When Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) was a young girl, there was one birthday she enjoyed possibly than all the others - well, apart from one major detail. The part she appreciated was that when she was playing hide and seek with her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) they were interrupted by her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) who had an extra-special present for her: a bow and set of arrows. Always the tomboy, Merida set to trying them out straight away, and needed practice as she fired one of the arrows into the nearby woods. When she went to fetch it, she encountered a willo the wisp which seemed significant...
And the major detail that was not so beneficial? Only the small matter of King Fergus getting his leg bitten off by a bear, though this is laughed off for much of the rest of the movie. Brave was Pixar's attempt to move away from their traditional male-based heroics, for although Jessie the Cowgirl from the Toy Story sequels had been a step in the right direction for those fans of the studio craving a heroine to watch, with this creator and co-director Brenda Chapman was manufacturing a story that would appeal to the female half of the audience with its concerns over mother and daughter relationships and the position and expectations of young women in society.
Which made it a shame Chapman left the project some years into its production, though she didn't make public any grumbles about this fact and seemed to be mostly content with the way it turned out. This being a Scottish tale, invented for the silver screen rather than some myth or historical yarn, they got in a load of Scottish voice talent and Brits who could do the accent, even encouraging the actors to throw in (family friendly) Scottish slang which did make the characters sound rather closer to Oor Wullie at times rather than some accurate depiction of Dark Ages Caledonia. Still, it was a nice touch and meant the movie went down well in Scotland, although many were of the opinion it was a weak entry into Pixar's run of excellence.
Maybe the complainers were victims of a company that had set the bar so high even a very good rather than brilliant effort was not going to satisfy them, but really Brave was perfectly acceptable entertainment and looked impeccable with its mostly faithful Scottish scenery (only occasionally resembling the Himalayas). Actually, most of the animation labour appeared to have gone into rendering Merida's mane of curly Irn Bru-coloured hair, time and money well spent when it made her so distinctive, though her troubles arising from her independent personality traits verged on the generic. The plot sees her arguing endlessly with the Queen about how she is supposed to act as a Princess, and how she does act as a person, with events coming to a head when she is forced into marriage with a prince she has not chosen herself.
Or that's the idea, but Merida shows all three suitors up, threatening to bring about war if she doesn't keep the heid and do her duty. Being a fiery redhead, that's not about to happen soon which is why she ends up at the cottage of a witch (Julie Walters) and purchasing a cake which will "change her fate", a development which you will accurately predict might not turn out so benevolently as hoped. It's a long, rocky road to accepting her mother and her mother accepting her, but rest assured it's worth it by the end, bringing out a curious obsession with bears in the plot which may be historically correct, but feels a little out of place seeing as how they've been extinct in Scotland for a thousand years: some may remember Hercules and wonder if he'd escaped yet again. Maybe a midge would have been an apter fearsome native beast. Still, if this wasn't top notch it was a far friendlier Hollywood tribute to the country than the repellent Braveheart, and if you were not going to meet any Meridas there it was at least a nicer name than Murren. Music by Patrick Doyle.