Like millions of people I grew up looking to the Walt Disney Studio as the preeminent source of family entertainment. When my late wife and I were blessed with a daughter my appreciation expanded in recognition of the way they provide strong role models for young girls. This held particularly for the genre that made Disney Animated feature films a multigenerational phenomenon, the princess film. In the persona of Snow White through Jasmine the animated young ladies were the epitome of strength, resolution, and dedication whose moral compass is pinned north. Although there has been rumors that Disney was moving away from the princesses archetype their latest member of this grand tradition was precisely the type of young woman I would want my own daughter to watch and admire, Merida, as voiced by the versatile British actress, Kelly Macdonald. The film she appeared in has just been released as a top of the line home theater edition; ‘Brave’. The main factor that made this of more interest than usual to me is the location of the story; Scotland. As one proud of my Scott-Irish heritage I naturally enough wanted to pass that rich cultural lineage down to my daughter. This movie provided a vehicle to consider the Celtic qualities I wanted to pass down to my flesh and blood. This movie is an example of the Disney’s corporation’s latest paradigm for home distribution. The top of the line set includes five discs providing the family with every possible means of viewing currently available; 3D Blu-ray, conventional Blu-ray, DVD, and a digital copy. Rounding things off is the fifth disc containing the usual assortment of extras that parents have come to expect from the House of Mouse. The collaboration between Disney and Pixar as proven to be one of the most significant advancements in feature animation since Walt Disney created the format with ‘Snow White’ way back in 1938. The Disney side of the equation provides the brand recognition while Pixar infused the production with a technical expertise and innovation beyond the reach of any wannabe rivals. The place were these two powerhouses of animation overlapped is one of the dominant factors in the success of their movie; both companies know how to instill a sense of humanity into the animation; they demonstrate more heart than many live action films.
King Fergus of Clan DunBroch (voiced by Billy Connolly) was the leader of his kinsmen and one of the most powerful men in all of Scotland. His wife, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) has given him four children each possessing the untamable red hair that is a trademark of their family. The three sons, triplets, Harris, Hubert, and Hamish, are not much for speaking but excel in synchronized mischief. Their older sister, teenage Merida, is strong willed, independent and exhibits more acumen with bow and arrow than any man in the country. The bow had been an unconventional birthday gift some years ago from her father. The bow proved to embody the straight forward approach she has in dealing with life. One day while practicing in the woods she encounters a magical will-o-the-wisp which heralded crossing paths with a bear demon, Mor'du. Her parents present were with her so as her valiant father defended his family Merida escapes with her mother. The battle cost King Fergus a leg but gave him a story that he would frequently relate to any in the vicinity. Sometime later as Merida enter her teens and came of marriageable age plans are started to find the perfect match to benefit the clan. It was the price one paid for being born to royalty, a responsible that chaffed at Merida’s very core. She did not want to accept a betrothal to political expediency. Making the situation worse her hand in marriage was to be the prize at the Highland Games; events that she could easily best her lackluster suitors, especially archery. The contest was open to the first born of the clans so Merida demands her right as the first born of Clan DunBroch to compete for her own hand; scandalous but admittedly brilliant. One thing any Disney princess film needs is a touch of magic. When Merida meets a witch posing as a wood craver she is given a potion hidden in a cake. When her mother eats it she turns into the animal. The free spirited girl must solve a riddle to mend the bond torn by pride to save her mother from forever remaining a bear.
This movie nicely represents the modern girl who can remain feminine while not foregoing the expression of her own personality. Merida may eschew the dresses, accoutrements and prohibitions traditionally imposed on her gender but she never loses sight of her love and deep seated respect for her parents, especially her mother. She is ‘Daddy’s Girl’ with the usual contention with her mother but when it came down to saving her family she puts aside selfishness and places her mother first. This is a touching story that proves girls can have adventures and compete against boys without letting go of their nurturing side. ‘Brave’ is a movie ideally suited to watch and enjoy as a family. Of course the daughters are going to love it but the parents and brothers will be captivated by the action and enthralled by the touching story.
As was the case with several princess films this one not only celebrates girl power but it delves into the ethnic traditions of an ancient culture. One of the running gags is the King’s thick Scottish brogue which is funny but never condescending. The structure of the clan and the importance of extended family among the Celts are shown here but a didactic feel is expertly avoided. In a Disney tradition the music reflects the culture completing the pervasive tribute to the Scottish people. This is one of the first Disney/Pixar movies I have watched initially in 3D. The others were releases were I was quite familiar with the original 2D rendering. The experience was startling. There was absolutely no loss in the high definition quality to accommodate the addition of depth. Each unruly hair in Merida’s red mane is clearly visible swaying in s natural way. The action sequences are remarkably realistic avoiding the use of 3D as a gimmick by incorporating the technology seamlessly into telling the story. Most live action directors still haven’t learned this technique yet. As expected the animation is precise and exacting never sacrificing style for warmth and humanity. There are more emotional layers here than most films around in any format. The experience is completed by a full-bodied Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound track that comes alive with the slightest ambient sounds discernible. This will not only find itself being played on a regular basis for family enjoyment but will be the ‘go-to’ to show off your system to friends.