Visually incredible with warmth and wit in abundance, Pixar’s Highland fling Brave is extraordinary. Having stalled slightly with Cars 2, Brave finds Pixar firmly back in peerless mode, undoubtedly delivering the year’s finest animation effort to date; one unlikely to be matched in the remaining months. The story may be simple and as straightforward as they come – essentially a fairy tale-cum-road movie following the fearless Merida (Kelly Macdonald) as she rebels against custom, putting her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and the kingdom in peril – but the execution is exquisite, resulting in a film that is guaranteed to enthrall adults and children alike.
Even Pixar in second gear can craft vistas of animated beauty, so it should come as no surprise that Brave looks stunning; yet nothing can prepare you for just how astonishingly gorgeous it all looks, with the opening vistas worthy of the ticket price alone as we swoop through the Highlands, boosted by an excellent use of 3D that doesn’t dull the vibrancy and adds a superb level of depth to the whole piece. Every pixel contains something to savour, from the wild locks of Merida’s uncontrollable hair to the jagged edges of the mountains, meaning that at times Brave is effectively an oil painting wrought large. Even when the lush greenery is turned murky for Merida’s voyages into the forest, it still astounds with highlights including a smartly designed witch’s abode – aided by a genius voicemail gag – and the ghostly will o’ the wisps that lead Merida where she needs to go.
This beauty would mean nothing had there been nothing else to support it, but thankfully Pixar have brought their 'A' game to proceedings. With moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, from both broad comedic set pieces and sharply observed gags, matched with moments of strong poignancy, there’s a wonderful balance to the film that fully involves you in its world. Pleasingly, while it sometimes goes for the obvious (a dig at haggis, an indecipherable Scottish brogue), the film ultimately shows a real love for its location, immersing itself into folklore and traditions, such as the use of the will o’ the wisps and a Gaelic-infused score from Patrick Doyle featuring bagpipes, Celtic harps and the bodhran.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider that a quick glance at the credits – involving two directors and one co-director, and four screenplay writers – would raise concerns with other films, and often result in incohesive messes. Brave couldn’t be further from that. Thanks to limit-pushing animation, ever-reliable voice acting – Macdonald is suitably feisty and given able support from Thompson’s straight-laced Queen and Billy Connolly’s rambunctious King Fergus – and a simple, but expertly crafted, story that imbues its laughs with real heart, Pixar have yet again raised the bar for animations everywhere. It may be like the fairy tales we all know, but we’ve never seen one delivered with such joyful panache as Brave. Utterly wonderful.