FOR YEARS, genius animators at Pixar and other computer-animation shops struggled with the problem of how to model human hair.
Well, they've solved it, big-time. The mane attraction of Pixar's "Brave" is the exploding, cascading, shimmering fountain of Technicolor Maureen O'Hara hair on the top of its lead character, Merida, a feisty Scots princess trying to wriggle her way out of an arranged marriage.
It's a technical triumph, and you'll love the way that it keeps jostling and moving even after the whirling Merida has come to a stop — the embodiment of the girl's restless spirit, which her exasperated mother the queen (Emma Thompson) finds she cannot tame.
As a consequence, a matrimonial match that might preserve a peace with rival clans is put in jeopardy, causing Merida to flee into the wilderness, a dark and magical realm of woodland faeries that promises to take "Brave," and by extension Pixar, into uncharted mystical/psychological places that might yield enchantment of the level of classic Disney.
Well, not quite. My heart sank when Merida ran into a wisecracking witch, who seemed choppered in from Shrek's part of the forest. To my mind, she represents the increasingly prominent commercial (and unmagical) forces at work in Pixar movies.
No matter. She's a bit player, in and out, and her purpose is to perform the spell that brings the movie's central mother/daughter dynamic into focus. The less said about it the better, but the narrative purpose of the spell is clear. The mother is too rigid, the girl too selfish — each could learn something from the other, and do in the course of time.
Suffice it to say that the mother learns how to be wild, and Merida learns what it means to supervise a wild thing. This happens with Pixar storytelling precision, with its sense of how to pace a movie with (young) audience-pleasing action beats, with its ability to replenish its roster of cute, comical supporting characters.
But without, I think, the swell of emotion that accompanied such Pixar high points as ‘Up.” Still, failing to hit that mark is no great disappointment, and it beats "Cars 2," by more than a hair.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.
REVIEW | sss
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman. With the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, John Ratzenberger. Distributed by Walt Disney Co.
Running time: 90 minutes
Parent's Guide: PG
Playing at: Area theaters