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Disney acquired Pixar studios six years ago, and with Brave, the Disney roots are finally showing.

That’s not to say Brave isn’t a pleasant cinematic experience. We get a heroine, Princess Merida, who—per the influence of old Walty-D—is spunky and can handle weapons. She’s like Katniss Everdeen with better hair: she prefers archery to boys, can shoot a mean bulls-eye and could probably win the Hunger Games. As for her mane, a fiery cascade of curls with indelible creativity of texture, it’ s a stand-alone character.

When Merida approaches a dodgy old witch for help regarding her imminent betrothal, we get a metamorphosis not quite along the lines of Kafka—there’s no magical realism about it, it’s just pure magic. Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, is transformed into a bear. This is problematic because Merida’s father, a hilariously gargantuan blowhard, happens to have a bear complex after one bit off his leg. Don’t worry; despite the peg leg, he still engages in drunken brawls with exceptional vigor.

To break the witch’s spell, Merida and Elinor embark on a long, occasionally scary journey; fights and heartfelt mother-daughter bonding ensue. Although the lack of boy-girl romance is atypical for a princess movie, the journey-to-learn-heartfelt-lessons construction feels disappointingly conventional, especially when weighed against the risk-taking creativity of Finding Nemo, Wall-E or Up. While sentiment is plentiful and sincere, you get the feeling that with Brave, Pixar played it safe. Perhaps this is a consequence of production issues, evidenced by the three different directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.

Nevertheless, Brave is a well-done, stellar-looking film. Bear-Elinor is lovingly animated, utterly recognizable as a royal mother with fierce love for her child. Moments shared between the two are genuinely tender, some of the most compelling parts of the movie. The Scottish scenery—in all its majestic climbs and plunges, ancient stone edifices, meadows and rivers—is breathtaking, rendered with a pure, painterly aesthetic. The transient, beckoning will-o’-the-wisps, enchanted forest guides recall the spirits of Miyazaki films. The score, flecked with Scottish folk influence, is brilliant.

Brave is not memorably funny (despite some amusing slapstick), and there are no truly standout characters. And yet I watched the film with alternating chuckles and wet eyes, and afterward, I walked out of the theater with a large smile on my face.


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