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Disney/Pixar present a Highland-set coming-of-age folk tale with a feminist streak. Featuring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly
Merida is a teenager. Like many teenagers, she's involved in a war of attrition with her number one adversary - her mother. Unfortunately, Merida is also a Scottish princess, and expected to perform princessly duties - like marry the man she's told to - in a princessly fashion. But Merida has other ideas, and her stubborn refusal to bow to tradition sparks a chain of fantastical and often disastrous events which will drastically change her family - quite literally in some cases.
This is Pixar's 13th feature and it's a less original tale than many of their previous outings, borrowing heavily as it does from folklore. But the story is hardly any less enchanting for being handed down. The transformative power of traditional storytelling and the passing on of legend are, in fact, key themes in Brave - as is the battle of wills between mother and daughter which, thanks to insightful, personally-inspired dialogue from co-writer-director Brenda Chapman, manages to feel both timeless and modern.
The tale also benefits from a strong lead in the form of the flame-haired Merida - surprisingly, the first female to carry a Pixar film. Green and flawed though she may be, she's a considerably more inspiring role model than the simpering Disney princesses of yesteryear, tearing across the Scottish hills on her horse, firing expertly-aimed arrows as she goes.
Speaking of the Scottish hills, these have been painstakingly rendered rock by rock, tree by tree to create a sort of hyper-Highlands which is eye-poppingly gorgeous to look at and more textured and naturalistic than earlier Pixar backdrops. The characters, too, are noticeably the studio's most complex to date - Merida's flowing corkscrew curls are so expressive they're practically an extension of her personality. Brilliantly emotive voice work from Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Emma Thompson (Merida's mother) and Billy Connolly (Merida's father) complete the package.
Like the fairy tales of old, Brave has a dark core and, at times, the perilous situations the characters find themselves in feel heart-thumpingly real. But those clever types at Disney/Pixar know exactly how far to push the fear before steering us back to safety and breaking the tension with laughs - of which there are many - making Brave a joy to watch for audiences of all ages.
Brave isn't quite up there with Up, but it's still a masterfully-animated, ripping yarn with plenty of cross-generational appeal.
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