Pixar reclaims a giant chunk of its formerly sterling reputation (after the disappointing Cars 2) with Brave, a princess story with a decided and delicious difference. The usual hallmarks of Pixar are very much in evidence: brilliant, breathtaking animation, sound design that’s second to none, and the humor and heart that works in such complementary ways with one another. It’s something of a coming of age story with a young girl at the center, but its lessons about growing up and one’s continuing love but slowly relinquishing reliance on parents speak to us all. It’s a beautiful film.
Brave 3D (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Review Date: November 6, 2012
Chafing under the domination of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) isn’t interested in being groomed for the throne and is definitely not ready to be betrothed to one of a trio of grisly young men from three other Scottish clans. So, she happens on a witch (Julie Walters) in the forest who offers her a spell-ridden cake for her mother which Merida hopes will change her mother’s point of view about her daughter’s future. But as is often the case with magic, what appears foolproof on the surface goes awry as one bite of the cake turns her mother into a bear. With the fearsome bear Mor’du having bitten off her father’s (Billy Connolly) leg as a young man, Merida knows bears aren’t popular around the castle, so she hastens to get her mother away from the clans and hopes she can find the witch to reverse the spell. When that fails, Merida and her mother find their bond becomes stronger in their common search for an answer to her dilemma, but time is running out to change her mother back as the spell becomes permanent after two days.
Though four names appear in the credits for the screenplay (directors Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell along with Irene Mecchi), the story flows smoothly as we watch Merida grow from a young girl to a young woman becoming a proficient archer along the way. Even with the setting of 13th century Scotland, much about the dynamics between the parents and children in the movie have a distinctly modern ring to them, and Merida’s recalcitrance at being forced into something she’s not emotionally ready to undertake with no possibility of stating her own case will be easy to identify with for almost any audience (Merida’s showdown with her three suitors in an archery tournament is one of the film’s high points). While the writers get a bit too cutsey with the Witch’s personality in her two sequences, she’s undeniably entertaining if a bit too modern to fit comfortably among these rustic warriors of old. The film’s production design, however, is simply jaw dropping as Scotland comes alive in these majestic, detailed CGI renderings, and the directors use their ravishing settings to stage a number of memorable sequences. The highlight of the film remains a bucolic sequence when Elinor as Mum-bear learns to forage for food in a stream where gorgeous animation provides both tender moments and slapstick comedy in the best Pixar tradition.
Kelly Macdonald is full of feisty sass and plenty of pluck as Merida, and her Scottish brogue (as is the case with the other Scottish actors hired for the film) is never too thick to prevent understanding of what she’s saying. Emma Thompson has a noble carriage and the gentle art of diplomacy as Elinor while Billy Connolly’s braying, clumsy Fergus is always a treat. The three Scottish clan leaders putting their sons up for selection are played in the expected extroverted manner by Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson. Julie Walters has all kinds of fun with the eccentric witch who moonlights as a wood carver, bears a specialty.
3D implementation – 4.5/5
The film’s theatrical widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Whether in 2D or 3D, the images are breathtakingly beautiful. The details in hair, clothes, a tapestry (where you can see individual strands), trees, moss, stone, and other objects just defy description. Colors are bold and deeply saturated with Merida’s red, red hair coming close to but never quite blooming. Black levels are rich and deep, and the image is as perfect as one should expect. The film has been divided into 37 chapters.
As with most Pixar 3D films, outward projections are not of primary importance to the animators though there are arrow tips and hands that reach beyond the frame for split seconds. But the sense of depth in the image is often quite staggering, and the 3D version of the film is much more interesting visually with its complex placement of people, animals, and objects within their environments which 3D exploits to the maximum.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound mix is a miracle of audio design with split sound effects occupying the fronts and rears at an almost constant pace. There are pans across and through the soundfield, and the rear back channels are used to make smooth transitions for sounds at the rear of the field. Patrick Doyle’s music and the Gaelic ballads of Julie Fowlis get remarkably fluid renderings in the fronts and rears aiding immeasurably in establishing the time and place of the action. Dialogue has been beautifully recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
The 3D disc contains 3D promo trailers for Monster University, Finding Nemo 3D, and Planes.
Also included on the 3D disc is La Luna, the Oscar-nominated 7-minute short which accompanied Brave in theaters as three generations of Italians go about their family business tending to the phases of the moon.
There are two 2D Blu-ray discs in the set. All video bonus features are presented in 1080p on these discs. The first disc contains the following features:
An audio commentary is provided by directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen, and editor Nick Smith. Despite having four men in the same room, the commentary is never a free-for-all. Andrews does the most talking but all have interesting information to offer about the production of the movie.
La Luna is also offered in 2D on this disc running for 7 minutes.
The Legend of Mor’du is another animated short offering background on how the film’s enchanted and ferocious black bear Mor’du came into existence. It runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“Brave Old World” details the location trip which members of the production team took to Scotland to sketch and photograph the countryside and get inspiration for the look of the movie. It runs 12 ½ minutes.
“Merida & Elinor” features actresses Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson as well as director Brenda Chapman discussing the two leading characters of the film in this 8 ½-minute piece.
“Bears” takes a close-up look at the movie’s two principal bears: Mum-bear and Mor’du and how their different personalities were crafted for the film.
“Brawl in the Hall” finds director Mark Andrews explaining his direction and choreographing of the fight scenes in the movie with other animators explaining their methods for giving the battles a life of their own. It runs 5 ½ minutes.
“Wonder Moss” has Pixar artists describing how important the use of mathematics was in creating the different mossy textures used in the movie. This runs 2 ¾ minutes.
“Magic” focuses on how the will-o’-the-wisps were created for the movie and explains the legends surrounding these fantastical occurrences. It runs 7 ¼ minutes.
“Clan Pixar” shows how the entire staff got into the spirit of the film during its production with the wearing of kilts on Fridays and participating in company games during break times. This runs 4 ¾ minutes.
“Once Upon a Scene” is a 7 ¾-minute discussion of the dozens of deleted scenes and storylines that were drawn and discarded during the making of the movie. Story supervisor Brian Larsen narrates.
There are four extended scenes introduced by director Mark Andrews and presented separately. They run 3 ¼, 3 ¼, 4 ¼, and 1 ½ minutes respectively.
The disc contains promo trailers for Peter Pan, Monsters University, and Planes.
The second 2D Blu-ray disc contains the following bonus material:
An alternate opening for the movie is presented in partially rendered fashion featuring the initial face-off between Fergus and Mor’du. It runs 2 ¾ minutes and is introduced by director Mark Andrews.
“Fallen Warriors” is a 2 ¼-minute tribute to fully animated bits of the movie that got cut for time.
“Dirty, Hairy People” discusses the development of the Scottish clan characters with particular attention to their loads of hair, their clothes, and their dirty skin. It runs 3 ½ minutes.
“It Is English…Sort Of” is a lighthearted look at the Scottish brogues used by the characters in the movie with four of the primary Scottish actors talking about playing their parts. This runs 3 ¾ minutes.
“Angus” pays tribute to Merida’s beautiful and trusty Clydesdale horse Angus as the arists who animated him discuss his design and animation. It runs 3 ½ minutes.
“The Tapestry” is a 4-minute featurette focusing on the importance of the tapestry in the movie and how its intricate threading was rendered in the film.
There are eight promotional pieces with five fully animated CGI teaser sequences with characters from the movie and three theatrical trailers: one each from the U.S., Japan, and the United Kingdom.
The interactive art gallery offers hundreds of drawings, models, and art for the viewer to peruse.
The fourth disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
The fifth disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A glorious return to form for Pixar, Brave is a bracing adventure story that uses an evolving mother-daughter relationship to provide plentiful amounts of humor and heart to its exciting story of ancient Scotland. Reference quality video and audio along with copious bonus features make this a Blu-ray release that comes definitely highly recommended!