Animators have a princess problem. It's no longer politically correct or commercially viable to have a heroine wait for a knight in shining armor. These days, girls just wanna have freedom.
Feisty feminist heroines have starred in cartoons such as “Shrek” and “Tangled,” but “Brave” is the first Pixar production with a female protagonist. Typically well-engineered, it's one small step for mothers and daughters, if not a giant leap of imagination.
Medieval Scottish princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) is the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The ginger-tressed daredevil climbs misty cliffs alone and is as skilled with a bow as her fabled father was with a sword. But Fergus lost a leg in battle, and Elinor doesn't want her daughter to follow in his footsteps.
When Merida reaches that magical age where girls trade horses for corsets, Elinor decrees that three suitors from outlying clans will compete for the princess' hand in a marriage. But Merida shoots an arrow through a loophole in the rules and flees the castle for the forbidden forest.
Wispy spirits lead her to a cottage, where she meets an old witch — er, woodcarver (Julie Walters) — who offers the girl a potion that will change Elinor's mind. It does the trick, but there's a hairy complication (which we won't reveal) that forces mother and daughter to wrestle with feelings that are unspoken. Literally.
Clearly a lot of effort was concentrated on the pantomime routines that fill the second half of this short movie, and all the detailed 3-D scenery glows with a pastoral magic.
Although the climax has a moment of peril that's as psychologically layered as the incinerator scene in “Toy Story 3,” this is not a particularly scary film — or memorable one. “Brave” is easy to like but hard to love, a feel-good fable with the latest bells and whistles.
Because its plucking such familiar strings, “Brave” just misses living up to its name.
Three stars out of four • Rating PG • Run time 1:33 • Content Some scary action and rude humor