Leave it to Disney, and Pixar, to take an all-too-familiar story (involving a princess and a queen and magical potions, etc.) and present it in a way that feels like something totally new. Thanks to what is probably the most eye-poppingly beautiful animation we've ever seen--especially in 3D--and thanks to a girl, the protagonist, Merida, who is certainly the most redheaded of the Disney Princesses, Brave gets two big thumbs up despite a script that, while good, could have been so much better.
The story centers on Merida, a young nature-loving princess who has a fiercely independent spirit and considerable archery skills. There is much for her to love about the kingdom, Scotland, that surrounds her, with its towering cliffs and plunging waterfalls and greenest-green dells. Perhaps the most beautiful scene in the movie has her heroically riding a Clydesdale past an ancient megalithic structure in an increasingly foggy forest.
But Merida is torn, as I suppose many teenaged girls are, between her own vague ideas of what her future should be and her mother's carefully considered plans for her. Brave is really about the relationship between a mother and her daughter: how and why it suffers, and how and why it is mended. The film's humor is mostly drawn from a large cast of silly supporting characters: a father (the king), little brothers, housekeepers, etc. Overall, the sequences have a little more darkness to them, and somewhat fewer laugh-out-loud moments, than Pixar counterparts Cars and Finding Nemo.
Though Brave doesn't quite manage to reach the nearly perfect cinematic heights of some of its Pixar predecessors (and the temptation for comparison can't be overcome), it holds its own very well and we expect it will prove to be the best animated feature of 2012.