Thursday, 23 August 2012

Film Review: 24 August

Witches? No. A beautiful study in mother and daughter relationships

Written by Kat Brown


My mother and I have been to the cinema together once – it was Love Actually and while my brother and father screamed joyfully through some action flick next door, we cried surreptitiously under a thick layer of popcorn.

It's a shame that we've not done it more often, but mother-daughter (or grandmothermother-daughter) films are incredibly rare. The temptation to traipse back to Hampshire and strong-arm her to the cinema to watch Brave with me is jolly strong: while this latest animation from Pixar (Toy Story, Up, Ratatouille) is a children's film, it's also a beautiful study of the complex relationship between mother and daughter.

A little part of me died when Pixar announced their latest film was going to be Scotch. As ravishing as their last original film, Up, was, the prospect of a gazillion comedy gingers tramping through idyllic forests made this one distinctly depressed. But what we have instead is a heart-warming, very funny film that puts the tortuous relationship between mother and daughter centre stage – and the comedy gingers are excellent.

Set in that vague period of fairytale-land that wobbles around the outer edges of the Middle Ages, Brave leads us to Merida (Kelly Macdonald) a no-nonsense Celtic princess who prefers archery to needlework. Her mother (Emma Thompson), Queen Elinor, has lined up suitors for her to strengthen the bond with neighbouring kingdoms. The suitors are hopeless, and Merida in a massive huff, finds herself drawn towards a witch's cottage asking for a spell to change her mother, which has potentially dire consequences for the family.

Mothers have never been served very well in fairytales, being either dead, absent queens, or villains of the evil step variety. Not so here. There's a touch of the Caitlin Morans about Queen Elinor, who has a grey streak running through her dark locks and a great sense of fun.

As innovative as it is to focus on the mother/daughter relationship, the trademarks of the sort of fairytale to which Brave subscribes are too well-worn to escape, and Brave's story is terribly simple, which is a shame for Pixar. Still, many lovely touches that make up for the cobweb-light plot, particularly in the supporting characters. Julie Walters's warty witch – whose spell's side effects are so classic you could write them on a napkin beforehand and still get them right – is obsessed with carpentry, rather than evil, and Merida's three brothers steal every scene their Machiavellian, biscuit-hunting presence fills. Film geeks should also enjoy the presence of the clan MacGuffin, among the tribesmen hoping to win Merida's hand, among varied good-natured in-jokes.

The last third of the film writes itself, and only the very small will find much to be worried about, but it does so with humour, sweetness and terrific animation. Pixar always caters for a wide audience, but anyone in the possession of a close female relative will enjoy it all the more.

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