braveReleased: 2012
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly (voices)

Ground-breaking – but not for its animation


One of the talking points of this year’s Oscars was whether or not the correct film won the Best Animated Feature category. Almost inevitably the Academy Award went to Pixar for their latest film – Brave. Fans of Aardman Animation’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists were outraged, arguing that the British film was funnier, better made and the superior film. I saw Pirates a month or so ago and really enjoyed it. There were a couple of sight gags that had me in hysterics, glad that I was watching at home so that my loud, Sybil Fawlty-like cackle didn’t disturb anyone. Pirates certainly set a high-water mark so it was time to watch Brave to make up my own mind about which film was the more deserving of the two.

Set in the Scotland so beloved of Hollywood producers (hills, eagles, heather and broad accents) Brave is the story of strong-minded Princess Merida who spends her days riding horses and practising her archery skills. Merida’s happy life is threatened when it is time to follow tradition and choose a husband from among the clans. Merida rebels against her parents, particularly her straight-laced mother, and sets in motion a chain of events which could lead to tragedy for the royal household.

As you would expect from Pixar the animation is beautiful. Some scenes are breathtaking such as one where a golden eagle soars overhead and much has been made of how natural Merida’s flowing, curly red hair is. It’s certainly a fabulous achievement but I’m still more impressed by Sully’s fur in Monsters Inc. – that was the groundbreaking moment.

The voice talent is great – Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly as Merida’s parents are ideal in their roles. Thompson as the regal, traditional Queen Elinor is a wonderful contrast to Billy Connolly’s rough and ready King Fergus, a bear-hunting giant of a man. Kelly Macdonald as Merida is sweet and plays the role well. I’m delighted that Pixar’s first choice as the voice of Merida was unavailable; I like Reese Witherspoon but the thought of her drawling out a faux Scottish accent is actually quite painful.

The story is also quite sweet and anyone who has been a teenage girl and fought with her mother will recognise what’s happens in this film. I don’t know any teenager who didn’t think that her mum was too fuddy-duddy and want to change her into a more understanding person. Maybe not quite the way that happens here but we’ve all wanted a change at some point.

The truly ground-breaking aspect of Brave isn’t in its animation or in the voice performances but the fact that Merida, Pixar’s first female protagonist and Disney’s 11th Princess, is resistant to letting a man hold her back. She doesn’t want a Prince Charming, she doesn’t need to be rescued and she can more than beat the boys at their own game.

I’m not at all opposed to Disney’s eye-fluttering damsel in distress Princesses. I don’t think I let the sisterhood down by enjoying Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but at the same time I like the fact that times have changed and that Disney is now reflecting that. The Princesses have been growing increasingly stronger and independent, we’ve had our first African-American Princess, now our first single girl – who knows we might even see a girl with disabilities or one who falls in love with another girl in the next decade or two…

I really enjoyed Brave. I’ll even admit to welling up a little at times but was it better than Pirates? I’m not sure about that. I’d probably rank them about the same in entertainment value and technical achievement. I would never say that it didn’t deserve its Oscar because it is a fine film, but it would be nice to see the Academy willing to look beyond Pixar when considering achievements in animation.

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