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Brave

Disney's latest animated flick introduces young moviegoers to Princess Merida, a new type of female heroine.

Brave

Brave Photograph: 2011 Disney/Pixar

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Brave, a fairy tale set in the misty highlands of medieval Scotland, is a fierce, powerful and at times stunningly gorgeous film. The story includes spells, a cackling witch and luminous jellyfish-like sprites, but the real magic here is that Pixar has deftly produced a princess film that appeals both to girls who love dressing in tutus and to those who would rather see The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen kick Cinderella's scrawny butt.

The plot starts out in familiar territory: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), daughter of King Fergus of Scotland, has reached the age where she must put aside childish pleasures like riding her horse through waterfalls, and work on her ladylike charms so she can be won as a bridal prize in a contest among the eligible princes of the land. But after three hilariously hapless teenage suitors prove no match for the arrow-shooting princess, the film veers off into unexpected territory: Merida gets into a fight with her mom about her future, then storms off, following those sprites to the home of a wood-carving witch and impulsively asking for a spell to change her mother. Even when faced with the disastrous results of her selfish wish, she refuses to take responsibility for her actions, whining, "But it's not my fault," like almost every adolescent girl in history. You keep thinking, This is where the handsome prince comes in, right? But Brave bravely tosses that convention aside and focuses instead on the painfully real relationship between Merida and her mom, Queen Elinor, who would solve a whole lot of problems if they would only sit down and listen to each other. Yes, there is a real-live female parent in a Disney movie! Not only is Queen Elinor neither dead nor wicked, but she has her own satisfying story arc, in which she learns to embrace her, um, inner animal (and it doesn't hurt that she has the luxury of being voiced by Emma Thompson channeling the Scottish burr of Downton Abbey's Mrs. Hughes).

In its most obvious wink to the princess-industrial complex, Merida has the epic hair of all animated heroines, but instead of luscious, flowing Disney locks, she has a wild, untamed mane, with every springy coil and frizzy flyaway so perfectly detailed in CGI 3-D that you can't help but reach out and try to twirl it around your finger. She was clearly created to reflect the other major female action hero of the year, with her Olympian archery and survivalist skills, but unlike The Hunger Games' Katniss, she's not weighed down by a sappy love triangle. Brave also dispenses with the standard cheeky animal sidekicks, and instead most of the laughs are provided by the men of the kingdom, with their Braveheart body paint, XXL kilts and sometimes incomprehensible accents.

While there's plenty of slapstick silliness for boys to enjoy (mainly provided by three wordless toddlers who help move the plot along with some very naughty pranks), Brave is truly a female-driven adventure. There are also some dark moments in this film, and some frightening action sequences involving large animals with extremely sharp claws, so children under five may want to stick with their DVD of Cars or Tangled for now. But for older kids—especially tween girls—Brave is a rip-roaring adventure that will inspire them to take up archery, see the world (starting with Scotland) and maybe, in the bravest move of all, sit down for a heart-to-heart with their mom.

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Dirs. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. 2012. PG. 100 min. Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane

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