Monday, 6 August 2012
Pixar's Brave is quite a departure from the near untouchable animation company's recent output. For a start it's the first since Up that wasn't a sequel. More significant perhaps was the film marked their first exploration into the fairytale genre made so famous by their parent company Walt Disney Animation featuring ancient fantasy and the customary princess heroine. But as always with Pixar, there has to be some sort of twist right? Eh, right?
Brave tells the tale of Celtic Scottish princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a free spirit with a love for archery and the maddest hair you'll see on a animated princess possibly ever - bare in mind Disney only gave the world Rapunzel early last year. Her world is turned a little upside down when her meddling mother (Emma Thompson) and father (Billy Connolly) decides to wed her off to the first born princes of the neighbouring kingdoms. Objecting to this she encounters a witch (Julie Walters) - if Shakespeare taught us anything, never trust a Scottish witch or witches - who agrees to change her mother in an attempt to change her world. And of course this doesn't go quite to plan, setting Merida off on an adventure of peril, comedic buffoonery and wonder.
The voice acting had perhaps the most impressive ensemble of A-Listers Pixar has put together since they first gave the world Toy Story. Kelly MacDonald is about as Scottish as they come, even when she's trying to be Irish in Boardwalk Empire. Nevertheless her princess was full of heart, innocence, quick witted, occasionally cheeky and extremely relatable to any girl who has ever had a clash with their mother, and this is where the film rises to the heights of Pixar's best.
Strip away the fantastical settings and mystical characters, as well as the stunning Scottish highland renderings (the Scottish Tourist board really got their money's worth from the co-financing of the feature), the film is a moving tale about the bond between a child and their parent. For every fight and petulant tantrum, there's laughter, warm embrace and forgiveness. There's good times and bad. And sooner or later, especially for the parent, the realisation you have to let your children go and live for themselves, even if it's not the road you set for them.
You'd be forgiven for thinking Pixar have maybe taken one too many cues from their Disney partners or Dreamworks competitors and not stuck to their guns with their own traditions of pushing the boundaries of storytelling better than anyone in their field. However only purists would begrudge them this as a criticism as the film is a fine tribute to the House of Mouse where the majority of these animators probably fell in love with the medium in the first place and perhaps most telling is the film pays homage to the budding working friendship Pixar has with its Japanese counterparts, Studio Ghibli. The film's story doesn't have the epic scale or imagination of Princess Mononoke but the influence is evident throughout.
The score by Patrick Doyle (who wrote the score for Mavel's Thor last year) is what you expect from a film set in ancient Scotland, it's very heavy on the Celtic folk overtones and beautifully performed if you're into that sort of thing. However the way the actual songs, performed by Julie Fowlis and not any of the characters themselves ala Disney, are placed throughout the film hits all the right notes in for their catchy hooks, pulling the heartstrings and raising the smiles.
Some say Pixar's Brave wasn't brave enough in carrying the high traditions and standards the company have set in their all too brief lifespan. But not me. See it as a tribute to past greats of Disney & Ghibli, see it as Pixar doing a traditional fairytale animation the only way they can; masterfully. Its animation is beautiful, its humour is honest and innocent, its supporting characters endearing and likeable, its heroine heroic, bold and sweet, its emotion powerful, its end result simply; a Pixar film.
Oh and if this doesn't convince you, its worth the price of admission alone for the customary and genuinely fantastic short film before the feature rolls, La Luna (5/5).
Brave is in cinemas everywhere throughout the UK now.