At first glance, it looked like Pixar was about to do the unthinkable: Brave was going to stick us with another variation on the “Rudolph plot.” Instead, directors Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell piroutte back from that precipice to discover something considerably richer. It’s true, at the outset we meet Merida (Kelly Macdonald) as a free spirit in medieval Scotland who connects more with the world of her warrior father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), than the rules of ladylike propriety drilled into her by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Chafing under the expectations that, according to custom, she’ll marry the oldest son of a neighboring clan’s lord, Merida finds a sorceress (Julie Walters) who may be able to help Merida with her desire to “change her fate.” It’s likely no surprise to anyone who’s seen a Pixar movie that Brave is gorgeous to behold. But when you have an opportunity to focus on the story, you’ll find a surprisingly wise metaphor for the natural strain between teen girls and their mothers. With Macdonald and Thompson providing lovely voice performances, the film gets at the heart of something thorny and human, reminding us that all those animated tales of misunderstood young rebels are only telling half of the story.
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Wouldn’t It Be Motherly