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'Brave' is beautiful, but doesn't have the heart of most Pixar films

Pixar

There's a famous Shakespearean stage direction -- "Exit, pursued by a bear." Scottish princess Merida is the star of the new Pixar movie "Brave," but a bear plays an important role too.

REVIEW: As a mother of a young daughter, I've been eagerly awaiting Pixar's "Brave" for months. Who can resist those breathtaking trailers, as Scottish princess Merida's flaming curls whirl around her head like butterflies while she takes aim with her bow and arrow?

"Brave" has a promising start. Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) is obviously beloved by her parents -- goofy giant dad (Billy Connolly), who loses a leg to a legendary giant bear, and queenly mum (Emma Thompson). They give her a bow and encourage her to learn archery and lose herself in wild afternoons riding her giant Clydesdale, Angus.

But she's still a princess, and when Merida gets older, she's expected to marry one of the three heirs to the other Scottish kingdoms. Man, are they losers. As you've probably seen in the trailer, Merida bests them all in the archery contest, even splitting the arrow of the one hapless prince who accidentally managed to hit the bullseye. But when even that won't convince her parents she's not ready to wed, Merida turns to witchcraft.


And then things start to get kind of dull. A curse is put on the queen, and daughter and queen drag each other around the castle and the woods trying to hide things from Dad and the visiting heirs and their entourages. This part of the film kind of goes on. And on. And on. There are some touching bits, as Merida and Mom realize they really need each other, but there are none of the tender Woody-and-Andy moments that make "Toy Story" so wonderful.

You feel like the film wants to deliver a touching message about how moms and daughters need each other, or perhaps about how girls aren't possessions to be married off without their consent. But when the second half of the film is mostly clowny slapstick, it feels like the script pages with those messages got left behind in the editing room.

The rest of the film has all the Pixar outward charm with little of its heart. Merida's redheaded triplet brothers are barely in it, but they deliver a few fun scenes. ("Don't just play with your haggis!" scolds the queen at a meal.) And there are some great lines. ("We'll expect your declarations of war in the morning," chirps Merida as she muses on how her parents could get her out of the bethrothal nonsense.)

Sadly, "Brave" doesn't land on the top shelf of Pixar films next to "Toy Story" and "Cars." But as they say about pizza, even a not-so-great Pixar film is still pretty good. Young children will enjoy it, and they'll also like the sweet little short film "La Luna" that airs before it. Kudos, as always, to Pixar for making these little extras.

 

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