts can't be all bad.