DVD Release Date: November 13, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: June 22, 2012
Rating: PG (for some scary action and rude humor)
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Run Time: 93 min.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell (co-director)
Actors: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane

From the ancient mists of the Scottish Highlands comes a tale of love, war, princesses, kingdoms in peril . . . and magic. (More about that later.) Pixar’s first period film is the tale of Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a feisty Scots lass with an impressive mane of fiery hair and a temperament to match. Her long-suffering mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) does her best to tame her wayward daughter and train her up in the way she thinks her child should go. Merida, a teenage tomboy, does not appreciate her mother’s attempts to turn her into a perfect princess—she’d rather roam the highlands on her horse, perfecting her archery skills.

It’s all pretty much typical mother/daughter conflict until Merida learns the time has come for her to choose a husband from a neighboring clan. Unwilling to give up her freedom—and considering the trio of doofuses she has to choose from, one can’t really blame her—Merida takes matters into her own hands. And that’s when things go horribly wrong.

Don’t tell your daughters (lest they suspect your motives for taking them to the movie) but Brave is a terrific lesson about the mother/daughter relationship and the need for grace from both generations. Merida and her mother clash at every turn, but they’ll both have to learn to give and take in order to survive. There’s a scene where Merida and her mom are each explaining their side of things; both pretty much say the same thing, they just can’t seem to say it to each other. What we have here is definitely a failure to communicate. Our royal mother and daughter do love each other; each just wishes the other was a little different. And in a fairy tale, wishes sometimes do come true—but rarely in the way you want them to.  

Merida sees her mother as the source of all her problems, so she sets out to make her mom change. This requires magic, which means a trip to a witch’s house is in order. Magic comes at a price, but our stubborn heroine thinks she’s up for the challenge. Only later does she realize the true cost of her actions and come to regret her decision.

The animation is predictably gorgeous (this is Pixar, after all), capturing the rugged beauty of Scotland and the charm of its inhabitants. Merida is adorably unkempt and her tiny triplet brothers (holy terrors, the lot of them) are so precious it’s no wonder they get away with constant mischief. The will-o-the-wisps that light Merida’s way to the witch’s house are lovely, floaty things but the man-eating bear is pretty scary—especially when he takes direct hits and keeps coming, even with weapons sticking out of his head.

Speaking of scary, the fight scenes—and they are many; Scots are a scrappy bunch—are packed with violence of the cartoon kind; lots of punching, swordplay, archery, and so on. There are also some intense chase scenes and tension-filled moment as characters are in mortal danger . . . but it all works out in the end. There’s even a lovely spiritual tie-in as Merida must come to the end of her own efforts and face up to the fact that she can’t fix the mess she’s created. Only true humility and genuine repentance will bring the miracle she and her family so desperately need.