Brave is a series of firsts for Pixar. The biggest first is that this is the studio’s first film made with princess power. Her name is Merida, and she is a Scottish lass with a mind as bright as her curly red hair.

Her adventures are set in the medieval Scottish countryside, beautifully sculpted by Pixar’s artists. And this is a bona fide fairy tale. Merida is the headstrong eldest daughter of a Scottish clan leader who has united his clan with three others, and wishes to seal the alliance by matching Merida up with three unlikely suitors. Merida chafes against the proper way to be a princess, and dreams of becoming a different kind of girl. Pixar does well in making her attitude bold instead of bratty.

Merida’s unwillingness to become a wife leads her to make some morally poor decisions that put her lovely, well-meaning mother at risk. And here’s where the movie can turn frightening for young kids. I overheard a couple of moms at the screening tell publicists that their children were frightened by the darker scenes. But for older kids, especially mother-daughter pairs, the message of taking people as they are and finding compromise will resonate deeply.

Pixar is a hit machine. Right now, their teasers for the new Monsters Inc. movie are creating huge buzz. WALL-E, Up and the Toy Story franchise are some of my favorite movies … ever. They are bright and sweet without the saccharine.

Brave is also gorgeously made, but the plot falls short. It does not live up to the expectation set by the others. I found myself wishing this movie had been made by Disney and hand-drawn, with a tighter and less obtuse plot. It takes Merida too long to figure out how to fix her family, and it feels like a copout. Only the amusement provided by her three wee brothers lightens the mood, and it doesn’t happen often enough.

Brave doesn’t achieve the same caliber as its predecessors, and it’s a pity, because little girls can always use another hero.

One last note: it’s worth seeing the movie just for the new Pixar short that precedes it. “La Luna” is another instant classic.


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