Pixar takes one step forward and two steps back with Brave, the first of the studio’s lushly animated adventures to feature a female protagonist – but also the first to feel like something the Mouse House proper could have made on its lonesome. The ur-Disney vibe begins with the film’s redheaded heroine, an arrow-firing tomboy princess who’d rather scale treacherous ravines than fulfil her royal destiny. Though voiced with spunk and conviction by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald, this teenage hellion feels like an archetypal placeholder. Her Scottish stomping grounds are gorgeously rendered, but not much more distinctive than she is. Beyond a (presumably accidental) similarity to the world of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, the medieval digs could have been conceived by Walt himself during the first wave of enchanted kingdoms and less-progressive fairytale princesses.
“Legends are lessons,” the queen (Emma Thompson) tells her marriage-averse offspring – a point Pixar reinforces by investing its latest legend with a moral. (Mothers and daughters: meet each other halfway.) The film comes alive in fits and starts; a visit to a woodland witch (Julie Walters) possesses a hint of otherwise-scarce mischievousness. And the casting of a backfiring spell – the plot’s belated turning point – facilitates some inspired slapstick. Brave is as elegantly constructed as any Pixar dream machine, but it lacks the spirit of John Lasseter – a madcap, magic touch evident even in the much-maligned Cars franchise. Also, word to the wise: any fable aiming to score girl-power points would be better off not hinging its heroine’s victory on her sewing abilities.
From Time Out Chicago
Dir Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, category IIA, 93 mins, opens on Aug 9