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.
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.
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.
Most of the supplements are high-def exclusives (see below), but a few are shared between the Blu-ray and DVD editions.
'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.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.