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4/5 stars

First there were Woody and Buzz, followed later by Sully and Mike. Over the years, moviegoers were introduced to Marlin and Nemo, WALL-E and Carl Fredricksen and Russell. Films by Pixar Animation Studios, though brilliant, have traditionally been male-centric. That is, until now.

Pixar’s latest feature Brave is a film of many firsts. After twelve highly acclaimed movies, Brave is the first created by this legendary studio to feature a female protagonist. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a young princess from the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch. Fiery, vibrant, spirited and uncontrollable — just like her red hair — the princess dares to break tradition when she disobeys her mother, Queen Elinor (played by Emma Thompson), and refuses her engagement to a local lord.

Merida exhibits many of the same qualities as the male Pixar protagonists before her. A tomboy at heart, the young girl would rather shoot her bow and arrow than dress like a lady and comb through her curls. Ultimately, her desire for adventure and her determination to carve her own path lead Merida into perils that put herself and her family at risk.

With the characters enduring short scenes of violence and danger, Brave is darker and geared towards more mature audiences than previous movies from the studio. As the first Pixar fairy tale, the movie follows the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen tales with a plotline that gradually reveals the moral of the story. Although audiences can expect a happy ending, Brave challenges viewers to accept that happiness won’t come easily and that sometimes, breaking tradition is a positive thing.

Pixar’s signature humor is not absent from the film, but the tone is more serious as viewers watch Merida struggle with her mother, haggle with an old witch and face off against a family enemy, the ancient bear Mor’du. Mothers and daughters in the audience can appreciate and relate to the relationship between the queen and the princess through moments both heartwarming and heartbreaking. In its own way, Brave promotes female empowerment by demonstrating woman’s capacity to retain and effectively communicate her power.

While the development of this relationship remained the primary focus, the film would have benefited from expanding on the eccentricity of the witch and the vengeful motivations of the ancient bear. The conclusion, while satisfying, falls a little flat because of the lack of character development.

After Brenda Chapman lost her role as Pixar’s first female director due to ‘creative differences,’ her replacement, Mark Andrews, directed Brave with astonishingly beautiful animations. After 25 years, the studio has rewritten its animation system in order to produce more complex visuals for its audiences. At the time of Toy Story’s production, animation technology was limited, thereby minimizing the visual quality of human characters.

But over the years, technological advances have enabled Pixar to create films based in the human world, and their most recent animation system provides the most stunning effects so far. It is because of these radical changes to the system that Merida is able to have wild curly hair, take a drink from a cascading waterfall and bounce on horseback through the Scottish countryside.

With its stunning visuals, the film is well-suited for the 3-D treatment that seems to have become compulsory for most films. Those opting to watch Brave in 2-D — and save on the 3-D surcharge — do not feel like they’re dodging flying arrows, but the film remains just as appealing.

As a fairy tale starring a tomboy with rambunctious red hair, Brave is anything but the typical girly story. Even though boys may be intimated by Merida’s bow and arrows skills, this film about magic, adventure and courage will enchant audiences, allowing Pixar to once again hit the target right on the bull’s eye.

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