First Night: Brave, Edinburgh International Film Festival

Pixar's fiery new heroine is summer's hottest ticket

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The Independent Culture

Pixar's latest is a rousing tale about a flame-haired Highland princess (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who accidentally turns her mother into a bear. Merida is a tomboy with excellent archery skills, she uses subterfuge and consorts with a witch who practises dark arts. Nonetheless, she's a good lass at heart.

It's a measure of the standards Pixar sets that Brave (a closing Gala at the Edinburgh Film Festival this weekend) has been given a muted response in the US (albeit still shooting to the top of the box-office charts). The customary ingenuity and energy are still here in abundance, even if the Scottish stereotypes are laid on thickly. Minutes in, the bagpipes begin to wail. References to haggis aren't slow to follow. Nor are the Braveheart-style antics of the Highland warriors, who are predictably keen to let us know what they're not wearing under their kilts.

However, Brave is also breaking new ground for Pixar. This is not only a period pic set in a mythical Scottish kingdom. It's a rite of passage story about an adolescent chafing against her family and trying to establish her own identity. Merida is a long way removed from Buzz Lightyear or one of the Incredibles. Her one-legged father King Fergus (voiced with tremendous brio by Billy Connolly) is keen to marry her off to a young warrior from a rival clan and thereby preserve peace in the kingdom. Her mother (Emma Thompson) wants to bring her up to be a proper princess and to iron out her hooligan tendencies.

The plotting is the sheerest hokum – and the thinnest part of an otherwise enjoyable movie. King Fergus stages a special gathering at which various suitors compete for Merida's hand. She doesn't think much of any of them, absconds to the woods, meets a witch – and inadvertently transforms her prim and proper mother into a bear.

Thankfully, the set-pieces are staged with tremendous verve. Whether it's the ungainly Highlanders fighting each other in the grand hall as if for recreation, Merida's three tufty, red-headed brothers leaving mayhem in their wake, or the sequences in which mother bear runs amok in the castle, the storytelling tempo never flags. (If it did, the holes would have risked becoming far more apparent.)

The screenplay may be patchy but it's laced with humour. The portrait of Scotland is romantic and clichéd to the point of absurdity but is also affectionate and tongue-in-cheek enough to get away with its own excesses.