By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Is “Brave” not quite up to the usual Pixar standard, as rumors had it? Does it lean a bit more in the direction of “How to Train Your Dragon” than, say, “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo”?
Yes, probably. But if the movie isn’t up at the level of “Up,” it’s still a skillful piece of entertainment, with a plucky heroine and an offbeat setting. And nobody’s at that top Pixar level all the time, even Pixar.
“Brave” is set in ancient Scotland, where a mighty one-legged chieftain-king (voice by Billy Connolly) and his sensible queen (Emma Thompson) are sometimes exasperated by their willful daughter, Merinda (Kelly Macdonald).
Her birthright makes her a princess, of course, but the Pixar people take some pains to rub the sheen off the usual Disney princess (even if Pixar is now aligned in business with Disney). Merinda does adventurous “boy” things, shoots arrows like an Olympic athlete, and resists all efforts to marry her off to neighboring princes.
The opening half-hour of “Brave” concentrates on this, with plenty of slapstick. It’s amusing, if not exactly exciting, and it’s almost as though the movie is ignoring what turns out to be its actual subject.
That subject is the relationship between Merinda and her mother, which becomes more significant as the movie develops. The mood shifts to a dark, fairy-tale tone, as Merinda’s encounter with a forest witch (Julie Walters) leads to some uncomfortable complications.
I liked the movie more after that, although it vaguely feels like different stories stitched together. Merinda makes for an appealing heroine (Kelly Macdonald does a spirited vocal performance), even if her shimmering mane of red hair frequently upstages her — that hair must mark a new benchmark in digital animation.
The film’s in fun but not overbearing 3-D in some theaters. Some of the interior scenes are so dark they were difficult to see, but given the unpredictable vagaries of movie projection in otherwise state-of-the-art theaters, I might have watched the preview in a room with the wrong equipment or something. You take your chances in the digital era.
Fairy tales tend to have a dark nature, and this one’s no different, which explains the PG rating; some scenes of hunting dogs on the prowl and key characters in peril will undoubtedly be too much for younger members of the potential demographic.
“Brave” has a genuinely thoughtful mother-daughter subject within all the other silliness at play, and that’s what should make it memorable. It won’t hit deep the way other Pixar pictures have, but it’ll stick around in its own way.
A plucky girl in ancient Scotland has adventures while her parents seek to marry her off, a tale that turns darker and more interesting after various transformations in its second half. This film isn’t as enchanting as previous Pixar efforts, but the mother-daughter relationship at its center is well-drawn.
Rated: PG for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade, Oak Harbor.