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There was a teaser over the summer that I thought set an immediate tone, but now, we've got our first big look at "Brave," and for anyone concerned that "Cars 2" signaled a shift into a lower gear for Pixar, this seems to be a pretty strong repudiation of that idea.
It's especially interesting to see how strong this female-driven fairy tale looks coming on the heels of the two "Snow White" trailers. I'm an immediate fan of what we're hearing of Kelly MacDonald as the voice of Merida, the main character in the film. I was totally dumbstruck by MacDonald in "Trainspotting," her first big film role, and it has been a pleasure to watch her repeatedly prove that she's one of the most consistent and endearing actors of her age group. If you're looking to cast a strong voice that's genuinely Scottish to anchor this attempt to really shake things up at the studio, then MacDonald seems positively inspired.
Like many of Pixar's best films, this has had a turbulent creative process so far, and Mark Andrews is currently finishing the film that was originally directed by Brenda Chapman. Obviously, I can't speak to why the switch happened, but Pixar's process depends largely on the ability and willingness to throw out giant chunks of a movie if it's not working. Many of their best films were really only figured out at the last minute, so it's not any sort of indicator of the final work just to observe that they switched filmmakers. That happened, for example, on "Ratatouille," and that's one of their best movies now.
This is both the first female lead in a Pixar film and their first fairy tale, and it feels like they've adapted easily to both firsts. While there seem to be gentle elements of magic at play in the trailer, the main threat is a bear, and I like the way this ordinary animal is pumped up to legendary status through the art of storytelling. This is really a story about a young woman trying to find her voice in a society that does not value the voice of women, and that's pretty heady stuff for this film to be dealing with. Here's the synopsis from Apple.com, where you can see the trailer right now, and it's the fullest description yet of the film:
Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. In "Brave," a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts. Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane). Merida's actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Wise Woman (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it's too late.
It's going to be a long wait until June 22, 2012, but it looks like a worthwhile one. I think it's a solid attempt to set up our expectations for the movie, if not as immediately iconic as some of the earlier Pixar trailers, and I'd love to know what you thought of it as well.