Hawkeye! Katniss! Merida! Some will remember 2012 as the year archers shot an arrow through Hollywood’s creative heart. And yet, Brave likely is the only one that brought a tear to our eyes, as well. Here’s why.
Someone recently made this analogy – I can’t lay claim to it, but it’s so accurate, it bears repeating (no pun intended). They said that in 2012, Walt Disney made a stellar Pixar feature in Wreck-It Ralph, and Pixar made a vintage Walt Disney feature with Brave.
Flipping the script on the tried-and-true “Disney Princess” approach to storytelling, the empowered Brave introduces courageous, free-spirited Scottish lass Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a princess in waiting who’d rather ride horses and shoot arrows at targets than be handed over to a clown prince chosen by her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Instead of wishing on a star for her one true love, the wily Merida makes a deal with a forest witch…which does something drastic to the mother-daughter bond explored through director Mark Andrews’ effort.
That’s a reason to celebrate Brave, for sure. Given Disney’s penchant for killing off parents (particularly moms), I was pleasantly surprised to see such a healthy relationship between Merida and her parents. She and Elinor may butt heads, but the conflict at the heart of Brave is familiar, and as accurate as an arrow puncturing a bullseye.
One issue with Brave, however, might be that audiences turning out for the next Toy Story were surprised – and possibly a little let down – with what amounts to the next Tangled or The Princess and the Frog. Brave is a mistaken identity fairy tale with a headstrong, female protagonist (yay!) but a gimmicky twist that took far too many audience members out of the story. For the record, the twist – which I won’t discuss here – didn’t bother me. And in fact, the transition (for lack of a better word) led to one of the most emotional scenes you are going to see in any film – animated or otherwise – from this year. The only hint I can give you is that it involves a hug administered at sunrise.
But there’s no denying that Brave lingers in place for far too long as Andrews and his screenwriters wait to reach their sentimental conclusion. The lack of memorable supporting characters outside of Merida might contribute to the film’s flimsy second act; usually in these runtime-extending moments, a humorous sidekick helps pick up the slack. So while the inclusion of a female protagonist at the head of a Pixar feature sounds revolutionary, the execution in Brave -- despite a few emotional tweaks – is not.
Disney and Pixar have given fans several options when it comes to bringing Brave home, from the basic single-disc DVD to the tricked-out, 5-disc Blu-ray (complete with a spiffy holographic cover). It’s the latter that arrived on our doorstep, so we’ll focus on the bells and whistles included in that release.
For starters, the set comes with a Blu-ray/3D version of the film, which is becoming more common with home-video releases. The studios appear confident that consumers soon will be converting their home-entertainment systems to 3D. Yet with the average price of a 3D-capable television set still hovering north of $1,000, it’s hard to believe that many people are pulling the trigger on 3D rigs (and compatible Blu-ray players). If you are one of the lucky, however, the disc you’ll need is part of this set.
The rest of us likely will be popping in the Brave Blu-ray, which does suffer a darker conversion than I expected in too many of its scenes. Animation usually translates extremely well to Blu-ray. But Brave looks much darker than I remember from the theater (where I viewed it through 3D glasses), particularly in the Scottish castles and haunting forests that house most of the film’s action. The reds on Merida’s flowing locks counterbalance some of the film’s visual shadows, but the grey tint is hard to shake.
Thankfully, the extras crammed onto discs one and two of the Blu-ray set more than justify the purchase. Two short films are part of the packaging: The whimsical La Luna, which screened ahead of Brave in theaters with all of its star-sweeping glories; and The Legend of Mordu, which extends the legacy of the beastly bear bounding through Pixar’s film.
Andrews and members of his team contribute an insightful and comprehensive Brave breakdown on the film’s commentary track. Eight behind-the-scenes featurettes explore everything from the family relationships in the script (“Elinor & Merida”) and the design of the bears to the fluid motion techniques of the warring Scottish tribes (“Brawl in the Hall”). There’s even a segment on the creation of the animated moss that populates the movie’s background. Yes, the Brave Blu-ray is that extensive when it comes to promotional materials.
Those interested in the progression of the narrative will be more interested in the alternate opening – which shows Fergus losing his leg to Mordu in a snowy battle – and the four extended cuts on pre-existing scenes. From there, skip through such short but fun segments as “Fallen Warriors” (or deleted scenes), “Dirty Hairy People”, “It is English … Sort Of” (on the language translation), “The Tapestry” and “Angus”, about Merida’s trusty horse.
The five-disc set does round out with comprehensive presentations of the film on standard DVD and a digital copy, for your portable devices.
Reviewed By: Sean O'Connell