A rousing ode to Scottish heritage pride, Brave marks Pixar’s first cinematic property to feature a female human protagonist, but unfortunately, that’s all it may be remembered for.

Merida, beautifully voiced by Boardwalk Empire‘s Kelly Macdonald, is the princess of the Scottish kingdom known as DunBroch. Skilled in archery (she could be Katniss’s long-lost ancestor), she is betrothed to one of the sons of the three Lords. However, Merida is determined to live her own life (catch a whiff of that Girl Power message!) and not be subjugated to the restrictive life her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), wants her to lead. Meanwhile, King Fergus, happily voiced by the uproarious Billy Connolly, sees the tomboyish Merida more like the teenage son he never had, grinning and laughing at the Queen’s fussiness over their independent daughter. When Merida defies kingdom tradition by sabotaging an archery contest between the three lords, the princess inadvertently causes controversy and chaos throughout the kingdom. Soon Merida turns to an elderly wise woman (read: witch) to help “change her mother” with whom she disagrees on nearly everything. But when the Queen herself is transformed into a bear, Merida must discover the true meaning of bravery by going on a mission to undo the spell to save her family and kingdom.

Directed and co-written by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave appears to enjoy flaunting the advanced capabilities of its animators with subtle money shots of Merida’s flaming and flowing red hair. Her fiery locks, clearly a metaphor for the fiery spirit the girl possesses, are quite the accomplishment, and the princess is an adequate heroine for kids of all ages. However, despite the film’s gorgeously realized landscapes and enjoyable characters (Merida’s triplet brothers are a hoot), Pixar’s latest masterwork isn’t quite the groundbreaking entry most of its pioneering predecessors have been. The familiar story is fine and all, and it has enough commentary to get film analysts buzzing (Mother-daughter relationships can be contemptuous! Everyone should have to right to marry whoever they want!), but it may not be enough to crack the Top 5 of many a Pixar fan’s list.

And while there may not be any talking animals inhabiting this Brave semi-new world, it doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of creaturely characters. The bear version of Queen Elinor is a hulking yet harmless travel buddy who accompanies Merida on her mission and soon taps into her wild side. The three rowdy younger brothers of the castle also inadvertently fall under the same spell, turning into baby bears and hysterically wreaking havoc on their nanny/maid. Next are the wispy, blue supernatural thingies that lure our princess to eventual danger (I’m still scratching my head on those little mystical beings — where are they from exactly? Could we have explored them a little more?). And then there’s the Big Bad of the movie, a mythological beast who pops up for a scary, climactic battle that had this reviewer tense up and — almost — cry out for his own mother.

– Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)