Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Sometimes, fairy tales can be downright Grimm, rendering complex ideas in ambiguous tones. Pixar Animation Studios attempts to enter darker territory with Brave, an often haunting but earnest fable about a Scottish princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who learns just how much her teenage impulsiveness affects both her family’s sense of tradition and her kingdom’s communal fabric. The ripples of Merida’s rebellious actions resonate outward in fascinating ways, specifically toward her loving but demanding mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). In this sense, Brave becomes a kind of anti-Bambi, constructing a double origin story around the primal danger of over-pro-tective motherhood.
While rollicking adventure and physics-defying archery have proven to be the film’s top selling points in terms of advertising, Brave is actually far more spiritual and sobering than Pixar’s marketing team would probably like to admit. By placing Merida's struggle for identity within the realm of classic folklore, Brave avoids overt preachiness despite its sharp feminist slant. Despite the fact that many of its male characters are clueless straw men, Brave never completely disavows their perspective or keen ability to appreciate female empowerment. King Fergus’s (Billy Connolly) surprising acceptance of the way his daughter and wife take an active, magic-enhanced role in their own mythmaking is the best example of Brave’s flexibility toward gender.
Pixar has deservedly become known for immaculate detailing in films like Finding Nemo and WALL•E, and Brave’s hues and textures are similarly lush. Dense forests pop with green moss and brown tree bark, creating a brilliantly organic color scheme broken only by the sudden presence of Merida’s flowing red hair. Her striking locks are often a symbol of freedom, even rage, like when a few strands pop out from underneath a tight headdress during her public betrothal that will dictate the kingdom’s future.
If there’s one thematic constant in Brave, it’s that change is destined, and watching strong but conflicted characters like Merida and Elinor realize their own personal evolutions is something to cherish.
Opens June 22