Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

As the years go by, I think I’m becoming more tolerant of Pixar’s formulaic movies. They’re like the cinematic correlate of an espresso from your favorite coffee joint: You know what you like, and you want it done well. Every time. Predictability is half the point; taste is the other.

Plot is just the seasonal decoration on the cup. What’s inside is always the same.

In the case of Brave, the decoration on the cup is a fiery-haired Scottish princess named Merida. She is raised by a father (voiced by Billy Connolly) who seems not to notice he has sired a girl-child, and a mother (Emma Thompson) who fully expects her daughter to fulfill all the traditional roles that a princess (and future queen) “should.” So while Merida learns to ride and shoot as well as any prince, she’s also getting consistently schooled about elbows on the table and deference to duty.

Well, when Merida reaches marriageable age and the neighboring clans send their suitors, the writing is on the wall. Merida must throw off tradition and assert the right of self-determination. Not gonna go well.

In the background of the plot looms the familial legend of Dad’s encounter with a terrifying bear, and the more symbolic tale of a local clan brought low by pride and rebellion. When Merida flees the family castle and makes an ill-conceived wish for her mother to change, all these elements produce… comedic plot complications, a chase or two, and a heart-warming resolution where Mom, Dad, and daughter all learn a thing or two. Aaaahhh… Just what I ordered.

The Scottish setting is a delight, though the scale of director Brenda Chapman’s Scotland is more like Colorado. With the casting of Kelly Macdonald as the voice of Merida, Disney has produced another memorable and unique character for their line of princesses. Everything about the film, including the wisely sparse musical numbers, is extremely well done. Again: this isn’t some adventurous foray into a new kind of drink; it’s your favorite coffee beverage served up in a fancy sleeve. Enjoy.

However… Brave does offer a couple of unique spins with its thematic content. First, and foremost, it deliberately sidesteps the classic fairy tale need to fulfill a romantic quest; there is no kissing of a toad here, no saving of a Beast. Instead, what’s healed are familial bonds. That’s cool.

Second, I think this may be the strongest look at the “be careful what you wish for” aphorism that I’ve seen in an animated Disney film. A worthy message that cuts all ways. In a more ironic film, that’s a lesson that Merida and her fellow young royals might see looming on the horizon of their brave new world… but maybe we’ll see a thing or two about that in 2 Brave, which surely is somewhere on Pixar’s drawing board.

Brave is included with your Starz subscription. It’s also available to stream for a small charge at the usual outlets.

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