Director : Co- Steve Purcell
Screenplay : Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi (story by Brenda Chapman)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2012
Stars : Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Billy Connolly (Fergus), Emma Thompson (Elinor), Julie Walters (The Witch), Robbie Coltrane (Lord Dingwall), Kevin McKidd (Lord MacGuffin / Young MacGuffin), Craig Ferguson (Lord Macintosh), Sally Kinghorn (Maudie), Eilidh Fraser (Maudie), Peigi Barker (Young Merida), Steven Cree (Young Macintosh), Steve Purcell (The Crow), Callum O’Neill (Wee Dingwall), Patrick Doyle (Martin), John Ratzenberger (Gordon)
One of the rare pleasures of modern cinema is discovering that a movie you thought you knew when you walked into the theater is actually something completely different. With the industry’s (over)reliance on pre-selling every aspect of major movie events, flooding us for months with increasingly revelatory trailers, television spots, online promotions, and the like, it is truly an exception for a movie to escape the clutches of its own advertising and become something more than what the ad campaign has promised. Pixar’s Brave, much to my surprise, turned out to be such a movie.
If you followed any of the news and advertising surrounding Brave, you will no doubt know that it is the first Pixar film to feature a female protagonist, thus shattering what had, until now, been exclusively a boy’s club (which also extends to the director’s chair, as all Pixar films, from Toy Story, to Finding Nemo, to WALL•E, have been helmed by men). The film centers on Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a feisty medieval Scottish princess whose personality is aptly literalized by her shock of wild, unruly red hair, which cascades all around her in disordered, unbrushable waves and curls (her locks are like a pointed rebuke to Rapunzel’s perfectly conditioned mane in Disney’s misleadingly titled Tangled a few years back). Merida prizes her freedom and resents the constant attempts by her dignified mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), to shape her into a “proper” princess by quelling her boisterousness, independence, and fierce love of archery (“A princess should not have weapons,” she is told, among other things).
Things comes to a head when Elinor, following custom, forces Merida into a constrictive gown and offers her up as the potential wife for one of three goofy suitors, each of whom hails from a different clan. Merida doesn’t much like being auctioned off, whether it be for political gain or just to maintain tradition, and she rebels, riding off into the forest, at which point Brave launches off into an entirely different and unexpected direction, one that is substantially better than the rather predictable, albeit visually stunning, opening reel (as well as Pixar’s last effort, Cars 2, the closest approximation of a bad movie the studio has yet to produce).
(Those who want to remain in the dark regarding the film’s second half should duck out now, as reading about the film’s subsequent developments might seriously undermine its pleasurably wacky, but emotionally rewarding detours.)
In the woods, Merida is led by a will-o’-the-wisp to the house of an elderly witch (Julie Walters), from whom she purchases a spell to “change” her mother in the hopes that she will drop her insistence on Merida’s impending nuptials. The spell does change her mother, but not in the way she expected. Instead of causing her to change her mind, it instead changes her physically into a towering grizzly bear. The singular weirdness of this unexpected development is at first played for laughs, as Elinor, ever the proper queen, has an extraordinarily difficult time adjusting to her new body—not just the enormous size, but also her inability to speak except in bearish grunts, moans, and roars. Things are infinitely complicated by the fact that Merida’s enormous father, Fergus (Billy Connolly), lost his leg to a giant bear when Merida was a child and has been seeking revenge ever since. Thus, Merida must keep her parents separated while trying to find the witch in order to return her mother to human form (to keep things ramped up, she has a two-day window to reverse the spell, or else it becomes permanent).
Screenwriters Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi (working from an original story by Chapman, who was also the film’s original director before she was booted from the production over creative differences) use the film’s magical turn of events to shift its focus from a rather pedestrian rehashing of familiar Disney tropes about young princess rebellion (replete with rather insipid Celtic-themed pop tunes that feel like the very epitome of cinematic laziness) into a genuinely moving exploration of a complex mother-daughter relationship, one that is both vexed and enhanced by the fact that both Merida and Elinor are strong, determined women. The animators do wonders with anthropomorphism by cleverly grafting human emotions onto a bear’s face and body movements without losing their essentially animal-like nature; Elinor’s humanity shines through her eyes, which are often wide and pleading, an atypical emotion for the usually stately and decorous queen.
The story’s emotional suspense hinges on the threat of Elinor disappearing completely into her animal body, and the subtle shifts in the human/bear dynamic are one of the film’s most enthralling and poignant attributes. The scene in which Elinor the bear attempts to set up and have a proper breakfast with Merida is both hilarious in its disastrousness but also indelibly sad, as we recognize the pain Elinor feels in being unable to express herself in her animal body. Just as Merida has latched onto tomboyishness and independence as her mode of self-expression, Elinor clings to her dignity and poise, both of which she is now denied. That the film is able to take the very characteristics of her mother that were at first impediments to Merida’s happiness and turn them into attributes we yearn for her mother to reclaim is testament to how surprisingly complex and moving Brave really is.
|Brave Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-Ray 3D + Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy)|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 13, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Brave is presented on Blu-Ray in a pristine 1080p/AVC-encoded image that is absolutely spectacular. Right in line with Pixar’s other high-definition releases, both the image and sound on Brave are reference-quality. The picture is sharp, beautifully detailed, and impressively textured, from the rough surfaces of Fergus’s clothing, to the glowing will-o’-the-wisps, to Merida’s wonderfully tangled mane of red hair, which is so realistic you feel like you could reach out and grab a handful. The 3D presentation on the Blu-Ray 3D is also extremely impressive, creating a real sense of depth that heightens the film’s narrative immersion, rather than simply catching your attention with depth-cue gimmicks. The image is slightly darkened by the 3D, but it still retains a nice sense of vibrancy and the darker scenes don’t descend into murkiness. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is a fully immersive mix, making great use of the multiple surround channels for effects both overwhelming (Mor’du’s wall-rattling roar, for example) and subtle (the nuanced natural sounds of the forest).|
|The extensive nature of the supplements on Brave is such that the extras are spread across two Blu-Ray discs, thus allowing for maximum bitrate on the film itself. The first disc includes an enjoyable and informative audio commentary by director Mark Andrews (the film’s original director, Brenda Chapman, who was removed from the film, is obviously not included on the commentary, although she is consistently present in many of the featurettes). There are also two short films: La Luna, the charming short that preceded Brave during its theatrical release, and The Legend of Mor’du, a new animated short that goes into the legend behind Mordu as told by the witch who transformed him. There are also eight behind-the-scenes featurettes: “Brave Old World,” which follows the film’s production team as they research the land, culture, people, and dialects of Scotland; “Merida & Elinor,” which shows how the animators used contrasting character designs to enhance the relationship between the mother and daughter; “Bears,” which is about the designing and animating of the film’s various bear characters; “Brawl in the Hall,” which is about the animation of the dining hall fight sequence; “Wonder Moss,” which shows how the artists incorporated research on the natural elements of the Scottish countryside into their animation; “Magic,” which is about the various Scottish legends, such as will-o’-the-wisps, that were incorporated into the story; “Clan Pixar,” an amusing look at how the Pixar team embraced Scottish culture (including the cooking of haggis and “Kilt Fridays”) during the film’s production; “Once Upon a Scene,” which examines the evolution of the storylines, including alternate openings to the film and many deleted scenes. |
The second disc contains more than a dozen additional supplements, beginning with material that was cut from the film: “Fergus & Mor’du,” an alternate opening that is narrated by Mark Andrews, and “Fallen Warriors Montage,” a video montage of deleted shots in various stages of completion also narrated by Andrews. There are also several additional featurettes: “Dirty Hairy People,” which focuses on the design of the hair, attire, and, well, dirtiness of the film’s rougher Scottish characters; “It is English ... Sort Of,” in which the film’s Scottish actors discuss the dialect and more Scottish lines in the film, many of which they contributed; “Angus,” a featurette about Merida’s Clydesdale; “The Tapestry,” which tells the story behind the film’s lovingly crafted symbol; and “Renaissance Animation Man,” which focuses on director Mark Andrews’ various loves and obsessions. Also on the second disc is a gallery of promotion clips for Brave; an art gallery showcasing characters, sets, scenes and landscapes; a video montage of simulation, animation, and shot bloopers; and several teaser trailers.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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