Brave

There’s a show on the History Channel about people who believe the discoveries and achievements of ancient civilizations could only have happened with the help of intelligent aliens from outer space.  I happen to believe there are planets in the Milky Way galaxy and throughout the Universe that harbor intelligent life.  I just don’t believe we’ve ever been visited by any.  The fervor of the beliefs expressed on the show pushes me in the exact opposite direction.  The more the yell that aliens have visited the Earth the more I firmly believe they haven’t.  Being told something with absolute belief and conviction can force you to develop an opposing opinion even if you hadn’t had a strong point of view about it before.  I’m sure this has some psychological name but I don’t know what it is.  Parents often try to impose their will on their children in a way that makes them resist and rebel.  Such is the case with this week’s movie, “Brave.”

 
Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) is a fiery, independent, red-headed Scottish lass and an expert archer.  Her parents, King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), are loving and caring while being two very different people.  Fergus is loud and boisterous while Elinor is proper and reserved.  Since birth, Merida has been groomed by Elinor to be a proper princess, teaching her manners and etiquette along with the history of the kingdom.  All that teaching has been in preparation of the day the three leaders of the neighboring clans, Lord Macintosh, Lord MacGuffin and Lord Dingwall (voices of Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Robbie Coltrane), would arrive with their first born sons to vie for Merida’s hand in arranged marriage.  This comes as a surprise to Merida and she rebels against this idea.  After an argument with her mother where Merida causes a rip in a family portrait tapestry her mother has been working on for years and Elinor throws Merida’s bow into the fire, Merida rides off in tears on her horse into the woods.  There she sees a Will O’ the Wisp which according to legend leads whoever sees it to his or her fate.  A trail of Wisps leads Merida to a cottage filled with woodcarvings of bears.  There’s also a hunched over old woman who is the woodcarver but is also a witch (voice of Julie Walters).  Merida says she will buy every woodcarving if the witch will give her a spell that will change her mother’s mind and her own fate.  The spell takes the form of a small cake.  If Elinor eats it the witch promises it will change her mind.  Merida offers the cake to her mother, saying it’s a peace offering for their earlier fight.  One bite makes Elinor ill and Merida helps her to bed.  Elinor falls to the floor and when Merida checks if she’s ok discovers her mother has been transformed into a large bear.  A bear called Mor’du bit off King Fergus’s lower left leg when Merida was a small child.  If Fergus sees Elinor, Merida knows he will kill her.  Leading the transformed Elinor into the woods, Merida goes back to the witch’s cottage but finds nothing except a few bottles and a cauldron.  A kind of video message from the witch pops up out of the cauldron and tells Merida the spell will be irreversible by the second sunrise unless she is able to mend the rift she caused.
 
Merida is yet another addition to the stable of Disney princesses; however, this one doesn’t need a prince to come and save her.  She’s more than capable of taking care of herself.  Perhaps she’s too capable and too headstrong for her own good.
 
The first thing you’ll notice about “Brave” is how gorgeous it looks.  The landscapes are lush and green or rocky and marbled with the amount of detail that most viewers won’t notice because it is so photo-realistic.  We expect this from Pixar pictures and “Brave” doesn’t disappoint.  Pixar rewrote their animation software for the first time in 25 years to accommodate the added demands of creating Merida’s curly red hair along with improving the overall look of everything else.  The colors are richer, the textures more precise.  Everything just looks great.
 
The voice talent is all top-notch as well.  Kelly Macdonald is particularly good as Merida.  She gives the young lass a level of sass that never strays into obnoxiousness.  Merida wants to chart her own course without being piloted by anyone.  Macdonald conveys that desire perfectly.  She also gives Merida the right amount of regret and remorse when necessary.  Emma Thompson is also very good as Queen Elinor.  She easily conveys a regal air without being too snooty.  Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Robbie Coltrane all are appropriately inappropriate as the king and leaders of the clans.  Their raucous boasts about battles fought and won (real or imagined) provide plenty of laughs in the film.  Three silent characters also give the movie a comic boost.  Merida’s younger triplet brothers are a rambunctious trio who are constantly on the lookout for a chance to steal sweet treats from the kitchen.  They never speak a word but they don’t have to as their action do all the talking.  The film is filled with great characters.
 
There has been some complaint from major critics that the story doesn’t tread any new ground and that it wraps up too tidily.  I would ask why either of those is a bad thing.  The film does tread fairly well-worn ground about the headstrong heroine and her struggles against the expectations of her parents.  It throws in a little magic to spice up the formula and appeal to the younger members of the audience who are more open to such improbable wonders.  That fact that the movie is somewhat familiar from a story point of view shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has seen any previous Pixar movie.  While adults find them entertaining, Pixar films are aimed at children.  Children like happy endings where the family makes up and gets back together.  They really like it when someone young is the hero of the story.  “Brave” fits that bill and does it with visual flair and emotional punch.  While it didn’t make me roll a tear, the ending will certainly tug at your heart.
 
“Brave” is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.  There are a couple of bear attacks that could be intense for younger viewers.  One of the clan leaders lifts his kilt to show his rivals his backside.  We don’t see it but do see their reactions.  We do see several bare backsides after several men have to use their pants and kilts to make a rope.  There is no foul language.
 
“Brave” is a rousing, colorful, mystical journey back in time but it tells a story as modern as any other film.  It has fascinating characters that are very relatable and provide lots of thrills and laughs.  It looks even better than most Pixar movies and the soundtrack is filled with Scottish music that makes a perfect accompaniment to the story and emotion on screen.  It’s a great family movie that will entertain all ages.
 
“Brave” gets five guitars out of five.
 
It’s a busy week with five new movies hitting theatres.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
 
Magic Mike—A male stripper (Channing Tatum) takes a newcomer (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and instructs him in the fine arts of partying, picking up women, and making plenty of money.
 
People Like Us—On the day his latest deal collapses, fast-talking salesman Sam (Chris Pine) receives the news that his father has died. In the course of carrying out the man's last wishes, Sam discovers the existence of a 30-year-old sister named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) whom he never knew about.
 
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World—As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.
 
Ted—A grown man (Mark Wahlberg) has a live teddy bear (Seth MacFarlane) as a constant companion, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend (Mila Kunis).
 
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection—For years, George Needleman, the gentle CFO of a Wall Street investment bank, has been living with his head in the clouds. But George is finally forced to wake up when he learns that his firm has been operating a mob-backed Ponzi scheme – and that he’s been set up as the fall guy.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any movie currently playing.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions or comments can be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.