By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Brave is an eye-popping, computer-animated, medieval fantasy epic, bursting with farcical humor, that’s set in the 10th century in the highlands of Scotland.

It features the first female protagonist for Pixar, the animation studio with the most astonishing and enviable track record in the history of the movies.

You will be able to recall more ambitious and satisfying efforts on their part (Toy Story, Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille).  But Pixar — raising the bar impossibly high and then bravely shooting Brave into the air to do battle — doesn’t diminish the accomplishment.

(3 stars out of 4)

This is a terrific piece of work and a splendid entertainment.

Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, is a spectacularly scarlet-haired Scottish teenager -– representing an immediate candidate for Best Animated Hairdo Ever — with unruly, slapsticky triplets for younger brothers.

She’s also a princess, no less than the daughter of doting King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and controlling Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) of the kingdom of DunBroch, who want to marry her off to one of three suitors (Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and Robbie Coltrane) from nearby clans in the name of continued peace for the kingdom.

But the headstrong, rebellious Merida will have none of this arranged-marriage obligation.  She wants to be independent, to carve her own path, to determine her own destiny.

Living up to the film’s terse title, she’s also a skilled archer.  She yearns to be a hunter, not a queen, one who climbs mountains and challenges monsters.

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So, she defies a kingdom tradition by sabotaging an archery contest that the three lords attempting to woo her (each a firstborn son of one of her father’s allies) are competing in.

When she then angrily leaps onto her valiant steed, heads for the woods, and turns to an eccentric, wood-carving witch (Julie Walters) for help -– she requests that she change her mother so as to alter her fate — she is cursed and she and her mother and the kingdom are put under a spell that she’s then forced to undo.

Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, working from a folkloric script about breaking with tradition and self-determination that they co-wrote with co-director Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi from a story by Chapman, don’t break with tradition or exhibit the groundbreaking bravery or spunk of their protagonist, but their delivery of tried-and-true, full-bodied animation is first-rate.

This is a visually dazzling work, with stunningly detailed Scottish locations, even if the story values –- perhaps aimed a bit too directly at the audience’s youngest contingent -– don’t quite measure up to the vibrancy of its photorealistic look.

But it’s genuinely funny throughout, and is further enhanced with a wonderful array of sonorous Scottish accents, led by the fine voice work of Macdonald, Thompson, and Connolly.

The richly tender, mutually stubborn mother-daughter relationship at the core of this fine feminist fantasy should resonate with family audiences as poignantly as the father-son bond in Finding Nemo did.

So we’ll shoot an arrow through 3 stars out of 4 for a modestly magical, paying-a price-for-freedom adventure.  Brave falls short of a rave, but still lands pretty darn close to the bull’s-eye.


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