THE PITCH: "Boardwalk Empire's" Kelly Macdonald voices Merida, a tomboy princess in 11th century Scotland who resists her mother's (Emma Thompson) desire to marry her to the heir of a powerful clan. Without spoiling anything, let's say Merida's attempt to avoid her fate via a magic spell does not go to plan.
MONEY SHOTS: Merida competes for her own self-determination in an archery tournament (already available on-line). A huge, battle-scarred bear called Mor'du makes several terrifying attacks. Later in the film Merida encounters a bear with hilariously dainty manners who provides some of the best jokes. Merida's three brothers provide slapstick highlights, but aren't quite as adorable as the movie seems to believe.
BEST LINE: "You're covered with fur! You're not naked!" Merida exclaims to a bashful bear. Nevertheless, a close-up of a buxom servant's cleavage, a glimpse of unclad lads and brief buffalo shots of kiltless highlanders give Brave more (human) nudity than any previous Pixar film.
INEVITABLE SCOTTISH CLICHÉ: Merida's mother scolds her sons, "Boys, don't just play with your haggis!" Also, characters say "Och!" a lot.
BODY COUNT: A scene at a deserted throne room features numerous skeletons and Merida's father Fergus (Billy Connolly) has a peg-leg following a run-in with Mur'da. Otherwise, the friendly brawls and more brutal battles seem to cause no permanent injury to the human characters.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Rendered in CGI with 1,500 curls, Merida's wild red hair defines her uncontrollable nature. A funny sight gag finds Merida's hear crammed into a coif at the bursting point. Not surprisingly, the male characters go all out with tartans and kilts.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Julie Fowlis croons the standard-issue empowerment ballad "Touch the Sky." Mumford & Sons sing "Learn Me Right." Emma Thompson herself trills a bit of "Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal)."
POP REFERENCES: One of the clans favor the blue face-paint we know and love from Braveheart. Robin Hood inspires the archery contest. A busy broom evokes "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia. Apparently the Pizza Planet truck can be spotted in a cottage full of woodcarvings, but I didn't see it. The blue will-o-the-wisps make little squeaks reminiscent of the bouncing lamp from the Pixar logo.
LONG LINE OF ROYALTY: As a period piece with a female lead, Brave belongs less in the company of Pixar's snappy comedy adventures like the Toy Story movies and more with the Disney Princess films, notably Beauty and the Beast, Mulan and Tangled. Consequently the film's first act feels a little familiar and not as fresh as Pixar's best.
EXTRAS?: Brave is preceded by the latest Pixar short, "La Luna," a moonstruck trifle that emphasizes gentle whimsy over zippy punchlines. (You may have already seen "La Luna" in the 2012 program of Oscar nominated shorts.) There's a very funny stinger at the end of the closing credits, so be sure to stick around.
AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS: People, especially women, should be able to dictate their own destinies, as the film repeats many times. The more implicit message, of course, is that if you ever get to make a wish or cast a spell, make sure you get the wording right. Like, write it out first before saying it aloud.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Brave breaks tradition with Disney princess movies by building a touching story about a mother-daughter relationship, when usually the moms are out of the picture. Despite the spectacular animation, Brave's story feels a little small, but it culminates with a thrilling confrontation and a reconciliation that'll give you the warm fuzzies.
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