Brave is the long-awaited first “fairy tale” from Pixar Animation Studios. The film features everything you would want in an animated fairy tale: a princess, a magic spell and a far away land. However, despite its beautiful imagery and breathtaking animation, the story falls short from being a masterpiece.
The Film: ★★★ ½
Brave tells the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a feisty red-headed princess in medieval Scotland who would rather be exploring the mossy highlands than be cooped up in the castle with her overbearing mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson). When Queen Elinor and King Fergus (Billy Connolly) invite the three local clans to the kingdom so their sons can compete for Merida’s hand, Merida rebels and runs away. Deep in the woods, Merida meets a witch who brews a potion that will change Merida’s fate forever.
Before Brave was released, I had really high hopes for it. The story had been years in the making under a previous title The Bear and the Bow and had been hyped up by Pixar fans. After I saw it in theatres, I was immediately enraptured with the film and sang high praises to everyone who would listen (saying the film was a “grand slam”). However, I became a bit disconcerted because within a few days, my opinion changed. I would think back on the film and realize more and more that I was unimpressed with the story. My original rating of 4.5 stars dropped to 4 stars, and today—after having watched the film again months later—I place the film at a less spectacular 3.5 stars.
Where did Pixar go wrong? It’s hard to tell. Internal issues may be to balm: Mark Andrews replaced the film’s original director, Brenda Chapman, just over a year before the film was released. It’s unsure whether Chapman’s original vision would have made the better film; nonetheless, the film feels disconnected and incomplete. That being said, Andrews did a wonderful job with what he had (a la Brad Bird in Ratatouille).
The story isn’t entirely unique and feels like it’s a conglomerate of a few animated films we’ve seen over the years. The characters are strong, fun, and richly designed. And I especially loved the over-the-top manliness of Fergus and the clan leaders. Merida’s triplet brothers are a riot and Elinor herself grows on you.
Pixar has always pushed the limits of animation technology and Brave is another exhibit of that. The animation is breathtaking. The highlight and talking point is Merida’s springy, curly red hair, which mesmerizes viewers as it moves and bounces across the screen. The Scottish scenery is spectacular and feels very lush and real. The film overall is a beautiful and technical masterpiece (which has come to be expected of all Pixar films), but it’s not enough to overcome its weak story in the 2nd and 3rd act.
The Features: ★★★★½
I received a review copy of the Brave five-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition. And boy oh boy, is this thing loaded! The features are any animation, film or Pixar fan’s dream. Disney/Pixar has always been good about making the Pixar releases jam packed with goodies, but the amount on this baby is overwhelming (in a good way). Be prepared for hours and hours of fun in front of your TV.
The most dense and rich feature, in my opinion, was the audio commentary with director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen, and editor Nick Smith (sad to see Brenda missing from this). There’s never a dull moment during the discussion as the four spout off trivia, information and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from production. Be prepared to geek out.
The featurettes include: “Brave New World, which details the pre-production scouting trip the crew took to Scotland; “Merida and Elinor”, where Chapman discusses how Brave originated from her relationship with her daughter; “Bears” and “Wonder Moss” talk about—you guessed it—bears and moss.
Other features include four extended scenes, an alternate opening, and deleted scenes. Also, don’t forget the whimsical short La Luna and the new Brave-related short The Legend of Mor’du.
Brave is a decent film, but is not one of Pixar’s best. It was exciting to watch the first time around, but upon a second viewing the novelty and hype wore off and it didn’t have much substance to hold my attention.
If you have no intentions on watching the special features, then rent it. Brave is worth seeing at least once. That being said, the impressive collection of making-of features pushes Brave over the top to “buy-it” status.
Brave is available November 13, 2012. Buy it on Amazon here!
Rent/Skip/Buy It: Buy It.