By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Hell hath no fury like a Scottish princess scorned in "Brave" (Disney). This 3-D animated adventure carries a worthy reminder for rambunctious teens: Evil actions have dire consequences.
Directed by Brenda Chapman ("The Prince of Egypt") and newcomer Mark Andrews, "Brave" is Pixar’s first fairy tale and its darkest film to date, which suits the atmosphere of myths and legends. Parents should be warned that the action sequences may be too intense for young children.
"Brave" also marks a number of other, rather unwelcome firsts for Pixar: Much of the slapstick humor is bawdy and ample jiggling cartoon cleavage is on display, as are bare buttocks when the menfolk remove their kilts.
The setting is medieval Scotland, with its lush landscapes and mighty castles rendered in colorful detail. King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) leads a peaceable kingdom with his devoted wife, Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), at his side. They have four children: a set of mischievous young triplets named Harris, Hubert and Hamish, and a teenage daughter, Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald).
With unruly red hair to match her wild nature, Merida longs to be free from the customs and conventions expected of a royal princess. A tomboy at heart, she prefers using her bow and arrow to preening and bowing in royal robes.
Mother and daughter clash frequently. "A princess strives for perfection," Queen Elinor reminds Merida. "You can’t just run away from who you are." But thoroughly modern Merida wants to decide her own fate, whatever the cost.
When three suitors are presented for her hand in marriage, it’s the last straw. Merida breaks with her mother and flees to the forest. There she encounters will o’ the wisps — fairy spirits which, legend holds, light the path to your destiny.
In her case, Merida is led to the cottage of the (wisecracking) Wise Woman (voice of Julie Walters). She’s a woodcarver with a particular obsession: bears, rendered in every shape, size and situation — including an unfortunate imitation of Michelangelo’s "Creation of Man" from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
In truth, the Wise Woman is the local witch, and Merida, seeking revenge, buys a spell to change her mother’s mind about the arranged marriage. She winds up changing a whole lot more, wreaking havoc on the entire kingdom.
As she tries to undo the spell (a take on Disney’s 2003 animated film "Brother Bear"), Merida learns the hard way that selfishness and revenge are wrong, and family, duty and honor are paramount. Still, she insists, "Our fate lies within us. We control our own destiny."
"Brave" is meticulous in its period detail, with one key exception: There’s no place for Christianity, which was the dominant religious and philosophical force in medieval Scotland.
Merida’s insistence that destiny is self-controlled, moreover, ignores the role of divine providence. We are meant to look to God for guidance in all our actions, not rely simply on our own moods and desires, nor are we ever to do anything contrary to his will, such as breaking the Fifth Commandment.
Preceding "Brave" is a charming short film, "La Luna," directed by Enrico Casarosa, about a young boy’s adventures on the moon.
The film contains intense action and scenes of peril, the use of sorcery, brief rear animated nudity, and some rude humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.