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Warning: There be some spoilers ahead.

Last week I finally made it to the cinema to see Brave, the new Pixar produced movie. Distributed by Disney, I convinced Patrick to come and see it with me on a very raining, Irish summer’s day.  So what can be said about Brave?

Brave

Brave

Beautiful Animation
This is a beautifully crafted movie. The landscapes in this movie are stunning and there were genuinely times where I had to blink and refocus as they looked so realistic. The water flowed effortlessly and the lush, green woodlands gave the story a rural, Celtic feel. The contrast of the natural wood-scape with the glowing wisps was magical and haunting.

Patrick and I chose to see the movie in 2D as I have read complaints that the night scenes can be a little warped by 3D. I do not know if this is accurate but be aware that quite a lot of the scenes do take place at night or in a castle that can be quite dark so choose your medium carefully.

The characters themselves were really well designed. Many of them physically took on representations of their character traits but never looked too ridiculous. The most impressive animation was Merida’s hair, by far. It was large, red, corkscrew curls that would have taken so much work to animate properly. If flowed, bounced and moved like natural hair. She is the main character so I have to applaud Pixar for going out on a limb and making it work.

No real “bad guy”
What was quite interesting about Brave was that there was no real “bad guy”. Too often movies give us the same tired cliché of the good, wonderful hero and dark, evil bad guy. Despite this, it did not mean that the movie was conflict free. The story line with Merdia and her mother Elinor, was wonderfully written and demonstrated the potential conflicts between a mother and daughter, their duties and their dreams and wishes. Even though I leaned towards Merdia’s point of view, it was easy to see both sides even if they were being stubborn and cranky.

But what about Mor’du those of you who have seen Brave may be asking? To be I don’t think the purpose of his inclusion was to provide a bad guy . The focus of the story was on Merdia and Elinor rather than Mor’du and the King. Aside from that he was not really a baddy was he? Yes he tried to take his brother’s kingdoms, and ate King Fergus’ leg but in his defence he was young and stupid, and later, a bear. We learn that he was unable to undo the witches curse and was then trapped in animal form. I think the real sign of how he was not truly evil occurred after he was killed. We saw his spirit which smiles as if he was finally free of his torment and he could now be at peace.

Good portrayal of a female relationship
So often when the main characters in fiction are female, their main relationships in life tend to be male. Think about how many princesses and heroines are raised by their fathers with absent or dead mothers. The main source of conflict is then often with wicked stepmothers or  jealous women who want to destroy them, keep them locked up or control them. Hardly the best representation of all the wonderful, real, female relationships that exist and which could inspire.

But this thankfully is changing and the old story stereotypes are being challenged and tossed aside. In stories such as the Hunger Games, Lilo and Stich and now Brave, we see very strong female relationships that are while not perfect, are realistic and important to the lives of the characters. They are not just side notes or a ribbon that is tied  at the end to complete the plot.

Sure Merdia and Elinor’s relationship was fraught and full of challenges. But they worked through that and together they came out the other side with a better understanding of who they are and what their relationship means. Yes it was a pity that the whole bear incident had to happen, but this is Pixar after all and the story would not be as good without a bit of fantasy and imagination.

Comedy

Brave is proper laugh-out-loud hilarious. Merdia’s three younger brothers, Hamish, Hubert and Harris provided some wonderful rascally, high jinx. Whether it was stealing cake, playing tricks on their father or retrieving a key from an ample bosom they were very entertaining even with no dialogue.

The clans who arrive to compete in the Highland Games were also fantastically funny. They fought, drank, ate, and dragged up old rivalries and feuds all for our entertainment. The fight scene in the dining hall was comical as was the creative method that they employed to get down from the roof  of the castle when stranded. The wood-carving witch also deserves an honourable mention, at least for her creative answering machine.

Edge of your seat
There were also times of great tension in the plot which acted as a nice counter balance to the comedy and teenage angst. For example even though we, the audience, knew that Merdia was an expert archer, it was still nerve-wracking when she was fighting for the right to choose her own (marriage) destiny. I had to try very hard not to cheer for her out loud and not to boo the clan’s sons during the tournament.

The main tension that was almost unbearable (excuse the pun) involved Elinor when she was in bear form.  Between the fights, the hunts, the sunsets and broken relationships, poor Elinor got a raw deal. Although I felt that nothing bad would happen as this is a kid’s movie, I remember Up so will never fully trust Pixar to not make me cry.

Not too cheesy
So when I first heard that Brave was to be set in Scotland, I did cringe a bit inside. I  just hoped that they wouldn’t pull a typical Hollywood stunt of having terrible American voice actors and awful clichés such as tartan wearing Scottish terriers playing the bag pipes with a bottle of Irn Bru mixed with whiskey and a deep fried Mars Bar on some shortbread. But fear not, Brave was ok! They had real Scottish actors and everything. The Scottish themes were well worked into the plot so them seemed a natural part of the story rather than a “hey look we are in SCOTLAND” tactic.

Conclusion
I very much enjoyed Brave and thought it was a great story with fantastic characters. Historically women do not get a great treatment in the entertainment industry and I felt that Pixar did a good job in creating strong, realistic, women characters. They were complex and entertaining and Pixar avoided the pitfalls that can occur with tokenism.

No, there was no big Pixar tragedy, or twist but I was happy with this as it means that Pixar are not getting predictable. Was Brave as emotionally punching as Up or Wall-E? No it wasn’t, but it still entertained and included some great moments of conflict and tension.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely, for children and grown-ups alike.

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