The pleasures of Pixar films are both big and small.
The big picture of “Brave” (Disney) is centered on the generationally-charged relationship between a headstrong young woman and her protective but loving mother. Queen Elinor (voiced with great dignity by Emma Thompson) is a monarch with traditional values trying tame tomboy princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald, with stubborn streak in her lilting accent) with lessons in royal responsibility and roles. It’s a story long overdue from the Disney/Pixar animation giant, and its beautifully done, even as it detours into a bizarre fantasy of magic gone wrong and the Queen transformed into a mama bear.
The small pleasures are myriad, from the playfulness of the storytelling and characters to the imaginative details that fill every scene to the wild, curly tangle of red hair that explodes from the head of young Merida, as unruly and untamable as Merida herself.
The character creations are as marvelous as anything Pixar has done, with special kudos to mama bear: the body of a burly, lumbering woodland giant inhabited by the struggling spirit of an elegant queen determined to force grace and regal bearing into the brawny body and meaty paws of this giant beast. At least until her human cub is threatened by the real beast of the forest and she turns fierce den mother to protect her own.
The film was developed, written, and initially directed by Brenda Chapman, the first female director of a Pixar feature, but she was removed and replaced by Pixar with Mark Andrews. (The two share director credit on the film.) Despite the change in vision, the storytelling is fine and the sensibility consistent. It is surely Chapman’s heart that drives the poignant struggle between mother and daughter and the devotion that anchors even their most fraught moments.