Review in a Hurry: Bring the wee bairns and the wizened pappy, ye sods. This Pixar film may not boast the pitch-perfect storytelling of Ratatouille or Incredibles, but it has belly laughs aplenty and a story that'll resonate like a choir of bagpipes for generations to come.
The Bigger Picture: You! Yes, you! Have you clapped eyes on Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the lass from clan DunBroch, who, with her bow and arrows and rebellious heart, did save the kingdom from...
Wait, what are we thinking? If you have two eyes, you've had no choice but to see the lass, what with her headstrong stare and a bushel of hair in Pantone No. 165 blazing out from billboards across the American sod. Pixar, the studio behind Cars, Monsters Inc. and Toy Story, doesn't do anything small, and this latest animated feature is no exception. This is a big story with big jokes about big people, both literally and figuratively—Meri's da, Fergus (Billy Connolly), is a cinder block of a Scottish king whose wife, Elinor (Emma Thompson), while relatively tiny, has the outsized charisma to keep a motley medieval realm running.
Then there's Merida, a lass who just wants to practice archery as her horse thunders across The Highlands. But this is a fairy tale, so there's marryin' to do. Fergus and Elinor invite scions of nearby clans to compete for the young lady's hand, and before you know it, Merida's off and running, hoping to—as the voice over is so eager to remind us—change her fate.
Of course nearly every Disney flick is about some young person changing his or her fate, so why the directors needed to tell us that, we're not certain. Then again, this film had three directors, including, for a hot second, Pixar's first woman helmer. Maybe the filmmakers were just using the script to send notes to each other: STEVE, THEME IS ABOUT CHANGING FATE. —BRENDA
That said, this is an extremely lovable film, thanks to a talented voice cast matched by a fabulous animation team that crafted Merida's untamable hair as a character of its own. The animators actually had a computer setting called "scraggle." Codirector Mark Andrews liked it so much that the asked his team to "turn up the scraggle." Few cultures make for better jokes than the Scots, and this fact is not lost on the writers, who somehow manage to make even the kilt gags seem fresh.
The second-act turn comes as a genuine surprise, and the resolution—while way too pat even for a fairy tale—nonetheless has the same big-hearted feel that made Ratatouille and Monsters Inc. such successes of storytelling.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The second act, while well-voiced and animated, takes a while to arrive and seems draggy at a few points. And, seriously, the ending is really too simplistic in a post-Game of Thrones world.