FORGET ferocious bears, warring clans and even the Scottish weather. According to the latest Pixar film, the most challenging battle is raising a teenage daughter.
Directors: Mark Andrews; Brenda Chapman; Steve Purcell
Running time: 100 minutes
Take the travails of Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) whose troubles begin when her six-year-old daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is given a bow and arrow by her battle-scarred, bear-baiting father (Billy Connolly). Ten years later Merida is an expert archer: she may only shoot at bullseyes but she’d still be a wow at the Olympics. But when Elinor expects her daughter to put away the bow and pick a husband, Merida consults the local witch to change her destiny.
On target here is Brave’s vibrant voice cast, including Robbie Coltrane and Craig Ferguson, despite the oddness of a Highland idyll where everyone has a Central Belt accent except for Kevin McKidd and Julie Walters. Scottishness abounds here with a script piquantly soused with words like “guddle”, and VisitScotland thrilled skinny by Pixar’s production designer Steve Pilcher waxing poetic over the Highlands’ hectic purples and greens, lavish waterfalls and soaring eagles, while omitting the rain. In short, compared with Brave, Brigadoon looks like Irvine Welsh’s manky loo.
But don’t go digging for any political subtext, because this is a kids’ film. Maybe the movie’s interest in independence for Merida is a parable for nationalism, or maybe the importance of stability through tribal unity is a nod towards Unionism; but the real message is, don’t be daft enough to look for political sides in a film that uses naked bottoms for laughs not once but twice in 90 minutes.
If only Brave was… braver. For a Pixar movie with four writers, including co-directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, the storytelling is surprisingly slight, standard and splintered. Chapman left the project a year ago but you can feel the arm wrestling between the two directors’ instincts as the film veers from galloping horses and mom/daughter face-offs to scenes of sword-fighting Highlanders and schticky panto stuff about stealing biscuits.
Especially familiar is a plot point where someone is transformed into a bear, causing a race against the clock to save them from a permanently grizzly fate. This didn’t work too well when Disney first did it as Brother Bear about ten years ago either. Subtle character nuances desert the film too: the enchanted creature is supposed to behave like a bear who was once a woman, but a failure to act butch, is more reminiscent of a bear who recently escaped from La Cage Aux Folles.
The feminism here is also pretty basic; if the women of Brave are shrill and squabbly, the men are barrel-chested buffoons and dolts. It’s great that the film kicks any thought of Prince Charming out of the park, but if you were hoping that Merida might throw away the trappings of prissy princess expectations and locate her inner Boudica, forget it.
Even though this is second division stuff, Brave is still the best thing out for kids at the moment. It’s just that we’ve come to expect better things from Pixar, such as inventiveness, sly subversion, and some emotional welly. A lot of thought went into animating Merida’s lively and rebellious red hair. A pity that such attention to texture and detail eludes the rest of the film.
On general release from Monday
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North