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Review: 'BRAVE'

Pixar takes a new turn, and succeeds!

“Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen” begins the title song of the rock musical HAIR and could certainly apply to the heroine of the new Pixar film, BRAVE. Merida, sports such a truly amazing head of brilliant red curls that they seem to have a life of their own, like some genetically confused mass of tendrils slithering in every direction while framing her sweet, pale face.

I shall confess at the outset that I am no fan of most animation. I wholly admire the technology, the wizardry of the graphic artists who bring these films to life.  These films are just not what excite me at the movies and judging by the median age of the audience in attendance at the showing I saw, that as it should be. 

  • BRAVE is one of the movies playing this week at .

I can therefore only state my surprise and delight that BRAVE, for the most part, kept me interested and at times even transfixed. There is abundant scenic beauty on screen.

The film, directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, who also share screenwriting credit, clearly owes a debt to many sources, among them Snow White, Cinderella with a heaping dose of Stonehenge mythology, replete with runes, magic symbols and ancient tapestries. I cannot recall animation that is so vividly life-like that for moments I thought I was indeed watching a live-action feature. 

The story, set in tenth century Scotland, unfolds as a series of gorgeous set-pieces, the color palette is always spot-on and thrillingly vivid of a style more associated with traditional Disney animation than to what we’ve come to expect from Pixar. 

Merida escapes her cloistered castle existence at every opportunity by perfecting her skill as an archer and for wild galloping rides on her horse, Angus. The horse is as realistic as the puppet, Joey, seen in the stage production of War Horse (now touring the country-currently in Los Angeles-see it!)

When at home, she is carefully tutored by her Queen mom, Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) in preparation for her arranged betrothal; a very funny sequence of clan dads summoned to bring their eligible sons to court Merida and compete for her hand in marriage. Elinor’s husband, King Fergus is a good-natured mammoth goof clad in kilts. He loves Merida but is powerless to offset his wife’s plans for their daughter.

Merida will have none of this. Who can blame her for preferring the company of her horse and the splendid Scottish country outside her confining walls? 

Guided by a series of “will-o-the-wisps,” Merida in desperation makes the fatal mistake of seeking help from an old witch who, with much “boil and trouble” at a boiling cauldron a la Macbeth, provides a solution that turns the Queen into a bear, albeit a very charming and matronly one. This event gives Merida a true purpose in life and pushes the plot into high gear as we see the girl become a young woman with grit, courage and determination as she confronts every obstacle to undo the spell before it becomes permanent. 

Despite a few unfortunate plot turns that become repetitive and silly, BRAVE succeeds in becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Pixar has taken a different path here but one worth exploring.   

Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.

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