Having lived in Scotland for all but two years of my life, I approached Brave with a certain level of apprehension. After all, it is, at its most basic level, an American production, and while Disney and Pixar are distinguished experts in making successful animated movies, international depictions of Scotland and its people tend to fall prey to unpleasant stereotypes. Brave isn’t entirely free of those, and it seems like its Scottish setting and cast make up the majority of the film’s novelty value, but I still found myself entertained, despite the predictable plot and clichéd execution.
The story is simple enough: rebellious redhead Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is upset at her parents’ insistence that she pick a suitor to marry, so instead she runs away and happens upon a witch’s cottage, where she acquires a spell in the form of a cake which will “change” her mother. When that change turns out to be anthropomorphic and disastrous, she has to find a way to reverse the spell before it becomes permanent in 48 hours’ time. So, it’s not entirely original, and there’s little untrodden territory, but some of Pixar’s notorious charm pervades and produces an enjoyable film.
made much more
Brave’s story will
For one, it pulls all the right strings emotionally; some sort of filmmaking magic affords Pixar the ability to make scenes genuinely tense, even though this is a children’s film with a very obvious “happy ending” coming. It also involves a beautifully crafted digital representation of mediaeval Scotland, which was developed after extensive research in the Highlands and off the Hebrides by the design team. In 3D, these are genuinely stunning, as is Merida’s hair, one of the more impressive technological feats. Take it from me: never have curly ginger locks been rendered with such realistic volume and movement.
While a couple of soundtrack choices are cring-worthy, they’re compensated for by the diverse cast which makes up the voice talent. These are predominantly genuine Scots, too: there’s no Mel Gibson in the star list. One character’s intentionally unintelligible accent makes for a couple of laughs, but they thankfully don’t feel like targeted insults towards the local register. Subtle and overt gags alike make their way in, as well as the obligatory few just for the parents, but there’s a notable lack of in-jokes for Scots, which is an unfortunate compromise because of the film’s American roots.
To Scots, I’d recommend keeping an open mind. It’s not an awful film, and it doesn’t claim to be an accurate representation of Scotland. The cast is strong, and while Pixar have made much more charming films, Brave’s story will still captivate audiences with its pretty visuals and well-paced plot, and at least tries to deliver a good message, advocating communicating with family members. “La Luna” may also be my favourite of Pixar’s traditional pre-feature shorts, reminding me that they have some truly talented artists on their team. On a final note: if you’re not Scottish, enjoy yourself – but try to remember we don’t really wander about castles in kilts, eating haggises.