- Street Date:
- November 13th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- David Krauss
- Review Date: 1
- November 14th, 2012
- Movie Release Year:
- Disney/Buena Vista
- 93 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'Brave - 3D.'
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Once Pixar joined the Disney family, any self-respecting movie buff knew it would only be a matter of time before the studio made a princess movie. After all, princesses are as vital to Disney as ice cream is to apple pie, and though Pixar possessed a smattering of prior experience with young female royalty (remember Atta and Dot in 'A Bug's Life'?), it had never before allowed a princess - or for that matter a girl of any age - to dominate one of its films. Of course, one would hope any Pixar princess picture would stray far enough from the Disney mold to achieve a degree of integrity and individuality, and I'm happy to report the headstrong heroine of 'Brave' remains true to the Pixar brand by taking the role in a new and exciting direction. A roll-up-her-sleeves self-starter with contemporary ideas, a fiery spirit that matches her bushy red hair, plenty of backbone, and enviable athletic prowess, Princess Merida of 11th century Scotland is a force to be reckoned with, a modern lass trapped in a period setting, and with one hand tied behind her back, she could kick Cinderella's ass.
'Brave' is a breath of fresh air in the princess genre, a film that foregoes frilly dresses, saccharine songs, and gooey romance for action, thrills, and a seductive darkness. Even the generic elements it does embrace are shaken up and given an appealing twist. Though it surely doesn't rival the 'Toy Story' movies or 'Finding Nemo' for top Pixar honors, 'Brave' is nevertheless a vigorous, involving, and wholly entertaining family film that does the studio proud. After 'Wall-E and 'Up,' 'Brave' brings Pixar back down to earth with a back-to-basics, traditional, and wholly accessible yarn to which both kids and parents can easily relate. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) lives what seems to be an idyllic life with her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) and mother Elinor (Emma Thompson), yet as she enters her teenage years, a rebellious streak comes to the forefront as she questions age-old traditions and challenges her mother's rigid nature. Elinor wants Merida to be a lady and model of propriety befitting her title, but the young girl scoffs at such a notion, preferring to pursue outdoorsy activities and indulge her untamed spirit, much to her mother's chagrin. When Elinor invites three clans to the castle to compete for Merida's hand in marriage, the princess sulks over the prospect and disrupts the games, sparking a heated argument. Determined to make Elinor come around to her point of view, Merida flees the castle and convinces an old crone to concoct a transformative spell that will "change" her mother. What the princess doesn't realize, however, is that the potion incites a physical change, not an emotional one, turning Elinor into a massive bear and making her vulnerable to human assaults. What follows is a race against time, as the pair tries to reverse the spell and escape harm before the changes to Elinor become permanent and their relationship is destroyed forever.
Pixar cleverly uses the princess framework as a vehicle to explore the deeper issues of mother-daughter bonding. If you take away the cancer angle, 'Brave' could be classified as a 'Terms of Endearment' for the younger set. (Elinor is far from an Aurora Greenway, but the dynamics of the relationship are strikingly similar.) Learning to accept differences, make concessions, understand opposing views, and adapt to changing times and mores all within the tightness of the family unit is what 'Brave' is all about. The hints of mysticism and broad comedy nicely complement the main theme and make the message more palatable and less overbearing, and its medieval setting shows us such conflict isn't indigenous to the modern age. Pixar films always incorporate irreverent humor, and 'Brave' seems to enjoy sending up Scottish culture, even giving an off-hand nod to 'Braveheart' along the way.
The animation is, of course, spectacular, with meticulous attention paid to the smallest of details. The performances are fine, too, infused with enough enthusiasm and warmth to make the characters as dimensional as the images they populate. And after a couple of sequels (there's that Disney influence once again), it's nice to see Pixar return to an original story that transports us to a foreign setting and simpler time, and give young girls a spunky role model they can learn from and emulate.
At 93 minutes, 'Brave' is one of Pixar's shorter films, but despite its efficient storytelling, it still possesses a fair amount of depth. Though the characters it depicts may reside on a rarefied plane, the issues they confront are universal and timeless, and the ultimate message emphasizing the strong bonds of family, however trite, is presented in a poignant and effective manner. 'Brave' may not be as bold as its title, but it's a solid Pixar effort, celebrating not just girl power, but the power of understanding and mutual respect. It's a princess movie that should make the mouse beam.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 2D version of 'Brave' comes in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Two 50GB Blu-ray Discs are included. The first contains the feature along with a handful of special features. The second disc is dedicated to more special features. A Disney Movie Rewards code is available with this set. It also comes with an embossed slipcover that mirrors the case artwork. It's a region free release.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
It shouldn't be a surprise that a movie that earned top marks in the 3D department also receives the highest of scores when it comes to its 2D presentation. Say what you will about the movie, but the fact remains that 'Brave' is simply one of the most splendidly animated movies Pixar has ever produced. Its lush, natural worlds are presented in crystal clear clarity, with effervescent colors and painstaking detail.
The color used here is absolutely impressive. Merida's red hair practically pops off the screen any time she's in frame. Her fiery orange-red hair is one of the many highlights of this presentation. The detail in her hair is extraordinary. I remember the first time I saw 'Monsters Inc.' I was astounded at the look and movement of Sully's hundreds of thousands of individual hairs. I didn't think Pixar would be able to top what they did there, but they have here. Merida's hair takes on a life of its own. It moves, bounces and blows in the wind like natural hair. Each strand of her hair is distinctly visible during the movie's crystalline playback. It's beautiful to watch.
Continuing on with the attention to detail paid in 'Brave,' the surroundings of green Scottish hills are vibrantly presented. The green in this movie is the only thing that rivals Merida's ginger locks. The grass and trees are so expertly rendered that it's a little hard to think of them as computer animated. Each solitary blade of grass is distinctly defined and never lost in the movie's fast-moving action.
Textures like the rock walls of the castle or the fur on the movie's bears are equally remarkable. There is so much detail in this movie that you'll have to watch it half a dozen times before you notice every little thing. And believe me you'll be able to notice those details because of the clarity and definition on display here.
Blacks are deep and inky. I first saw the movie in 3D in the theaters and thought the glasses really hampered the darker parts of the movie. Making the entire scene a little too dark. However, this time around seeing it in 2D gave me a newfound respect for the shadow detailing and the intricate minutiae of some of those darkly lit scenes.
If you're looking for a demo-worthy presentation to get this holiday season, then 'Brave' is a surefire bet. It looks absolutely superb in high definition.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Two lossless options - Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and 5.1 - are available, and both provide immersive, nuanced audio that beautifully complements the stunning image quality. Superior dynamic range handles all the action well, with bright, full-bodied highs and guttural lows bringing the various set pieces to glorious life. Surround activity is almost constant, ebbing and flowing with the story, smoothly bleeding from the front to the rears, and never feeling forced. From subtle atmospherics, such as birds chirping and rustling leaves, to powerful accents like slamming doors, clanking swords, and arrows hitting their targets, the sound dances across all five speakers with both ease and distinction.
Bass frequencies are also strong, lending some oomph to stomping feet and the powerful roars of Mor'du, yet the LFE track seamlessly blends into the whole. Patrick Doyle's music score, by turns rousing and introspective, also gets a nice treatment here, benefiting from solid fidelity and fine tonal depth. The delicate reeds emit a wonderful purity, while the pulsating percussion ramps up excitement but never overpowers the other instruments. Dialogue is well prioritized throughout, and though the authentic Scottish accents can, at times, be a bit difficult to understand, all conversations are clear.
No imperfections mar this high-quality track. Despite a smorgasbord of sonic elements competing for attention, distortion is never an issue, and no break-ups or drop-outs, hiss or surface noise ever crop up. Once again, Pixar comes through with a terrific mix that adds body and texture to an involving story.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Most of the supplements are high-def exclusives (see below), but a few are shared between the Blu-ray and DVD editions.
- Audio Commentary – Director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, editor Nick Smith, and story supervisor Brian Larsen sit down for a lively commentary that allows us to see inside the creative minds of the filmmakers. From an abandoned alternate opening and a homage to 'The Sound of Music' to character insights and scene analyses, the quartet shares a wealth of interesting information in an easygoing, accessible style. They talk about, among other things, adding fresh elements to stereotypical figures, such as princesses and witches, various concepts that never materialized, balancing comedy and dramatic intensity, managing the movie's pace, and the incredible amount of trial and error that go into making an animated film. Kids may find the discussion a bit dull, but adults, especially animation fans, will find this commentary a worthwhile time investment.
- Pixar Short Film: 'La Luna' (HD, 7 minutes) – This whimsical, magical tale of a young boy who climbs up to the moon with his father and grandpa exudes a subtle sense of wonder and is filled with beautiful imagery.
- Pixar Short Film: 'The Legend of Mor'du' (HD, 7 minutes) – A cautionary fable about the pitfalls of jealousy, ambition, and forsaking one's family, this dark tale ties nicely into the plot and themes of 'Brave' as it charts the development of the movie's scariest villain.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
A cavalcade of extras, spread across two discs, provide 'Brave' fans with a wealth of fascinating material to enhance their viewing experience.
- Featurette: "Brave Old World" (HD, 13 minutes) – This engaging piece chronicles the production team's research trip to Scotland and how the participants gained a greater understanding of the Scottish landscape, lifestyle, and culture by interacting with the people, touring castles, and communing with nature. We also see how they translated their experiences into the animated environment.
- Featurette: "Merida & Elinor" (HD, 8 minutes) – The mother-daughter relationship - the conflicts that tear Merida and Elinor apart and how they resolve their differences - is explored in this absorbing featurette that also addresses the physical and emotional development of the characters and such challenging technical issues as Merida's wild, curly hair and the pair's elaborate costumes.
- Featurette: "Bears" (HD, 6 minutes) – Here we learn how the artists maintained physical realism while reflecting underlying human characteristics in their design of the film's bears, and how they constructed the monster bear, Mor'du.
- Featurette: "Brawl in the Hall" (HD, 5 minutes) – Raw footage, sketches, and frame-by-frame clips show the development and philosophy behind the fight scenes in the film. We also see the Pixar creative team rehearsing and choreographing the battles outside their offices.
- Featurette: "Wonder Moss" (HD, 3 minutes) – Math is an important factor in the production of any Pixar film, and this brief featurette shows us how it's used to make moss and other natural elements look varied and realistic.
- Featurette: "Magic" (HD, 7 minutes) – An interesting look at how the producers incorporated bits of Scottish legend, such as the will-o'-the-wisps, and other forms of fairy tale magic into the film without disrupting its modern frame of mind.
- Featurette: "Clan Pixar" (HD, 5 minutes) – An insider's look at how Pixar employees blew off steam during the production of 'Brave' by indulging in Scottish activities - eating haggis, wearing kilts, and engaging in nerf warfare. Boy, does Pixar look like a fun place to work!
- Featurette: "Once Upon a Scene" (HD, 8 minutes) – More than 100 sequences were mounted and deleted during the 'Brave' production process for various reasons, and this featurette, through rough sketch animation, allows us to see some of the alternate openings, character intros, and abandoned concepts (such as a comic relief crow for the witch and a romantic crush for Merida) that didn't make it into the finished film.
- Extended Scenes (HD, 13 minutes) – Four extended scenes - "Meet the Lords," "Triplets' Distraction," "The Ruins," and "Blockade" - are introduced by co-director Mark Andrews, who also divulges the reasons behind the final editing decisions. A clever scissors icon appears in the lower right corner of the screen to denote the material that was cut prior to the movie's release.
- Sneak Peeks (HD) – Trailers for 'Monsters University,' 'Planes,' 'Peter Pan: Diamond Edition,' and 'Finding Nemo' are included, as well as promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Adventures, the new Disney Junior series 'Sofia the First,' and the 'Brave' video game.
- Alternate Opening (HD, 3 minutes) – Director Mark Andrews introduces an abandoned alternate opening that features Fergus encountering Mor'du and engaging in a violent battle.
- Featurette: "Fallen Warriors" (HD, 2 minutes) – This montage of deleted shots and snippets celebrates the hard work that goes into even the tiniest sequences in an animated film.
- Featurette: "Dirty Hairy People" (HD, 4 minutes) – This piece shows how the animators stayed true to the movie's time period with regard to personal hygiene and appearance. Rotted teeth, unkempt hair, and sullied clothing are a few of the challenges they faced in composing their subjects.
- Featurette: "It Is English...Sort Of" (HD, 4 minutes) – This featurette showcases the numerous Scottish actors who lent their voice talents to 'Brave,' and examines the various dialects they employ, as well as some of the foreign Scottish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the film.
- Featurette: "Angus" (HD, 3 minutes) – Animating a Clydesdale horse wasn't easy, and here we learn about the particulars of hair, movement, and body language - all vital components of Merida's horse that needed to be subtly but accurately conveyed to the audience.
- Featurette: "The Tapestry" (HD, 4 minutes) – This piece shows us what went into animating this critical element of the 'Brave' story that symbolizes family unity and structure. Achieving the proper texture and movement of this object required a surprising amount of research and various trials.
- Promotional Pieces (HD, 15 minutes) – A collection of five fun promos and three trailers (from the U.S., Japan, and Great Britain) comprise this section. "Feast Your Eyes" (4 minutes) is a clever, amusing, and visually dazzling sampler of 'Brave' characters and personalities; "Relics" (1 minute) introduces us to the lovable, bumbling, comedic trio that comes to court; "Clan Dun Broch" (1 minute) introduces us to Merida's family via a vigorous swordfight with her dad; "Launch" (30 seconds) shows us Merida's archery skills and the mischievious nature of her brothers; and "Flying Guts Theater" (1 minute) gives us the backstory of the courtship of Elinor and Fergus as acted out by their three boys.
- Art Gallery (HD) – More than 470 images are spread across five galleries under the headings Characters (178 images), Color Keys (95 images), Development Art (96 images), Environments (65 images), and Graphics (37 images). Different viewing methods and bookmarking capabilities allow you to somewhat tailor the viewing experience to your personal preference.
'Brave' is a decent Pixar film that falls solidly in the middle of the pack. However, the real treat here is how gorgeous it looks. This may be one of, if not the, best transfers that you'll see all year. The film is strikingly beautiful in high-def and is certainly highly recommended for anyone looking for demo material in order to show off their high-def setup.
- Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
- French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH, French, Spanish
- Audio Commentary
- "La Luna" Animated Short
- Bonus Short: "The Legend of Mordu"
Exclusive HD Content
- Brave Old World
- Brawl In The Hall
- Wonder Moss
- Clan Pixar
- Once Upon A Scene
- Extended Scenes & Alternate Opening
- Fallen Warriors
- Dirty Hairy People
- It is English... Sort Of
- The Tapestry
- Promotional Pieces
- Art Gallery
- Merida & Ellnor
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