It might have taken two-decades but Pixar – the animation company responsible for Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and The Incredibles – is finally (and rather specifically) addressing their female audiences with the heroine-led mother and daughter relationship featured in Brave. While this longstanding oversight is to be commended, the results are rather safe and lack the emotional complexity that marked their previous features. Sad news for fans of the company, but after the unfortunate beating the company took with Cars 2 (which was favored over its predecessor by this critic), one has to guess that this attitude is to be expected with new material.
Written by Brenda Chapman, Brave follows a strong and rebellious princess, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), as she continues to defy how a princess should act and upsets the wishes of a strong-willed mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). Her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly), understands Merida has more in common with his battle-ready ways but – wisely – sides with his wife in the matter of how Merida should behave for the benefit of the kingdom and the family.
The entire issue of proper and property comes to a head when Merida learns of how she is to be married according to the laws of the kingdom and sets off to find her own way after a highly charged emotional conflict with her mother. She follows lighted objects through an enchanted forest and stumbles upon a witch who promises to make Merida a spell that will change her fate and her mother’s mind on the issue of her behavior forever.
And so Merida poisons her mother. Only she has no idea what trouble it ultimately spells for her entire family; trouble that begins and ends with big, wholly mammoth-sized bears.
Pixar focuses on the family throughout this feature and from this deep well of emotional strife hits the family dynamic – which includes three younger male siblings – accordingly at times and glosses over family affairs at other times with gimmicky antics. Remember the realness in the relationships that existed in The Incredibles or in Finding Nemo? They barely register here. Unfortunately, beyond the core relationship between a daughter and her mother, the story of Brave has no interest in pursuing the earnest relationship that exists inside of a family.
The animation of the characters – complete wit naturally curly red locks and fully realized faces – is top notch. Even with the postures of their characters, Pixar reveals a grand character. Much like the silent era, with posture all is revealed. The naturalness of the picturesque Scottish locale is alive with greens and browns and becomes knowingly dark with a surreal mist in the spooky forest whereupon Merida stumbles upon the witch.
Ultimately, the main problem with Brave lies with the story that doesn’t fully believe in Merida as the heroine. She’s not – even as the picture presents her as such – she’s simply not our hero. The real hero is the mother – the one that has suffered at the hands of a selfish teenage child - and here, after a poisoning and a resulting transformation, is where the message the picture is imparting to its female audience gets a bit muddied.
Don’t get me wrong. Brave has an empowering message that it eventually delivers (one can argue this to death about what exactly that is), but how it gets there – with very, very strained comedic moments and a rote mythology that seems too familiar to add any real depth to the picture – is a bit too much like what one would expect from a Dreamworks animated feature pre-How To Train Your Dragon. I hope this path of least resistance doesn’t continue any further than here because, quite honestly, I know Pixar can do much, much better.
While Brave does feature a surprising transfiguration from one of its characters, Pixar presents its vibrant Scottish yarn as if it were merely another in a long, long, long line of Walt Disney animated features about girls and witches and enchanted forests and their mothers and that – adding nothing new to the mix - isn’t too brave at all.
Brave is a safe step backwards.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.
Runtime: 93 mins.
Director: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Writer: Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi
Cast: Kelly MacDonald; Billy Connolly; Emma Thompson; Craig Ferguson; Julie Walters
Genre: Comedy | Family | Adventure
Tagline: Change your fate.
Memorable Movie Quote: "If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?"
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site: disney.go.com/brave/?cmp=wdsmp_brv_url_dcombrave
Release Date: June 22, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: November 13, 2012
Synopsis: Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. In Brave, a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts. Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Merida's actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Wise Woman (Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it's too late.
Available on Blu-ray - November 13, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1; French: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (2 BDs, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Region Encoding: Region-free
Nothing but excellence here from Walt Disney. The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is without flaw. Pixar on blu-ray is always a treat. Colors are strong throughout. The deep greens of the forest and Merida's homeland practically drip with vivacious fluids. There are riches in the scenery and the setting throughout. In fact, these luscious details more than make up for the story’s shortcomings. Black levels are pure and their definition keeps everything clear. With bright visuals and sharp details, Brave does not disappoint in visuals. Booming through the house will be the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track with its two extra channels of fiery intensity. The track supports clear and clean center-channel dialogue with crackling surround sound that consistently gives its audience the feeling of immersion.
- Featuring Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larson and editor Nick Smith, the commentary is fairly standard and straight forward. Much ground is covered in the film’s running time. From its development to some of the issues the team had during its production, the only stone left unturned is why the original director bailed on the film.
Spread out over two blu-ray discs, the supplemental material is quite exhaustive. The material kicks off with a trip to Scotland. Watch the location team as it scouts the locations of the movie as they travel Scotland (BE JEALOUS!) and pick up ideas for the look of the film and include the ever popular food item haggis in another featurette about the trip. Pixar created new animation techniques for Brave and they proudly showcase it in several of the featurettes that cover the production. Other featurettes cover the rustic look of Scotland and its inhabitants in the movie, such as teeth, hair, fabrics and mud. Signs of a troubled production lie in the unusually large number of scene changes and deleted scenes. Andrews hosts as a mix of boards, renders and finished animation, features a fight in the snow between Merida's dad and the nasty bear the movie centers upon. Andrews explains some of the changes in the film. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to give you the idea that there were some issues that plagued the film from the very beginning. A DVD and Digital Copy of the film is included as well.
- Short Films La Luna and Mor’Du (14 min)
- Eight Behind the Scenes Featurettes (50 min)
- Four Extended Scenes (13 min)
- Five Promotional Pieces (14 min)
- Fergus & Mor'Du: An Alternate Opening (3 min)
- Fallen Warriors (2 min)
- Dirty Hairy People (4 min)
- It is English... Sort Of (4 min)
- Angus (3 min)
- The Tapestry (4 min)
- Five Art Galleries