Brave - Billy Connolly, Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson
King Fergus (Billy Connolly) teaches Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) the fine art of swordplay while Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) looks on from above ©2012 Disney/Pixar

This excellent animated adventure may not be what audiences expect, because its generic title is potentially misleading. Brave may bring Native Americans to mind, but the word is unlikely to make anyone think of a precocious medieval Scottish princess who has problems with her parents. The studio should have stuck with The Bow and the Bear, a working title that not only had a classic Disney fairy-tale ring but offered a better description of the story.

Kelly Macdonald voices the irresistibly appealing Princess Merida, a pretty teenage tomboy with massive orange curls, bright green eyes and intimidating archery skills. Macdonald’s charming Scottish accent is almost musical, making nearly every statement sound like an enthusiastic question.

Merida’s amazing hair is an animation marvel, a brightly billowing cloud that’s a wonder to behold even by Pixar standards. The ancient landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, a large cast of colorful characters, realistically rendered animals and some otherworldly fantasy creatures are undeniably impressive. But Merida’s explosively always-in-motion hair manages to be the movie’s most enjoyable visual treat.

Brave - Merida's three mischievous brothers
Merida’s three mischievous brothers cause trouble without ever saying a word © 2012 Disney/Pixar

Merida’s boisterous father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and especially her refined mother Queen Elinor (a terrific Emma Thompson) expect her to abide by tradition that dictates she must marry the first-born son of one of the other three clans. Horrified by that prospect, freedom-loving Merida flees to the forest after an angry argument with mom. That’s where she encounters ghost-like blue creatures known as will o’ the wisps that lead her to a bear-obsessed witch (Julie Walters) who seems to have just flown in from a Miyazaki movie.

Brave‘s pre-release marketing has done an admirable job of not revealing much more about the plot, which involves Merida’s badly worded request for a spell that will change her mother’s mind. She spends the rest of the movie trying to make things right again, a quest that involves more than one frighteningly violent encounter that may be too intense for the tiniest tots.

Although girls are Brave‘s obvious market, boys will be missing out on a great time at the movies if they stay away. There’s enough action, humor and drama here to please everyone, and the computer animation is state-of-the-art stunning. The 3D version suffers slightly during nighttime scenes, which seem a tad too dark from behind those annoying glasses, but otherwise everything looks fine.

Brave marks a refreshing return to form for Pixar after last year’s disappointing Cars 2. Directed and written by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (with cowriters Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi), Brave is a movie that’s more about storytelling than toy selling. It also comes with a good lesson about mutual understanding that every family member will appreciate.

Brave is being shown with a wonderful animated short called La Luna that precedes the film, so don’t arrive late. Also, a short bonus scene follows Brave’s end credits, so stick around to be sure you see every second.

[Rating: 4.5 stars]

Brave US, Canada and UK theatrical release is Friday June 22, 2012. Australia release June 21, 2012.

You can preorder the DVD/ BluRay on Amazon here


James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.