Pixar's "Brave"
Pixar's "Brave"

What's my reaction to seeing the first half-hour of "Brave" (June 22)? Pixar is back at the top of its game. If the rest of the movie is as strong as what I saw at a Pixar press event in Emeryville last week, the film could be the leading Oscar contender for best animated feature. So much for last season's Oscar lockout of "Cars 2" for being a disposable popcorn movie.

In other words, leave it to Pixar to turn the princess fairy tale on its head with an ambitious medieval coming of age story about teenage rebellion and noble responsibility in the Scottish Highlands, wrapped in an action/adventure with magic and mysticism. Oh, yes, with a dash of "Moby Dick"-like scary danger thrown in for good measure along with some slapstick relief.

If you've seen the trailer, you already know that the setup involves the skilled archer and fiery redhead Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) defying her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), who wants to marry her off to keep the peaceful kingdom united among the three lords. However, what is glimpsed in the first 30 minutes is a majestic and gorgeous animated journey, as Pixar proves once again why it's the industry leader in storytelling and technology.

For instance, as Merida joyfully rides through the forest on her powerful Clydesdale, Angus, we notice the rich detail: her curly red locks, the horse's fetlocks, the uneven rock formations; the grass, moss, and lichen mingling with the earthy brush; the magic hour lighting and the glistening waterfalls. Then there are the mysterious wisps and the introduction of a monstrous bear that's tied to some