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story.lead_photo.caption This film image released by Disney/Pixar shows the character Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from "Brave."

— Brave 84

Cast:

Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Patrick Doyle, John Ratzenberger

Directors:

Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and (codirector) Steve Purcell

Rating:

PG, for some scary action and rude humor

Running time:

100 minutes

Contrary to what commoners might believe, being a princess has a formidable collection of downsides to go with all those flashy crown jewels. Even in animated fairy tales, the job can be as confining as it is cushy.

The folks at Pixar are skilled enough to make a medieval Scottish royal named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire) seem sympathetic instead of spoiled. With her matted mane of unruly red curls, Merida has a difficult time meeting her royal obligations. She’s far better at shooting her bow than mastering her table manners.

As a result, she sees her fastidious mother, Elinor(Emma Thompson), as an ogre, and she winds up resenting her father, Fergus (Billy Connolly), and her three younger brothers as well when she’s informed she’ll be getting married.

The wedding seems especially odious because the groom has to be the eldest son of one of three bumbling nobles (Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson). Their offspring are goofy chips off the old blocks. The lads can’t even shoot as well as she can.

To break her mother’s resolve about the nuptials, Merida makes a deal with a local witch (Julie Walters), who can indeed pull off such a spell. Like the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s own Scottish tragedy, this sorceress makes deals that have potentially dire consequences.

As the crisis deepens, Merida quickly learns that Elinor is actually a capable, perceptive mother and that she needs to grow up inside as well as out to get through the mess she has created. It’s hardly surprising that Pixar manages to turn the crisis into an engaging story with stunning images. Brave makes good use of 3-D and plays up the mountains of Scotland nicely.

The images are more than pretty; they actually serve the story. It’s probably redundant to marvel at Merida’s thick hair, but it tells us a lot about her. It’s vibrant and flowing, but it looks as if she’d rather be riding a horse and shooting her bow than grooming herself.

More importantly, it’s fascinating watching her mature and learn why her mother issuch a stickler for decorum. It’s not simply because Elinor likes wearing elegant royal gowns.

As with Ratatouille and Toy Story 2, the making of Brave suffered from creative turmoil. While the other films became unqualified masterpieces, some of the off-screen discord seems to follow Brave. Director Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews during the production.

Most Pixar films are filled with dozens of endearingly memorable characters. Even the tiniest roles in Up and The Incredibles were vivid.

Except for the royal family, hardly anyone in Brave leaves much of an impression. Walters’ shifty sorceress is the only remarkable plebeian. Brave is also noticeably more violent than its predecessors, hence the PG rating. All of Pixar’s films are technical marvels, but the better ones also have stories that match the visual wonders.

That said, Pixar’s disappointments are still more captivating than most studios’ masterpieces. It’s easy to like the story of Merida even if the film itself doesn’t have her consistent aim.

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 06/22/2012

Print Headline: A hair off target

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