Making-up "classic" fairytales is a testing enterprise; but if anyone other than M. Night Shyamalan can "Brave" it, it’s Pixar.
The first thing that hits you when you see Merida, the free-spirit teenage girl-hero of the Pixar's "The Brave" is her hair. And boy, do they pack a wallop! Unruly, curly, frothy Persimmon-colored locks that cleverly outline her unrepressed characteristics: she is a modern-day defiant tomboy, who would rather play "Braveheart" than "Queen Elizabeth II".
Although women empowerment isn't fresh dominion for animated belles — take your pick of any prevailing Disney princess Ariel, Belle, Jasmineand Pocahontas) — it is certainly one of the toughest nuts to crack with an original twist; And especially so, because we see it happening often enough. A princess in peril – sometimes waiting for a prince, or a rogue — is oft inhibited behind castle walls, and almost always governed by a dastardly foster-mother.
For Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald), whose world is as untamed as her hair. The film is set in the dark ages of Scotland. The wall would be teenage-marriage (as they said in the olden ages, you turn 16 and off you go); but on the other hand her mother is kind of nice.
Voiced by Emma Thompson, Queen Elinor is more-or-less a good South Asian mum, who wants what's good for her daughter, like her mother did. To Merida she may be Voldemort, or at the very least Snape.
Her father, Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly), is a barely domesticated goof in a hulking frame, whose pass-time is equally divided between bear-hunting, tall-tales and drink-fests. His liberated lifestyle may not be the best example for Merida, and in a time without college education or television it is the only available alternative.
It also more fun. He teaches her to shoot arrows while her mother tells her that "a lady does not place her weapon on the table". And then there's the awfully tight corset she must wear to greet her would-be suitors, chieftain sons from other clans.
Bounded by tradition "Brave" is an understated marvel of orthodox storytelling, written apathetically for the screen by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman (also the co-director with Andrews), Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi. Yes, this is both a compliment and a criticism.
"Brave" starts out as its namesake, and after the first-half, settles to be a Bros. Grimm fable. In a light-hearted song-sequence in a mystically-secreted hut Merida finds a kooky old witch and wishes for a spell that would "turn" her mother.
This second-half also "turns" "Brave" into a kiddie flick — think "Up", before and after the talking dog bits.
Funny as it were, however, that’s just a passing whimsy, unmistakably added to touch-up the film’s fluctuating mood. But by the final act, which amps up on emotional heft, "Brave" proves that Pixar products have a knack to thwart the monotony of cliché with sophistication.
"Brave" is a gorgeous — sometimes too-photorealistic — fable centering on a mother-daughter relationship. Its dwindling box-office could be because of its rather grave drama or the slightly alienating Scottish accents. No wonder Pixar is stocking up on safer bets with sequels ("Monsters University" is due next year and "Finding Nemo 2" has recently been greenlit).
While "Brave’s" aim may be not as crack-shot as Merida’s, it certainly makes a swell mother’s day gift.