Sunday, 26 August 2012

Brave: Queen of Scots

Pixar's latest tells the tale of a fiery Scots Princess attempting to escape the oppression of her royal duties and strike a blow for feminism and free will in the ancient highlands. A cadre of Scots lend their dulcets to the characters, led by Kelly McDonald as Princess Merida, Billy Connolly as her Royal Dad, and Emma Thompson as her Queen mum. Pretty much every other Scottish actor on the planet gegs in there somewhere, making the whole thing sound a bit like "How to Train your Dragon", now with ADDED SCOTTISHNESS.

It's Pixar's first fairytale and features their first female protagonist. The classical nature of the story and the presence of a Princess brings Pixar closer to their mother-company than ever before. There are echoes of Tangled, Beauty and the Beast and even The Emperor's New Groove to be heard here, but Brave's likable characters and deft pacing just about make up for the familiarity.

As is always the case with a Pixar movie, the visuals are uniformly beautiful and often jaw-dropping. This can become a problem when you're missing vital exposition because you got distracted by the awesome intricacy of the protagonists hair, but for the most part it makes the flick a compelling tourism video for CG Scotland.

The characters are imbued with genuine personality, both by the animators and their vocal performers. McDonald, in particular, takes the potentially angsty teenage Princess and makes her a bouncing bundle of irrepressable enthusiasm. Connolly and Thompson also get good mileage from their frustrated parental units, and there's some solid comedic support from the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Julie Walters.

One of the finest aspects of this film was the fact that, about 25 mins in, I realised I had no idea what was going to happen for the rest of the film. I felt like all the bits from the trailers and promotional material had already been on screen, and I was venturing into uncharted territory. This is unheard of in this age of spoilers and audience spoon-feeding, so it is to be commended.

Once the story begins to unfold, however, things go from "surprising" to "slightly formulaic" pretty quickly, and the second act feels a little under-developed and conflict-free. You're soon barrelling towards the emotional climax, though, so there's barely enough time to be finicky about plot complications.

What we have here is an above-average animated film with a distinct aesthetic and a shimmering Scottishy soundtrack (bagpipes and tin whistles!), bolstered by an effervescent central character and a few surprises along the way. It may seem a little slight when compared to Pixar's finest, but it remains a sweet little adventure with a solid heart.

 Oh yeah. I'm back, by the way.

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