Peculiar character features have regularly figured into the endearing charms of Pixar blockbusters, from the rickety robotics of WALL·E to that loveable motley crew in Up. In this year’s Pixar model, the heartwarming and mostly bravo-worthy Brave, the visual/leitmotif angle may well be a bouncing, epic head of orange hair, owned by our intrepid young Scottish princess heroine Merida (Kelly Macdonald). Said head of hair, a symbol of free-spirited individualism, is flung to the wind — in the best 3-D computer animation money can buy — as she races about the Scottish countryside and maneuvers courageously through the dark, bewitched forest in search of liberation from the process of being married off.
Of course, the very idea of a major motion picture devoted to a young female protagonist relying on wits, magic, and self-determination in the face of suffocating tradition is the deeper and more important virtue of Brave. Merida is a mean archer who loves her arsenal (“A princess does not place her weapon on the table,” advises her protocol-tending mother, voiced by Emma Thompson) and bristles at the thought and process of being courted by potential (and buffoonish) suitors, to the point where old-fashioned lucky charms and divine intervention are required. With the help of will-o’-the-wisps and a witch’s spell, our heroine alters the creature features of the family narrative (spoiler avoided here) and sets in motion a whirlwind of fantasy action scenarios and waves of climactic machinations.
Viewed as a carefully-tended filmography, the Pixar family of fine films has maintained a remarkably high level of craftsmanship and care, right up through Brave. The films, suitable for the proverbial whole family, as well as the computer-animation geeks among us, have, as if by corporate design, veered off into diverse settings and themes. Suddenly, this summer, we’re transported to a kindlier 10th-century Scotland, to the land where a pale, redheaded girl rules, big-time. And it works small wonders, entertainment-wise.
On a local-ish note, once removed, Brave is preceded by the thoroughly delightful animated short La Luna, which screened at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, with Italian Enrico Casarosa on hand at the Arlington to accept an award. It’s funny how, especially in the abstract realm of animation, seeing a filmmaker live and in person conjures up a human touch in the loop.