Imagine a fairy tale with a fair princess but no prince charming, no evil queen, no wicked stepmother and no knight in shining armor.
That's brave. It's also “Brave,” the 13th animated feature from Pixar, the renowned animation studio's initial foray into the sort of magical princess adventures that have long been its parent company Disney's stock in trade.
As it has already done with superhero movies (“The Incredibles”) and post-apocalyptic science fiction (“WALL-E”), Pixar proves again it isn't afraid to take risks with its first fairy tale, keeping some core conventions of the genre, discarding others and adding plenty of uproarious humor, strong characters and stunning visuals. From the visual standpoint, it is perhaps the most beautiful and cutting-edge computer-animated movie ever made.
Even better, “Brave” brings the same insight and emotional truth to the powerful yet problematic bonds between mothers and daughters that Pixar's 2003 Oscar winner “Finding Nemo” gave to father-son relationships. Of course, “Nemo” is told from the point of the view of a father, while “Brave” centers on a young, rebellious daughter, immediately giving the fairy tale a more childlike perspective some may misinterpret as Pixar becoming just another animation factory churning out kiddie cartoons.
Set in the lovely and mystical wilds of Scotland, “Brave” centers on Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald, leading an excellent, mostly Scottish cast), a bold and impetuous tomboy with gorgeously rendered scarlet locks. A daddy's girl at heart, the princess adores racing through the woods on her warhorse Angus and practicing her already impressive archery skills, which she started developing as a wee lass when her father, the giant, genial warrior-king Fergus (Billy Connolly), gave her a tiny bow and arrows, to the chagrin of her prim and proper mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).
Merida has little patience for her demanding mum's endless list of royal rules — a princess doesn't chortle or stuff her gob or own weapons, just to start — and worse, her three younger brothers seem to have no responsibilities other than running around like troublemaking hellions. As any teenage girl in any time and place would conclude, it's just so unfair!
Her mommy issues get even more intense when the queen decrees the time has come for Merida to be betrothed to a future leader of one of the other three clans in their corner of the Highlands.