Nobody’s queen but her own
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, June 22, 2012
Few movies have been as hotly anticipated this year as “Brave,” which, as the first Pixar movie to revolve around a female heroine, counts as the computer-animated “Hunger Games” of the toddler, tiny and tween sets.
In fact Merida, the flame-tressed Scottish princess at the heart of this she-ro’s quest, bears more than a little resemblance to “Hunger Games” protagonist Katniss, right down to the bow and arrow she wields with eagle-eyed finesse. (Merida is finely voiced by Glasgow native Kelly Macdonald.)
Declaring early in “Brave” that she will be nobody’s queen but her own, Merida is completely on trend within a spate of revisionist fairy tales in which princesses are expected to cast off prim passivity and access the hidden warrior queen within. Her parents may be grooming her for imminent betrothal, but Merida sees her wedding as nothing more than “the day I become my mother,” an idea she derides by veritably spitting out that last word.
After dispatching her suitors at an archery competition (handsomely staged and animated by director Mark Andrews and his Pixar cohorts), Merida embarks on an adventure that pivots not around the search for true love but the fractured relationship with her mom -- an anti-Freudian twist that gives “Brave” a novel psychological frisson.
As refreshing as it is to see family dynamics, rather than romance, define the fulcrum of the story, the tale that unfolds isn’t the most sophisticated of the Pixar canon. The conflicts, magic spells, chase sequences and reconciliations feel strangely by-the-book for a studio so well known for throwing the book out entirely.
What’s more, once those spells have done their work -- resulting in Merida’s mother being turned into a huge, hulking bear -- the most easily frightened young filmgoers may find themselves terrified by the fangs, claws, growls and vicious animal fights that ensue.
But youngsters with a taste for adventure will no doubt overlook the movie’s workmanlike outlines and applaud its spirited, self-reliant heroine, who proves to be as appealingly unruly as her tumble of Titian curls.
From a story standpoint, “Brave” may be nothing special, and Pixar fans might find themselves wishing Andrews had found ways to weave the Highlands mysticism and medieval atmosphere more richly through the film’s visuals.
But “Brave” is attractive enough to be a worthy summer diversion -- an accomplishment Merida herself would no doubt dismiss as hopelessly shallow, but which makes for a pleasant viewing experience nonetheless.
Contains some scary action and rude humor.