With past achievements including the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy, ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Wall-E’, Pixar has pushed the envelope for digital animation so many times that there’s a tiny bit of disappointment involved when its latest offering turns out to be merely really good rather than an absolute knockout. True, it does offer the company’s first female heroine, a tomboy-ish medieval Scots princess, Merida (delightfully voiced by Kelly Macdonald). But its blend of warrior adventure, parental bonding, scary bits and cute hi-jinks leans more to established, slightly predictable Disney formulae than usual. ‘McMulan’, anyone?
All that being so, ‘Brave’ remains enjoyable on so many levels that it’s almost churlish to grumble. It’s grounded in authentic emotional conflict, for one thing, as free-spirited teenager Merida fails to see why her mum, the Queen (Emma Thompson, impeccable as ever), insists on getting her married, since she’d rather be off shooting arrows than standing beside some stupid nobleman. Putting a witch’s spell on her parent turns out not to be the best idea, however, as the story feeds dramatic reversals into a touching learning curve for both parties. With a compelling central thread in its favour, the rest is about decoration, showing off the incredible degree of texture the animators have achieved in detailing clothes, armoury – and ginger hair!
Yes, there’s no mistaking we’re in Scotland, and another surprise is the affection displayed for a nation of wild landscapes, impenetrable accents and volatile personalities. With a super voice cast – including Billy Connolly and Kevin McKidd – clearly having a ball, there’s a degree of knockabout in the air, but no sense of shortbread-tin tweeness. No, not another Pixar classic, but for full-on family fun it’s a brave effort.