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Destiny, fate ... and the courage to find one’s own special path in life are eternal themes for storytellers, and Pixar’s team have given their new film the aptest of titles: Brave. 

“The main theme is being brave,” says director Mark Andrews, “finding the courage to let go. Merida is a very brave character—she climbs cliffs, shoots arrows, fights bears—but it’s really that bravery of the heart that’s the hardest. Brave is about a teenager’s struggle with finding herself, with creating her own destiny. More specifically, it’s about Merida’s struggle in reconciling how the world sees her versus how she sees herself. True courage must be found on the inside.”

It’s all about Merida, a skilled archer and headstrong daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life. She defies an age-old custom sacred to the unruly and uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane). Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric Witch (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to harness all of her skills and resources—including her clever and mischievous triplet brothers—to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late, and discover the meaning of true bravery.

Brave is set in ancient and rugged Scotland, and many of the cast have Scottish ancestry, including Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Kevin McKidd. “The star voice cast is excellent,” says our critic Louise Keller, “and the Scottish brogue delightful. While Billy Connolly’s well known delivery may be recognisable (and he does an excellent job), Emma Thompson and Kelly Macdonald’s voices are not, allowing the audience to believe in the characters more readily. The 3D component enhances but never overwhelms, leaving the film’s heart intact as fate favours the brave and we are reminded of the unconditional love between mothers and daughters.”

Oscar-nominated composer Patrick Doyle (Sense and Sensibility, Hamlet, Thor) creates an epic score and being true to his Scottish heritage, Doyle employs traditional Scottish dance rhythms and native instruments played by Scottish musicians. Adding to Brave’s musical lineup, Scottish Gaelic folk singer Julie Fowlis performs a pair of songs: Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air. Birdy, 16-year-old singing sensation, performs the epilogue song for the film titled Learn Me Right with Grammy-nominated folk rock group Mumford & Sons, who also wrote the track.

The story of Brave was very personal for the film’s co-directors, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. They drew from the experiences of their own families, combining that with their Scottish heritage and love of the country. 

Brave represents “Pixar’s most daring, sophisticated and complex feature film to date,” say the producers. It also establishes numerous firsts for a Pixar film. It is the studio’s first film to feature a female protagonist, its first period piece in which historical references intersect with a fantasy world, and its first epic adventure set in a natural human world.

But first and foremost, it’s excellent filmmaking.

Published June 19, 2012

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