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Children 8-years-old and up, as well as adults who like fantasy, will enjoy “Brave,” a Pixar film directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (director, “Prince of Egypt,” 1998). Rated PG for “some scary action and rude humor,” the cartoon/CGI (computer-generated imagery) film set in ancient Scotland is less predictable than many films for children, and is exciting, funny, moving and, at times, just a little suspenseful and scary.  The end is somewhat pat; everyone – literally, everyone in the film – winds up happy. This won’t detract much from the enjoyment, however, especially for the kids.

The characters are appealing and funny, from the non-speaking, mischievous, triplet princes to the witch. Character voices are done by veteran comic actors, many actually Scottish, such as King Fergus (Billy Connolly, “Boondock Saints” 1999), Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald, “Trainspotting” 1996), and include others as Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid of the Harry Potter films) and Craig Ferguson.

Princess Merida is the feisty, first-born child of Queen Elinor and King Fergus, head of Clan DunBroch. She has been encouraged by her father in weapons and hunting, even as her mother attempts to teach her to “try for perfection” in more traditionally feminine pursuits as befitting a princess. When the eldest scions of the other lords arrive to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage – an event that is news to Merida – she decides to compete for her own hand. After, she and her mother argue and Merida flees the castle. She follows the will-o-the-wisp to the home of a witch (Julie Walters), who sells her a spell guaranteed to “change her mother” and “change her fate.” It changes the queen into a bear, and Fergus, not knowing she is his wife, goes to hunt her down. Merida now must break the spell before it becomes permanent and defuse the threat of war caused by her refusal to marry.

Usually, whether a coming-of-age story of a boy or a girl, it is the father whose expectations make for conflict. It is refreshing to see a story about a brave girl who stands up to her mother’s expectations and who helps herself, her family and the kingdom through her own ingenuity and recognition of responsibility.  She does this by realizing how her mother, an intelligent woman of sense and judgment, was often right. 

Composer Patrick Doyle’s excellent film score uses traditional Scottish instruments such as bagpipes and Uilleann pipes, fiddle – played by award-winning fiddler Christopher Stout – bodhran, whistles and Celtic harp. 

Pixar’s digital work is, as usual, phenomenal, and 3D viewing is not necessary for impact. Were the characters populating the film not drawn with cartoon exaggeration, a viewer might well believe they were real. Horsehair and bear fur look and move like the real thing, differently from the princess’ curls. Fabric acts and looks real, even when wet. The horses, bears, dogs (the attention to detail is amazing; the dogs are wolfhound lurchers) move and act as if their anatomies were flesh, muscle and bone, and the scenery is incredible. So much so that one might even wonder why they don’t use just use the real thing – along with real people and animals. It might even be cheaper. Such a thought, however, is probably just a little too grown-up for this tale.

Running time: 100 min

Rated PG for “some scary action and rude humor.”