There are so many rules for a Disney princess — too many for Disney's newest princess, the Scottish heroine Merida in Brave, to remember.
"A princess does not doodle," her mother lectures in a light Scottish burr. "A princess does not chortle."
"A princess does not stuff her gob."
"A princess does not raise her voice."
But here's the one that makes the fiery redheaded archer snap: "A princess should not have weapons."
Pixar's first "Disney princess" completes the evolution of the studio's distinctly American take on young womanhood. Princesses have evolved from sailor-obsessed mermaids to Merida, a spunky, self-assured lass who'd rather eat an arrow than take up with some guy her parents point her way. She has duties, obligations, an arranged marriage to endure. Her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), might insist, "We can't just run away from who we are."
But as Merida narrates, her fate should be her own: "Destiny — it's the one thing we search for, or fight to change."
Brave is a spirited Scottish-accented romp that packs female empowerment into a generally amusing tale of youthful impulsiveness and its consequences. The writers and animators blend the oafish, brawny Scots humor of How to Train Your Dragon with the magic of The Secret of Kells into a story about being brave enough to change your fate.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald of Nanny McPhee and No Country for Old Men) seizes her destiny when her father (Billy Connolly) and mother start parading unsuitable suitors before her, a marriage that will keep the peace among the Scottish clans. As tradition would have it, the would-be kings compete in feats of strength to win her hand. But she selects one sport where she herself dominates. She hopes to win her independence with the draw of a bow.
Her mom says no. So Merida takes her case to a witch, which is how Mum gets turned into a bear. And since this is the bear-hunting-happy corner of Scotland, that's when Brave delightfully tumbles into slapstick.
Bear gags pile up, and I love the way the animators turn the queen into a critter who can't shake her dainty manners, or sense of decorum, even in ursine form. Merida has to protect the mother she quarreled with and endangered from a castleful of burly Scotsmen who want a trophy for the wall.
Merida's helpmates in all this are her mischievous younger brothers, three wee hellions with can-do attitudes about any prank, hurling themselves (without dialogue) into the mayhem.
Since its inception, no animation house has been as good at telling an adult story for children, as adept at tugging the heartstrings as Pixar. Brave continues that tradition. The colors are stunning, the animation lush, photo-realistic and wet. And if they haven't progressed as far as some in animating the human face, that's just as well. Princesses are supposed to look otherworldly.
It's the destiny of Pixar's "Scottish play" to change the way movies, and wide-eyed young viewers, look at "princesses" from now on. They're beautiful, yes. They're also smart, self-reliant and able to learn from their mistakes, as long as they're the ones who get to make those mistakes.