(CNN) — Pixar has an unparalleled track record when it comes to family entertainment, even if they did hit a bump with “Cars 2″ last year. But like many other Hollywood studios, the company is guilty of ignoring the half of the population who aren’t little boys at heart.
At last, with “Brave,” it’s the girls’ turn to shine — a bit behind the curve in this year of the Warrior Princess. The movie itself is no more than an agreeable lark. It’s not in the same league as “Up”, “WALLE” or the “Toy Story” films, but fun all the same.
Set in sunny, ancient Scotland — complete with warring clans, rampaging beasts, magical witches and supernatural will-o’-the-wisps — the movie quickly checks off the expected sightings: kilts, haggis, caber-tossing and Billy Connolly. Nessie doesn’t make the cut, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if she showed up in a sequel.
Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is the eldest child to Fergus (Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson). Headstrong, with cascading, blazing red locks, Merida is a tomboy. She’d rather be riding horses, scaling cliffs or hunting with her bow and arrow than sewing, singing and accepting her mother’s mind on what behaviors befit a princess of their clan.
Merida fits right in line with the dynamic damsels we have seen recently in warring “Snow White” films, “John Carter” and “The Hunger Games.” It’s refreshing that she’s also foolhardy and no wiser than most teenagers.
Mother-daughter relationships are still at a premium in big-budget flicks, and “Brave” observes their squabbling with an affectionate, even-handed familiarity that’s nice to see.
Merida’s independent streak stiffens to all-out rebellion when Elinor announces it’s time to marry. As tradition demands, the groom will be the son of a neighboring chieftain, whoever emerges victorious at the forthcoming games at the gathering of the clans. But Merida has her own ideas about that, and storms out in search of some means to change her mum’s mind.
Pixar has played coy about what happens next. It’s the biggest and best surprise in a yarn that often feels a bit threadbare and shopworn, so we won’t give it away here.
Appealing as this left-field plot twist is, it’s also daft. It’s as if Merida has taken a stupid pill, and the plentiful coincidences that follow are almost as hard to swallow. Pixar likes to boast that it’s all about the story, but this tall tale has more holes than a draughty sporran. The time scale feels off, and King Fergus in particular is left dangling for too long.
That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It’s just that we’ve come to expect more from this brand. By anyone else’s standards, “Brave” stands as a crisp, lively frolic, brimming with texture and color (all those follicles!). It’s sure to appeal to the wee bairns — and their mams too.