Another superbly crafted animated 3D effort from the folks who made films like Up and Finding Nemo, Brave again has the ability to readily engage kids and adults, notable for the high-minded studio's first female lead character, a headstrong Merida. One that has been in the works for the better part of a decade and is rather witty and clever especially in the early going, but not as memorable as the aforementioned films from a studio which supplies another amusing animated short beforehand, La Luna.
Though not as fully formed and complex as some might expect but more winsome than the studio's last foray, Cars 2, this 10th Century Scottish-set (with an authentic spirit for the locale) tale isn't quite the contemporary princess tale that the advertising campaign might infer; an effervescent, thoughtful tale (though a tad unintelligible in spots) nevertheless is emblazoned that calls to mind elements of strong entries in the genre like How To Train Your Dragon and Tangled (considering its heroine in Rapunzel).
Brenda Chapman (who used her own filial relationship for the film's foundation) and Mark Andrews (along with Steve Purcell) show a deftness with material that may be akin to other Disney animated tales, allowing the wit and visuals to remain refreshing however lacking when it comes to plot. Teenaged Merida, a silky-voiced Kelly MacDonald, tries to carve out a path that matches her impetuousness and skill in archery (which would be admired by Katniss Everdeen), but doesn't like how her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) explains how her life will be better through a contest between the sons of the nearby lords - MacGuffin (Kevin Mckidd also doing his kid), Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), and Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). There's also the matter of pacifying her mischievous younger triplet brothers (often with tasty treats) who'll find their way into Merida's hairy situation later on.
Some bow and arrow practice in the forest leads her to a kooky woman (Julie Walters), a crooked-nosed woodcarver who has a way with a broomstick that leads the spunky long reddish curled coiffed young woman to invoke more than a streak of rebellion and adventure. There is a deadly bear and timeworn curse circumventing the action used well enough and a puzzle of sorts that youngsters will (hopefully) quietly congratulate themselves upon working it out as Merida comes to terms with her "looking glass" image.
Though eschewing a potentially perilous route, Brave still can be pretty intense for this sort of fare, as Merida tries to loosen the restraints by her regal mother (with some amusing charades included), especially where it concerns her free-flowing hair. The filmmakers diligently work to the core of a fragile mother/daughter relationship that resonates, occasionally in quick-witted fashion. The voice-cast with a robust Billy Connolly as father King Fergus provides a welcome naturalness employing the native slang and how true it is to location could lead one to believe it was made across the Atlantic.
Though Chapman and Andrews may be speaking more directly to a younger distaff crowd, the confrontations and retorts have a timelessness to them without being condescending, even though some of the jokes may work best for those more familiar with the native surroundings. Their work with all the gifted technical folks impact with sharp photorealism with Merida in the foreground. The visual effects and CGI give the glorious hinterlands that is Scotland verdant landscapes and snowcapped mountains to this sweet, spirited gossamer animated fairy tale bound by family rather than a handsome prince.