Pixar is long overdue for a feature with a strong female character at its center. Now that she's arrived, it's clear that she deserves better.
"Brave" is beautiful to look at, as you would expect given the technical and artistic standard the animation behemoth has set. Set in the wilds of Scotland, this 13th Pixar feature is full of lush, green forests and dramatic, rolling hills, all of which look even more idyllic bathed in a delicate, mystical sunlight.
Our heroine, the feisty and free-spirited Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), has a finely detailed mane of long, red curls that look so bouncy and soft, they'll make you want to roll around in them, then maybe take a little nap.
And the story begins promisingly enough, with our heroine — an avid archer — leaping on her valiant steed and taking a thunderous ride through the countryside, expertly hitting her targets without missing a beat. She's obviously a character with a mind of her own, one who has no apprehension about breaking the rules — which is why it's such a shame that the film itself feels so old-fashioned and safe.
The script, credited to co-directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman as well as Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi, revisits some familiar Disney character types and themes: a princess in a long-ago kingdom who pays an ill-fated visit to a witch, a spell that changes everything and needs to be broken, and the misunderstandings and danger that ensue.
"Brave" begins thrillingly but turns rather silly and slapsticky, as if it were aimed mainly at the little kids in the audience rather than the whole family. But the voice cast is strong, including Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson as Merida's parents, the king and queen.
The Disney Pixar release is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor. Running time: 93 minutes.