Beautifully realised Scottish-set animation from Pixar, featuring Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson
Historians might chafe at the vague approximation of medieval clan politics, and linguists query the anachronistic slang, but on the whole you’d have to be a paranoid curmudgeon indeed to take offence at this much-vaunted trip to Scotland by Pixar animation studios.
Brave, the story of a rebel princess who defies her mother’s marriage plans for her, is slight, happy, sincere and gorgeously realised. The last comes as standard with this outfit, of course; but the animators’ painstaking attention to detail is particularly rewarding when applied to the natural world, as with the stunning under-seascapes of Finding Nemo; and the landscapes, water, creatures and sky here simply zing with beauty. And Pixar’s human characters, once a bit of a sticking point, have come on leaps and bounds; these characters are neither creepy avatars nor overly cartoonified mascots. Is the kick-ass tomboyishness of our protagonist Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) a significant Pixar statement, or just PC pandering? Well, one wouldn’t wish to overstate the influence of a bundle of ginger pixels, but in a world of catwalk glossed Bratz dolls, girl groups in lingerie and cow-eyed Disney princesses in sugar pink, Merida's autonomy and scrappiness does seem like an overdue corrective – for girl and boy viewers alike. She makes her own mistakes, fights her own battles and isn’t anyone’s sidekick; nor is she raddled by insecurity, or in need of a prince to point the way.
It’s also unusual to see sympathetic analysis of a mother-daughter relationship; and if Merida’s travails with Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) aren’t quite as sure-footedly affecting as the fatherly traumas of Finding Nemo or Monsters Inc, they are central to the story, and attended to with care. Story isn’t Brave’s strong suit – it relies too heavily on a rather random-feeling deus ex machina – but its gloss, confidence and sense of fun go a long way to compensate.
Showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival Sat 30 Jun. On general release from Fri 17 Aug.