Sequels aside, all of Pixar’s animated films feature settings and stories that are noticeably different. There are, unquestionably, similarities in theme, and watching them there is a certain undefineable Pixar-ness to their feel, but they are all unique. Pixar’s latest, 2012’s Brave, takes place in the Highlands of Scotland and tells the timeless story of a teenage girl butting heads with her mother. With the addition of magic and mighty bears and warrior clans, the stakes are greater than in your average 21st Century home where parents and children butt heads constantly, but once the trappings are stripped away, the mother-daughter story is what’s left.
The daughter, and main focus of the film, is Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). She is a teenager and eldest child of the chief of one of the four local clans. Merida, according to custom, is being required to marry a chief’s son from one of the other clans. A strong, independent young woman, Merida wants nothing to do with any sort of wedding and attempts to thwart her parents’ plans.
On the other side of things are Merida’s parents, Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson). Fergus is more of a laissez-faire dad when it comes to what’s “proper,” and doesn’t mind his daughter learning to shoot a bow or wield a sword. Not so Elinor, Elinor is far more traditional, and expects her daughter to marry and do what is proper. To be clear, Elinor isn’t in any way a passive woman, nor does she expect her daughter to sit back and do what her future husband says. No, Elinor is a strong woman who fights tooth and nail for her family and way of life. Elinor may not want to give Merida a choice about her future position, but Elinor still fully expects Merida to control her family and her people’s future.
Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (Steve Purcell is a co-director), Brave succeeds because all that beautiful animation acts in service of a compelling story. Daughters rebelling against parents isn’t a new thing, it isn’t even new for a Disney movie (Aladdin and The Little Mermaid instantly spring to mind and I’m sure that thinking about it for a few minutes more would bring more), but by altering the location from what we normally see and imbuing their characters with a whole lot of heart, Pixar has made this one feel different, but still universal.
At this point, it becomes difficult to discuss any of the plot. The film takes a serious twist and a turn or two and revealing any of what comes next could very well jeopardize one’s wonder at watching it for the first time. I will say this – there’s a big old bear, a witch, and more than a little fighting. It is a rollicking good time, and while more kid friendly than many a Pixar film, it isn’t G rated.
Brave is, however, carried off with the usual Pixar panache. The film is completely gorgeous and looks utterly spectacular here on Blu-ray. The hours that had to go into Merida’s red locks of hair are something I dare not contemplate. Additionally, a tapestry which figures significantly in the film is truly beautiful. The colors are as vibrant and alive as the characters and details are plentiful. But, Pixar’s genius extends beyond their ability to generate incredible computer animation. That they do beyond a shadow of a doubt, but if they weren’t phenomenal storytellers, all the computer animation in the world wouldn’t make a difference. That being said, the fact that it looks so incredibly great on Blu-ray doesn’t hurt.
The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio tracks is, as well, a wonderful creation. Here, as with the video, people will find that Pixar has once again outdone themselves. The sound field fully immerses the viewer (listener?) in the highlands of Scotland, and when bears roar younger members of the audience may swear that the animals are there in the room with them. They probably won’t duck as swords swing or children catapult themselves, but everyone will like how it sounds. The music is sweeping and majestic, the dialogue crisp, and the effects precise. It is a great track.
Another thing Pixar excels at is providing behind the scenes looks at how their movies are made. The film is available in a number of flavors on Blu-ray, including the five-disc “Ultimate Collector’s Edition.” This bad boy sports a 3D version of the film as well as a traditional blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. The fifth disc, also a blu-ray, contains a load of special features. Rather than put everything together into a single full-length behind-the-scenes piece, things here are spread out over a myriad of smaller pieces. The titles of the various pieces may not make it completely clear what the featurette will contain, but you can be assured that it will be wholly engrossing. Two shorts—La Luna and The Legend of Mor’du—are also included.
There is an art to storytelling, and it is one that Pixar has mastered. Perhaps more impressive than the fact that they are able to tell such great stories is that they do so on such a consistent basis. They have had some misfires, but Brave isn’t one of them. As a warning, as with other Pixar films, the youngest members of the viewing audience will be scared from time to time. That caveat aside, virtually everyone in the family will thoroughly enjoy themselves with Brave.