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Pixarís latest feature, Brave, makes great use of the rich legends and beautiful scenery of the Scottish Highlands to set a story full of mysticism and courage around, Merida, its very first lead female character.

In the Scottish wilds, a bucolic peace reigns for the moment, and King Fergus, his Queen, Elinor, and their tiny daughter, Merida, a tiny moppet that looks entirely made of her untamed red curls, enjoy the beauty of their lands.  The little princess takes more after Fergus in nearly every way and his present of an archerís bow is the best thing the small girl could ask for.  Her fatherís first lessons create a lifelong devotion in Merida to perfect her skills and she spends any time she can steal outdoors on her horse doing very unprincess-like activities.  This is no boon to Queen Elinor, who must train Merida to take her place as a future queen, wife and mother, and her strict demands and corrections over every aspect of Meridaís life put the mother and daughter constantly at odds.  All Merida wants is to have the freedom that any boy in her land has and that her three impish little brothers will have when they are grown.  The tension between mother and child is ratcheted way up by the ensuing gathering of the clans.  Merida has become of an age when she must become betrothed to the firstborn heir of one of King Fergusí allies.  That young man will be chosen in a test of skill as selected by Merida, who naturally opts for archery.  Merida defiantly outclasses every one of her potential suitors and her action causes an uproar that could lead to war with the allies, who were promised a marriage and a step closer to the throne.  Queen Elinor is furious with her stubborn, rebellious child and her anger sends Merida out of the castle and into the forest mists.  Meridaís horse seems to know what his rider doesnít as he shies away from passing into a stone circle, which when crossed; a stream of ethereal, blue floating lights reveals another scene entirely.  The mysterious occupant of a tiny hut is quickly sussed out by Merida, who recalls her motherís stories of myth and mystics, to indeed be a witch.  The girl makes a desperate deal to change her fate, unfortunately Merida isnít as specific in her request as she should have been and the result of her pact with the witch brings about unexpected and terrible results.

The first half of Brave is a thing of joy and Pixar wonderfulness.  The lush Scottish landscapes that make one doubt theyíre made of pixels, the adorable design of baby Merida, the warmth of their family ties and the raucous comedy of the King and his brutish fellows all fall into the winning formula that Pixar is supreme at conjuring.  Even more appealing is the strong, feisty character Meridaís given and the unusualness of her story.  As main parts of the plot involve her demurring at getting married and then facing danger after making the witchís deal, I kept expecting some stableboy or someone to come along and be her pal and later saviour and romantic interest.  Happily, thereís no Prince Charming for our heroine, which is a bold move in this age of boy-pleasing movie demographics.  Thankfully, neither is Merida a bratty or whiny girl, just one who doesnít understand why the rules must be different for her than males.  Watching her scale the side of a mountain barehanded and zip through the forest in full gallop, hitting bullseyes with her bow is thrilling.  We enjoy her freedom as much as she does.  Her motherís frustration is understandable and viewers can sympathise with each of the ladiesí exasperation with the other.  The clanís humour is both subversive and slapstick-silly; with one chiefís fashionable son gathering a crowd of screaming groupies, anotherís sonís brogue is so thick no one can understand him, while oneís boyís father takes no issue with proving what Scotsmen donít wear under their kilts, mooning his rivals at will.  All good stuff.

Then something weird happens: After Merida is lured to the witches hut, the dynamic and even some of the design changes.  The witch looks to be a whole different make to everyone else and her movements are odd and jarring; more suited for a Disney 2D animation than the fullness of a Pixar 3-Dimensional film.  The spell she casts is just plain bizarre.  Itís alluded to when you see the witch hutís dťcor, but it turns the plot into something unexpected and not necessarily pleasant.  The focus come way off Merida and all the lovely background weíve got about her and the expectation that her excellent skills will come to some exciting use is pretty much dashed.  It feels like the boldness of placing a female character at the crux of the story finally gave way to fear behind the scenes; so a more standard and lesser plot was thrown in, one that Disney has used before.  Itís very disappointing.  Itís also downright silly trying to watch the filmmakers take the plot device they chose and fit their warm-hearted family story around it.  Even so, Meridaís brothers create a lot of the laughs from that point, which helps one get past the frustration with the direction of the plot.  We still get a feel for Meridaís courage, but not quite in the way one hoped.

I canít hate Brave because thereís so many bits of goodness in it, including the excellent voice cast, featuring Kelly MacDonald as our heroine, Merida, and Emma Thompson as Queen Elinor.  Billy Connolly is perfect as King Fergus, who accepts his daughter and her hoydenish ways, no matter what; a pussycat despite being the fiercest man in the land.  As to be expected from Pixar, the artistic quality of the film is remarkable: The backgrounds are stunning as with the mountainous land and seascapes, the gleaming fur on the animals and the feathers on the witchís raven. The textures are gorgeous; Meridaís wild mass of titian curls is a marvel that will make women want to throw away their flat irons forever.  Add to that that the movie can be awfully funny.  I only wish Pixar had itself been Brave enough to keep its eye on its wonderful heroine and not be compromised by its lack-of-faith decision to switch gears mid-plot to a tired, silly device thatís unworthy of everything that came before it.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 21st, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of Pixar/Disney)

 

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