Film review | Brave – Pixar’s bow-wielding princess hits the bullseye

BRAVE - Merida takes aim

A pull-string cowboy sheriff, a rodent chef and a waste-collecting robot have all made their mark as Pixar heroes. Now, not before time, a girl takes centre stage in Brave, Pixar’s 13th animated film and its first to feature a female protagonist.

Set in a mythic medieval Scotland, Brave has a princess as its central character, but feisty, flame-haired Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) isn’t your typical fairy-tale heroine. The tomboy daughter of bluff, big-hearted King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and regal, decorous Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), she’s headstrong and independent, fearless on horseback and a dab hand with a bow. All of which makes her far from happy when her parents declare that it is her duty to marry.

According to age-old Highland custom, she’s obliged to wed one of three candidates from rival clans – a prize trio of boobies it has to be said. Unsurprisingly, Merida wants to choose her own destiny, which puts her at odds with her equally strong-willed mother. She turns to an obliging witch (Julie Walters) to help change her mother’s mind, but her wish unwittingly provokes a beastly curse.

BRAVE - Merida follows a will o' the wisp

With spills, scares and lashings of humour as the adventure unfolds, Brave is another sparkling Pixar gem. Not quite at the summit with the studio’s very greatest triumphs, perhaps, but a winner all the same thanks to the company’s legendarily painstaking attention to detail. Whether capturing Merida’s unruly mop of red hair or the unearthly will o’ the wisps that lead her into enchantment in an eerie forest, the Pixar animators are at the top of their game.

And so are the voice cast, most of them authentically Scottish, with Kevin Kidd, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane rising to the occasion as the quarrelling clan chieftains. They each provide moments of boisterous comedy, as do Merida’s rascally triplet brothers, who are constantly nipping in and out of the action in search of food to filch but come to their sister’s aid in her moment of crisis.

All of this is great fun. But what makes Brave so richly enjoyable is the way the filmmakers have cannily balanced traditional fairy-tale elements with a recognisably modern sensibility. Strip away the Highland myth and mystery and it is clear that the heart of the story is a prickly, very real mother-daughter relationship. Just watch the sparks fly when the irresistible force that is a wilful teenager meets the immovable object incarnated by a stubborn mother.

On general release from Monday 13th August.

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