Two animated films concerned with mother/daughter relationships. Brave is the new Pixar animated movie and true to form, it is gorgeous, simply gorgeous, really gorgeous (did I remember to mention how gorgeous it is) with magnificent animation and breathtakingly beautiful visuals. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being amazed by what can be done with animating the tiny movements of animals or even things like the hair on one’s head. The story, on the other hand, was not quite as impressive for me. What can I say? It’s about a princess who doesn’t want to get married being forced by her mother (and father, but he’s bit whipped in this area) into an arranged wedding. Really? After Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Snow White and the Huntsman (not to mention the TV series Game of Thrones), the central dilemma for a heroine of an action/fantasy movie is whether she’s going to get married or not? I mean…really? The character is named Merida and she’s the daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. They have informed her that three clans are coming to vie for her hand . Naturally, she petulantly bristles at the idea. She has no interest in wedded bliss, but would rather roam the woods on horseback, her hair flying in the wind, while she shows off her prodigious talent in archery. But fate, symbolized by little blue lights of whippoorwills, has other plans in store for her. They lead her to a witch (voiced by an amusing Julie Walters) that enables Mirada to cast a spell on her mother in order to change her (though Merida, to her misfortune, and like some politicians, is a little too vague on what the repeal and replace should be). At this point, the logic of the story gets a little odd. What the mother is changed into is, well, so arbitrary one almost suspected the writers (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell—who all co-directed—and Irene Mecchi, who did not) just threw a dart at a dartboard. True, they had to do something, anything, to keep the story going, but one would have thought something a bit more logical and connected to the basic set up would be more appropriate. But, hey, that’s the way it goes sometime and maybe I just missed something. The result is a long sequence that was just passing time for me until we got to the end and the mother changed back (with a catalyst being equally as arbitrary for me) and everything was resolved with an all is forgiven, I understand what you’re going through attitude on the part of the Queen (not a “Little lady, you are so grounded for a year”, which seems a more appropriate response to me, but what do I know, I don’t have kids). Except, things aren’t resolved. True, Mirada no longer has no choice in who she marries. But she still has to marry. The only difference now is that the three suitors will have to woo her and she’ll get to choose which one it is—yeah, I guess that’s progress, though in a sort of pre-The Mary Tyler Moore Show sort of way. Mirada is voiced by Kelly McDonald who I could listen to all day; does anyone have a sweeter and more charming lilt? The parents are Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, who also do very well. In fact, all the voice work is exemplary. But in the end, the most interesting characters are Mirada’s three little brothers, absolute terrors who are so cute, you just want to hug them. I smell a sequel.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, in A Cat in Paris, a police inspector tries to find the mobster who killed her husband while her little girl becomes involved with a cat burglar. That’s more my speed when it comes to mother/daughter conflicts. It’s a loopy little film made all the more loopy by using hand drawn animation that results in odd looking breasts and feet that are oddly shaped and too small to support the bodies they belong to. But it’s a lot of fun and the energy almost never flags. The plot is clunky at times and depends on a ton of coincidence, and I’m not sure the story holds up any better than it does in Brave, but in the end, I didn’t really care, it was so much more enjoyable. I also felt much more relaxed after watching it; Brave seemed to want to impress you and force you to think it’s great, while A Cat in Paris just padded along on little cat’s feet like Sandburg’s fog. The screenplay is by Alain Gagnol (who also directed) and Jacques Remy-Girerd; Gagnol also shares directing credits with Jean-Loup Felicioli. I saw a dubbed version with voices of Marcia Gay Harden, Mathew Modine and Angelica Huston. It is one of the five animated featured nominated for a 2012 Oscar (it lost to Rango).