Having almost completely stalled their creative engines with Cars 2, Disney Pixar heads for the ancient Scottish highlands in this computer-animated fable of female empowerment.
Brave signals a return to form for John Lasseter’s team of digital wizards, striking a perfect balance between laughter and tears.
The central plot of a daughter’s fractious relationship with her mother might be slight, but directors Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell conjure excitement and heart-warming sentiment out of the ether.
They cannily appeal to lads by making the heroine a bow-wielding, adventure-seeking tomboy, and provide plentiful giggles for very young audiences with the introduction of mischievous red-haired triplets.
King Fergus of Clan DunBroch (voiced by Billy Connolly) and his wife Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) plan to marry off their daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) to the first-born son of one of the other clans.
However, Merida disrupts the Highland Games, which are designed to test the suitors, then flees into the forest where she encounters a witch (Julie Walters).
“I want a spell to change my mum. That’ll change my fate,” the princess tells the hag.
So the witch gives Merida an enchanted cake and when Queen Elinor takes a bite, she metamorphoses into a bear: the same animal which cleaved off King Fergus’s left leg.
The princess is consumed with regret and fears her father will kill Queen Elinor in her fearsome new form.
So mother and daughter head into the wilderness to break the spell.
The quality of animation in Brave is jaw-dropping.
Merida’s fiery flowing locks deserve an Academy Award on their own, such is the exquisite detail of every windswept fibre, and that’s before your eyes are wooed by the sweeping landscapes, action-packed chases and colourful supporting characters.
The 3D format is used sparingly and comes into its own when Merida and her trusty steed Angus gallop through forests and glens as trees with low-hanging branches whizz past at dizzying speed.
Predominantly Scottish vocal performances are strong.
Macdonald is a spunky heroine and Connolly brings typical humour to his chest-thumping patriarch.
Thompson adds emotional warmth that really tugs the heartstrings in surprisingly tender scenes between Merida and her mother in bear form.
As usual, Pixar packages an animated short with the main feature and this year’s offering is La Luna, a stunning seven-minute coming-of-age story about a young boy who discovers his family business is, quite literally, out of this world.
Devoid of dialogue, Enrico Casarosa’s bite-size gem, which was nominated as Best Animated Short at this year’s Oscars, is utterly beguiling and very nearly upstages Merida’s gung-ho wee tale of girl power.
by Damon Smith