Opening with a flashback to the attack on King Fergus (Billy Connolly) by the demon bear Mordu before fast-forwarding to present-day (well, 10th century) Scotland to witness the King being teased by his daughter, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the deft mix of drama and comedy in Disney Pixar’s latest animation, Brave, is evident from the outset.
We’re then offered a brisk introduction to the state of affairs in both the kingdom and inside the walls of DunBroch Castle, the first 30 minutes explaining the need for Merida to marry one of the first born of the local Lords while also setting up the conflict between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).
It’s this conflict that lies at the heart of Brave, the mother-daughter relationship typical of many of those in the intended audience demographic. While Elinor expects her daughter to accept tradition and live her life to the laws of the land, Merida wants to live her own life and have her freedom.
From here it’s necessary to draw something of a veil over the film’s plot as Merida’s desire to change her mother’s mind leads her far into the forest and to the door of a local witch (Julie Walters). Rather than being your typical evil Disney witch, this one is more misguided than anything else, giving Merida what she desires. Almost.
To say much more would be to spoil the rest of the film, Disney Pixar having neatly side-stepped a major reveal in the numerous trailers and TV spots that reviewers will hopefully keep under their kilts.
So, fearful of being skewered by one of Merida’s arrows, ReelScotland won’t announce that [blank] is [blank] leading [blank] to [blank] his/her [blank].
What can be said is that the result is a lean and fast moving comedy that sees co-writer/director Mark Andrews settle on his theme early on without deviation. Brave is a film about mothers and daughters, meaning that while every character gets a few decent lines here and there, they’re only there to further Merida and Elinor’s story.
Macdonald makes for a youthful sounding teenage Merida, her numerous sighs and outbursts more endearing than annoying, while Thompson’s mum is, well, a mum. It’s easy to believe that each of them is as stubborn as the other and it’s a relationship that leads to some of the most emotional moments of the film.
As for those supporting characters, including Robbie Coltrane’s Lord Dingwall and Kevin McKidd’s Lord MacGuffin (and son), they give Brave an anarchic edge, their interactions and throwaway comments providing some of the biggest laughs.
Thankfully Brave doesn’t suffer from that well-known blight, Braveheartitis, wherin different nationalities attempt Scottish accents that sound worse than badly played bagpipes. Apart from Disney Pixar-regular John Ratzenberger’s suspect brogue, the dialogue is authentic throughout, with the cast even allowed to throw in a few “Scottishisms” during recording, including the catchphrase of a much-loved character from the Sunday Post newspaper.
The film’s visuals are as impressive as we’ve come to expect from the team behind Toy Story 3 and Cars, Scotland’s lush vegetation, ancient castles and human characters looking stunning throughout. Justice has been done to the country and her inhabitants, meaning it shouldn’t be too long before the tourists are out in force searching for DunBroch Castle.
While Brave could perhaps have benefitted from some drawing out of a few plot threads, supplying more information on Mordu’s rich back-story and the giving the Lords more to do, that’s a minor quibble that proves the film doesn’t outstay its welcome.
With as much sparkle as a can of Irn Bru and without any of the lingering aftertaste of an undercooked haggis, Brave will entertain adults and bairns alike.
In brief, Brave is braw.
Brave is released in US cinemas on 22 June, Scottish cinemas on 3 August and is on general UK release on 17 August.
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