Forced marriage within the kingdom causes the teenage rebellion of Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) to sprout to the surface. She begins lashing out at her mother, and becoming chummy with her aggressive father. Merida doesn’t fit the usual mold, certainly not in the Disney Princess line. She’s an archer, one of the guys, and detests the idea of being prim and proper.
Here’s awaiting the Cinderella sequel wherein the lead takes hold of a bow and headshots her evil stepmother. Times are a changin’ so it could happen. Please?
Joking aside, Brave has two movie syndrome, where the smart, slow build of Merida’s family relationship is shown – almost entirely – via a single day. When magic impacts Merida’s mother, the film shifts into a darker, tenser story that builds upon the established characterization of before. It’s hard story to sell in a two-minute trailer, one that can be sold on two levels. Brave loves the gentle slapstick humor as much as it does the fantastical elements that back its danger. An audience may connect to either side.
Under the guiding hand of Pixar, the mixture is handled deftly and without a jarring tonal shift. It’s gradually built and shuffled into the script, each critical element told with whimsey. You don’t know the exact moment of narrative growth, but it can be close. Merida’s dealings with a witch turn her mother into the kingdom’s most despised creature: a bear. The shock and dismay from both the mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Merida is wonderful, and begins the move, albeit with additional humor.
Brave isn’t about sweeping twists so much as it is emotional bonds. Brave’s villain isn’t the witch either, who could be seen as doing the family a rather oddball, indirect favor. It forces communication, even if it’s a series of grunts or roars from Elinor. They work together, staying out of sight from blood thirsty Scottish clans ruled by a king who lost his leg to a bear when Mirada was a small child.
At times, Merida carries the teenager traits: She hates conformity. She hates rules. She thinks her parents are stupid. She whines. She rebels. It’s almost too much, but the key here is growth. As a character, she enters adulthood through her emotions, thrust into a situation that forces her to see things with greater perspective.
Merida is a champion bow shot, precision unmatched. It’s a trait given to make her appear tough, with an edge on the men she’s supposed to be marrying. Crucially, she never loses her feminine edge, headstrong and logical. The men in Brave are protective brutes, quick to react if always too jumpy in their approach. Despite the use of doltish actions, Brave plays on a smooth level, with a strikingly sharp lead that carries this mish-mash of a film.
Oh look, it’s a big budget, major studio animated movie on Blu-ray and looks perfect. “Shocking” – said no one, ever.
Pixar’s breathtaking landscapes are captured in the home with remarkably accuracy. Blades of grass feel completely individualized, rocks are textured thickly, castle walls are striking, trees look substantial, and water deft. That’s not even diving into the hair. Oh lordy, the hair. Mirada’s flowing locks of brilliantly red hair are magical in motion. Each strand pops from the screen with grand essence and dominating presence. You can’t miss it, and when the bears become integral to the story, wow. They’re equally impressive.
There are two visual planes at work here. The first concerns the opening 30-minutes or so, bright with a playful color palette of greens, reds, and blues. Each hue becomes unmistakable, distinctive in saturation without bleeding over. In comes plane two, a drab, often gray scenario with thick fog, superb black levels, and it’s no less impressive at invoking the look it’s going for. Neither style saps the impact of the imagery, and even if it doesn’t drench the screen in saturation, Brave is no less a generous presentation.
Sharpness will never waver, and while there’s likely to be an argument over Brave’s rather flat character design (faces contain no discernible texture), it’s impossible to dissuade someone from this disc. It’s Pixar magic at its finest, an artsy example of their craft teeming with things to see and appreciate. Stylistically, the imagery is generous in its offerings, and visually, we have a Blu-ray winner.
In the realm of 3D, Brave poses a challenge however. Much of the film is cast in shadow with dimly lit interiors or moonlight powering the visuals. The darkness allows only minimal depth through. Even as bear poke their noses towards the screen, the effect feels restrained by the design. This is no fault of the disc, just a composition issue created by the nature of the film.
That said, when it breathes, boy does Brave breathe. Mirada feels engulfed by her hair, and the shots of her firing off a bow are generous. Landscapes stretch out for miles, and foreground objects could not feel any closer to the viewer. Avoiding gimmickry while still forcing the 3D, the way the visuals work is often surprising. Too often it becomes obvious in 2D what the added depth will be, but here, things such as grass and trees truly stick out to add in those all important layers. There is a lot to take in.
This area could begin rattling off a laundry list of films aimed at kids that disappoint in their low-end end power. The genre, for whatever reason, seems consistently afraid to make kids… well, afraid. Then comes Brave and we forget about that trend.
Brave’s first jolt comes from almost nowhere, a super heavy LFE thump as a bear attacks out of nowhere, initiating a brief battle that creates the full scope of this 7.1 environment. Note the disc defaults to 5.1.
This TrueHD mix seems to despise the center channel at times, spreading out dialogue at every turn, capturing fights as they expand from a small scuffle into a mini-war, all while handling the more delicate elements like rain. Objects will clash to the floor, things will be broken, and horses will pan, this combining into an elegant mixture of sounds that don’t miss anything.
If it happens off-screen, it happens in the proper speaker. It’s the most basic of rules. Chases are dazzling examples of positional and tracking effects. Rambunctious triplets scatter around the soundfield. Oh, and the entire finale – probably 10-minutes – is just awe-inspiring. Brave isn’t a Michael Bay blockbuster, but it is expensive and wholly Hollywood. Don’t underestimate this mix.
Are commentaries your thing? Then the cross chat of co-directors Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell, editor Nick Smith, and story supervisor Brian Larsen is probably going to satisfy. Two short films, including one of Pixar’s best in La Luna, are worth watching, the Brave inspired piece Legend of Mor’Du not as much.
A behind-the-scenes section covers eight elements, one of them being extended scenes. Scene breakdowns, studio visits, story development, design processes, etc. It’s all covered, if in an awfully brief package. Most of these are no more than five minutes, and stuff like Clan Pixar could go on for ages. Disney adds some trailers to wrap the disc up.