A scene from the film 'Brave' © Disney/Pixar
It hasn’t been the most rewarding summer for Saga readers looking for a bright, entertaining but substantial film to which they could happily take their grandchildren – and even enjoy themselves.
That film, Brave, has finally arrived. It’s the latest title from the animation house Pixar, which is easily Hollywood’s most successful studio. It can boast 12 massive hits out of 12 in 17 years: three in the Toy Story series, Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille and The Incredibles among them.
It seems the whole world loves Pixar, so you might think they’d stick to the tried and tested, repeating story formulas that have worked already. Instead, Brave breaks new ground in several respects. It’s a gamble, and if it seems a brave one, that’s appropriate, given its title.
How is Brave so different from its predecessors? Let us count the ways. Firstly, it’s a fairy tale of sorts – and until now Pixar has been content to leave fairy tales to its parent company Disney. Also it’s set in the past – in 10th century Scotland, to be precise. And its world – the moors, glens and lakes of misty Scotland – is a recognisably human one.
There are two even bigger differences. There is no attempt on the part of Brave’s production team to make the film seem American; almost all the voice cast are Scots, speaking in their native accents. And above all, this is the first Pixar film with a female lead character -- the teenage Princess Merida.
But forget the sort of princess you usually find in classic animation films like Sleeping Beauty. Merida, beautifully voiced by Kelly Macdonald with a lilt that could melt the hardest heart, is a feisty, rebellious girl with an unruly mass of flaming red hair (stunningly rendered by the animators). She is a dab hand at archery, and she flees the royal court when her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) tries to arrange a marriage for her with one of three hapless young lords competing for her hand.
It’s a coming-of-age story, but Merida isn’t the sort of animated princess who’s waiting for some handsome prince to come along and transform her life. Indeed, she likes her life just as it is, and she’s as tough and resourceful as any boy her age. This is refreshing in a marketplace with relatively few films for girls, told from a female viewpoint.
While that’s a serious virtue, Brave is a light, funny, exciting film – one, incidentally, that boys will enjoy too. Yet its central plot is a battle of wills between Merida and her mother Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), view trailer, right.
It’s quite lovely to hear the dialogue, spoken not by Americans but unapologetically Scottish characters. Billy Connolly was a perfect choice to voice Merida’s raucous, jokey father Fergus. (Emma Thompson’s mother is Scottish, and she spent much of her childhood north of the border.) There’s even a running gag about the Scottish brogue; one of Merida’s young suitors has such a broad accent that no-one else can understand a word he says.
Brave also does full justice to the beauty and majesty of the Scottish highlands. Pixar’s animators went to great lengths to convey the look of the landscape – its hills, forests, light - even the moss that covers much of the ground in remote areas. This really is animation of the very highest order.
If Brave represented a high-stakes risk for Pixar, I’d say it’s paid off handsomely. Warmly recommended.
Brave is playing in cinemas nationwide now.
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