A new teenage heroine swoops into theaters this weekend in "Brave," Pixar's first female-centric feature. Merida, a princess of the mystical Scottish highlands, has not only the archery skills of Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games" but the parent-stopping pout of Bella Swan in "Twilight." She sulks with a brogue -- "Ach, Mom!" -- but her eye-rolling and tantrum-throwing are universal.
There's a reason this spirited tomboy with the lovingly animated orange-red hair and the lively voice of Kelly Macdonald ("Gosford Park") keeps flopping around with such exasperation. Her three directors and many writers cram her into a narrative that no boy would stand for, and Merida resists them at every turn. Like her well-meaning but domineering mother, Queen Elinor (a wonderful Emma Thompson), the movie doesn't quite know what to do with this girl.
The main problem is that Merida craves adventure but "Brave" limits her to mother-daughter psychodrama. She avoids marriage by trouncing various suitors at archery ("I'll be shooting for my own hand," she announces), but remains so fixated on her mother that she pays an absent-minded witch (Julie Walters) to change her. "Brave" plays the botched result for laughs -- the Queen is transformed into a giant black bear -- but the implications are darkly Freudian: Merida's doting daddy, Fergus (Billy Connolly), who lost his leg to a bear, now wants to kill his wife. Suddenly, the movie's dimly lit castle interiors and nighttime forests don't seem so enchanting.
"Brave" forces Merida to right her wrongs, but this inward-turned goal is much less fun than seeking a personal grail or finding kindred spirits or any of the things that boy-heroes get to do. In the end, Merida remains tied to her mother's corset ribbons, still waiting for her real adventure.
PLOT In ancient Scotland, young princess Merida tries to break a spell on her family. RATING PG-13 (language and scary monsters)
PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D
BOTTOM LINE Pixar's first female lead is an appealing firebrand, but the movie's emotionally tangled drama robs her of the lusty adventure she deserves.
Pixar's top 10 -- so far
Nobody knows, of course, where "Brave" will rank among Pixar's highest-grossing films. But here's the current top 10:
1. Toy Story 3 (2010) -- $415,004,880
2. Finding Nemo (2003) -- $339,714,978
3. Up (2009) -- $293,004,164
4. The Incredibles (2004) -- $261,441,092
5. Monsters, Inc. (2001) -- 255,873,250
6. Toy Story 2 (1999) -- $245,852,179
7. Cars (2006) -- $244,082,982
8. WALL-E (2008) -- $223,808,164
9. Ratatouille (2007) -- $206,445,654
10. Toy Story (1995) -- $191,796,233