If there's any animation studio that had been consistent in providing some of the highest quality in family entertainment, it's been Pixar. Their latest installment is the Scottish action/adventure fairytale Brave, which follows the studio's first major disappointment, Cars 2 (and a disappointing Pixar movie is still pretty dang good). However, with an underwhelming trailer not really representing Brave appropriately, it's not much of a surprise that the movie was received with mixed results.
For me, a trailer can make or break my impression of and interest in a movie. So, for Brave, the corny humor highlighted in the trailer, and a distinct lack of details on the movie's plot, made it pretty unappealing to me. It's unfortunate, too, because, like most Pixar films, Brave is a topnotch production. I remember hearing good word-of-mouth about it and I almost didn't want to believe that it was good because I was that disenchanted with the trailers. I mean, really, how is an old man waving his bare bottom beneath his lifted kilt at someone and a big, surly man trying to talk like a woman supposed to make you go "I gotta see that!?" They're cheap laughs. But, while watching Brave, I realized something very important: the trailers lacked because, otherwise, significant nuggets of the film would be spoiled if too many details were given to viewers ahead of time (and there weren't a ton of funny moments to pull from either... and others were too specific to surprise elements of the story). We've all seen film trailers that spoil major plot points or make you feel like you've just watched a Cliff Notes version of the movie in two minutes time, so trailers that leave surprises for watching the actual movie are rarities indeed.
Without spoiling the movie for you, I will say that our hero, a curly red-haired princess named Merida, is a feisty gal who refuses to accept her family's tradition of having an arranged marriage. On top of that, she's a bit of a tomboy and greatly enjoys archery, despite her mother Elinor believing it to be quite unladylike. But the core of Brave--its heart--is a mother/daughter story. Brave is ultimately about that familial bond and how old and new traditions can cause a rift in that bond. Furthermore, a great importance on respect and listening to each other is also placed. But another plot point not really learned ahead of time is that there is a bit of a magical element to it. Merida visits a witch in order to change her fate and the end result is really what sets Merida off on her adventure and life lesson. There are consequences for her decision and they're hardly light ones. The magical element is about on par with most Disney animated features, but I can understand some parents not being too keen with this part of the story. While The Witch proves to be a bit demented and not particularly a very positive character, the magic spell Merida partakes in ends up having its positives and negatives. One can view it as a wholly negative decision on her part, but there is a major positive and lesson that is learned from this hasty mistake. So while The Witch's presence isn't a big part of the movie, it is a big part of the plot.
Brave is a wonderful family film. While it's undoubtedly not a cartoon for little viewers--it earns its PG-rating very, very well--there's a valuable importance placed on family and what literally knits them together. An argument with her mother causes Merida to deface a precious family tapestry that Elinor had made by hand, and it causes a divide between the two. But the pair are soon forced to work out their differences and learn more about each other and their viewpoints that they previously merely butted heads about. The story is reminiscent of those times in a parent/child relationship when the two just can't see eye-to-eye but are eventually forced to one way or another. And this relationship between Merida and Elinor is truly endearing.
It doesn't hurt, either, that the voice of Merida is provided in a charming-yet-spunky way by Kelly Macdonald, and celebrated actress Emma Thompson voices Elinor. The Scotland setting of the film is exquisitely animated and authentically supported by real-life Scots providing voice work for the characters. The animation in Brave is breathtaking; it's truly remarkable. I've seen many animated films over the years, but Pixar has outdone themselves with this movie (You must see this is high definition!). From the moss-covered fields to Merida's bouncy, springy hair (for which the team had to write a new computer program just to create it!), it's all so amazing to watch. And the style that the team brings to all of the individual characters is quite wonderful. The film just has an all-around superb quality to it.
Content-wise, as I said earlier, Brave earns its PG rating with ease. There's quite a bit of violence, even if just done for comical purposes, but there is also a lot of scary and intense imagery. The main villain of the movie is sort of a 'white whale.' The king, and Merida's father, Fergus, longs to hunt down the beastly bear Mor'du who is more monster than animal. The twisted, wretched and frightening-looking creature once took Fergus' leg in an encounter between the two, and the warrior longs to get revenge on the bear. There are also a lot of darkly-lit scenes and a good chunk of the movie that involves another bear, which also presents some more menacing situations. The language is pretty clean, with just one possible "G-d" exclaimed by Merida in frustration (it wasn't listed in the subtitles of the Blu-Ray disc, though). And there's a little bit of crude humor, including some rear nudity. While it's not meant to be sexual or vulgar, just humorous, we see a group of grown mens' bare butts after they stripped off their kilts to tie them together to use as a rope. Later, we see the bare butts of three little boys running around. It's all minor, but still a little surprising to see here.
While Brave may not be Pixar's best movie, it's probably visually their best to date and a great achievement at that. It's a wonderful family film for parents with older children, especially teenagers. Amazingly animated, fantastically voiced, and expertly told, it's a memorable period tale that's a must for fans of Disney movies and Pixar's work.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/11/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
You can pick up Brave in a massive Blu-Ray 3D/2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack or on DVD (5 discs total), in a 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (3 discs total), or at any digital retailer. Along with the Blu-Ray film is a second blu-ray bonus features disc. Surprisingly, there really isn't much on the bonus disc, so I'm not sure why it wasn't squeezed onto the first disc, but it does take fans a little bit deeper into the world of Brave than just the first disc does. However, here's a rundown of what you can expect...
The Legend of Mor'du (6:51) - This is a brand new animated short. In it, The Witch tells the story of the beast Mor'du, with the story being presented in painterly, lightly-animated images (with some creepy imagery). Definitely watch this AFTER seeing the movie Brave. It will spoil some of the movie for you.
La Luna (6:57) - This is a quirky little Pixar short that tells the tale of three generations of "fishermen"--who appear to be Italian--who go to the moon and sweep up glowing stars that land on its surface.
Behind The Scenes: Brave Old World (12:35) - The filmmakers actually visited Scotland to research making the movie that takes place in Scotland. Here, the crew (and even voice actors Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane) talk about the country, the look of it and how it all is crucial to the movie and its story. This featurette also focuses on the real-life Callinish stones that serve as a centerpiece for the magic in the movie. It's a fascinating featurette!
Behind The Scenes: Merida & Elinor (8:24) takes a deeper look into the characters' relationships and what bravery is to them. We also learn about the difficulties the crew had in trying to animate Merida's signature curly, bouncy hair, and they spend some time deconstructing each character's design.
Behind The Scenes: Bears (6:10) focuses on the design of the bears in the movie, all the way down to the smallest detail, and how the filmmakers wanted to offer a different look than previous animated bears.
Behind The Scenes: Brawl In The Hall (5:24) - This one is literally dedicated to the silly brawl that breaks out in the castle hall. We hear about how they designed the fight, how it looks slowed down so you can see the details you might have missed while watching the movie -- and more. We even find out that the director Mark Andrews choreographed the Fergus fight in the beginning of the movie.
Behind The Scenes: Wonder Moss (2:45) - Here we hear from Sets Forest Development artist Inigo Quilez who explains how they used formulas and mathematics to generate the detailed moss you see in the film!
Behind The Scenes: Magic (7:06) - This featurette focuses on the magical element of the tale. They explain that they wanted there to be a sense of magic without actual magic, and therefore looked to Scotland for any legends they may have to incorporate in the film. The blue wisps in the movie are inspired by Scotland's "will-o'-the-wisps" which are actually just caused from swamp gas from the moors being ignited by static electricity, but they seem "alive" if you approach them due to the air you stir up while moving. It's intriguing to learn about this bit of Scottish lore. The featurette then goes on to cover The Witch character and how that affects and drives the story, and it ends with an analysis of the story and the Merida/Elinor relationship.
Behind The Scenes: Clan Pixar (4:46) - This is an incredible look at the talented Pixar team. At first, it seems like it will be pretty serious, but then they show that the team decided to give themselves over to the Scottish traditions and games as ways to de-stress and have fun, honoring the Scottish culture at the same time. So, from Kilt Fridays to sharing haggis ceremonially, it's clear this is one amazing team of artists.
Behind The Scenes: Once Upon A Scene (7:47) - We find out here that there were over 100 deleted scenes for this movie. Here, we see a lot of test, storyboard animation of these concepts and scenes, with one of the crew explaining the different ideas and concepts that had been scrapped. It's definitely worth watching.
Behind The Scenes: Extended Scenes - There are four extended scenes with no Play All option. The first is "Meet The Lords" (3:20), which director Mark Andrews introduces the deleted animation and explains that a scissors icon in the lower left-hand corner of the screen would signal to us which footage was cut out but shown here. What's great to see is that this animation is 100% finished -- something you don't ever really see in animated deleted scenes. This scene is footage cut from Fergus's speech to the Lords when we first see them. "Triplets' Distraction" (3:20) is the full, unedited sequence where the triplets help distract Fergus from seeing the bear. "The Ruins" (4:20) is introduced by Andrews as having been toned down from its original edit. Test audiences had found it to be TOO scary. This is the first of the extended scenes to include a few frames of unfinished CG animation. "Blockade" (1:34) features unused and unfinished animation of the fighting that surrounded Merida and the bear when they return to the castle... instead of the fighting just being inside the castle.
DISC TWO Bonus Features:
Fergus & Mor'du: An Alternate Opening (2:40) - Andrews introduces the alternate opening that sets up the story of Fergus hunting Mor'du. It's unfinished animation in various forms -- some terribly early and some almost finished.
Fallen Warriors (2:08) - Andrews introduces this as a montage of animated footage from throughout various points in the movie that had been cut for time or other reasons.
Dirty Hairy People (3:33) is a featurette dedicated to the design of the "extras" drawn in the background of many scenes. They also show here how cloths and materials reacted to dirt and wear.
It Is English... Sort Of (3:50) - Cast and crew talk in depth about the accents in the movie from the real Scottish actors and what went into capturing the authenticity of it.
Angus (3:25) is dedicated to Merida's personal horse, Angus, and how they studied for his design.
The Tapestry (3:56) takes a closer look at the family tapestry we see in the movie. It's daunting to see how much detail went into making the cloth and how they even had to design software to show the individual threads that make up the iconic cloth piece for the movie.
Promotional Pieces - These are a series of promotional pieces, including trailers (Three of them: USA, Japan and UK) and other unique items. The "Feast Yer Eyes Montage" (3:40) shows footage not used in the movie but seem to have been made for other possible uses (like leading up to or returning from commercial breaks on TV?)... but we see them here all together. It's pretty cute (The best moments are Fergus breaking the TV screen and Angus fogging up the screen with steam from his nose). "Relics" (1:09) features the Lords talking about the relics that represent their clans. "Clan Dun Broch" (1:10) features Fergus and Merida talking about the Clan Dun Broch as a history lesson while they spar with swords. "Launch" (0:29) show the triplets using a bow to steal biscuits from Maudie. Finally, "Flying Guts Theater" (0:59) has Elinor telling a story about Fergus with the triplets acting it out.
Art Gallery is an interactive art gallery featuring "Characters" (178 photos), "Color Keys" (95 photos), "Development Art" (96 photos), "Environments" (65 photos) and "Graphics" (37 photos) with music playing and an array of options you can use while viewing pictures, including saving favorites. It's pretty extensive!
Easter Egg: Renaissance Animation Man (1:30) - This is an easter egg about the crew reflecting on director Mark Andrews. To find it, highlight "Bonus Features" and push down once on the directional arrows on your controller once and then to the left once and a symbol will illuminate to the left!
Easter Egg: Wee Gaffes - Sometimes Computers Make Mistakes (1:08) - If you highlight "Subtitles" and push down once and then right once, another symbol will illuminate. This is a short technical animation blooper reel!
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/11/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Elinor objects to Fergus giving Merida a bow for her birthday and says "she's a lady!" and he pinches or slaps Elinor's butt, causing her to go "Woo!" and Fergus laughs; Maudie shows a great deal of cleavage in her outfit; An old man flashes his apparently bare butt in his kilt as a taunt, saying "Feast your eyes on this!" (We don't see what they see); We see several mens' totally bare butt cheeks after they've used their kilts to climb down a wall; Maudie puts a key down her cleavage; A little bear does a dive into Maudie's cleavage (we don't see the impact or what happens afterward); SPOILER ALERT: We see a woman in just a tapestry and she tells someone that she's "naked - Naked as a wee babby." Then we see three bare-bottomed little boys running around.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 possible "G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: Some possible drinking at a banquet.
Blood/Gore: During a brawl, we see teeth fly out of a man's mouth when he's struck in the head with cymbals.
Violence: A bear attacks the camp and Fergus charges it with a spear. It then swipes his spear in half and he exclaims "C'mon!" and it opens its mouth toward the screen as it goes black; We see Fergus training soldiers with a peg leg and then we hear he lost it from that bear; A bird attacks Fergus (played for laughs); Angus the horse hits Merida in the face with his tail; Fergus tells the little ones the story of how he lost his leg; Fergus accidentally knocks over the banquet table; During the telling of a story from Elinor, we see a man with flames around him as he holds two axes; The little boys use an ax to cut off a man's mustache; A man leaps and bites another man which causes a room to break out in a big, violent brawl: lots of punches, throwing, hitting each other with objects, etc. We even see teeth fly out of a man's mouth when he's hit in the face; During the games, a man tosses a log which lands on another man's foot; A man is hit in the head by a flying ball during a game; We see children hitting a creepy looking bear pinata; Two characters roughly elbow each other; A warrior angrily beats his bow on the ground after missing; Merida slashes a family tapestry with a sword and Elinor responds by throwing her bow in a fire; Angus stops short, throwing Merida from his back; The Witch hits a crow with broom; The Witch yells for Merida to leave and causes a large number of knives and sharp items to hover in her direction before dropping them to the floor; The Witch backhands the crow off a table; Fergus shoots an arrow at a stuffed bear and hits it in the nose and then hits it in the head with an ax; SPOILER ALERT: Elinor rolls off her bed and stands up as a bear; A bear runs around a room, trashing it. It then roars menacingly in Merida's face; Fergus holds his sword to Maudie's throat by accident; A booby trap in a doorway causes a butcher knife to fly into the door; Merida pours a bunch of potions into a cauldron and it explodes; We see a bear suddenly violently eating fish; A bear menacingly approaches Merida and almost attacks her; Merida falls through the ground into a chamber where we see lots of bones from dead soldiers and such; Mor'du attacks Merida and she shoots arrows at him. He then pursues her; We see three clans shooting arrows at each other as they threaten each other; Fergus attacks a bear that then attacks back, throwing him against a wall; Merida attacks a door with a poker trying to open it. She then shatters a window; Maudie runs away screaming and runs into a wall and then continues running and screaming; A mob lead by Fergus shoots arrows at a bear they're pursuing; The mob rope the bear and hold it down. Fergus raises his sword to kill it but an arrow from Merida knocks the weapon out of his hands. Merida then fights Fergus back and holds him off with a sword. Mor'du shows up and the mob attacks it, and he knocks Fergus down. Another bear then attacks Mor'du and the two bears fight until a large stone is knocked on top of Mor'du, killing it.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.