Brave (Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD) Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 11.13.2012
Pixar's latest takes you to the Scottish Highlands with their first ever female protagonist in Princess Merida. Jeffrey Harris checks in with his review of the 5-disc 3D combo pack release of the movie.
Taken from my theatrical review of the movie earlier this year.
Pixar in their latest animated feature takes a trip to the Scottish Highlands with Brave. Brave features a unique an lavish setting for an animated feature as well as a strong, and unique heroine, that’s right heroine as the protagonist of the story is the fiercely independent, strong-willed, and tomboyish Merida (Kelly Macdonald). Merida is the princess of DunBroch ruled by her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly). While Merida’s strict and stern mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) wants to mold Merida in the image of a perfect princess and prepare her for the ceremony a suitor will be chosen for Merida to marry. The suitors are the sons of neighboring lords of the kingdom: Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), and Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd). Of course Merida who likes to spend most of her time practicing up her exceptional archery skills in the forest and climbing mountains and is not at all interested in being married off just yet especially to the rather unkempt and unattractive sons of the lords.
Merida attempts a little bit of subterfuge by choosing archery as the competition which will determine her future suitor and opts to compete in it herself being the first born of her own clan. While Merida easily shows that she has the finest archery in the land, her mother is none too pleased that Merida is not wanting to live up to her lofty expectations. Merida gets furious and wrecks a hand-knit family portrait tapestry her mother made and runs away. She encounters a wood carving witch (Julie Walters), and Merida convinces the witch to conjure a spell that will “change” Queen Elinor so Merida will not have to get married anymore. The spell is made in the form of a cake which Merida gets Elinor to eat, but it changes Elinor by turning her into a freaking bear. And this isn’t a human talking bear, a 100% bear-speaking bear. And Merida’s father being a famous bear hunter and killer, it’s not the best idea to keep Elinor around the castle. So Merida and her now bear mother must try and figure out how to break the spell before Elinor is stuck as a witch forever.
I think what keeps Brave from ascending the heights of previous Pixar efforts is that it has some definite story and pacing issues. For whatever reason, the transformation element was some closely guarded secret in the ad campaign for the movie which you would think by watching the trailers and TV spots, Brave is a completely different movie like perhaps Merida’s actions at the archery challenge cause all out war between the Scottish clans. The transformation story itself is a little hackneyed. We’ve seen this done in dozens of both animated and live action flicks before and it’s not executed well. Merida wishes to “change” her mother. Well why doesn’t she just wish for her mother to make her not have to marry a suitor or wish to just not have to marry a suitor at all? Of course because then there isn’t a movie, but the journey to get the spell put on Queen Elinor is rather contrived. It comes off like there were a few different story concepts and ideas for this movie that didn’t really come together. The witch character is almost treated as an after-thought and while the character provides a lot of energy and humor in her small amount of scenes, it almost comes off tacked on or perhaps incredibly whittled down.
Now if you look at the history of Pixar films, this would not necessarily be the first time something like this happened. If you go onto the DVD extras for Monsters’ Inc. you can see how different the movie was conceptually to the final product. Movies like Finding Nemo also went through dramatic changes before it was released as did Ratatouille which didn’t even begin with Brad Bird as the director. I think in the case of Brave there is a much better movie that didn’t really come through and I think that might be a result of having three directors credited as well as multiple screenwriters. In this case, the movie probably really needed a stronger, more singular vision. Nothing is bad here, but the story element with the Lords and the potential upheaval of Merida’s decision never really comes together.
That being said in terms of visuals and 3D presentation the movie looks fantastic. All the characters are nicely designed. Merida’s flowing red locks are an amazing, signature characteristic and looks great onscreen. The action and fights are also amazingly done and it’s nice to see clashing swords and bow and arrow fighting onscreen in this type of animation. The settings and location of Scotland and the visual references to things like Stonehenge are beautifully rendered. I love folklore so I really enjoyed how the will-o-the-wisps were incorporated.
All the lead characters are fun, likeable, and entertaining despite the plot’s shortcomings. I think Merida’s wicked, mischievous little brothers (Harris, Hubert, Hamish) could’ve used a little more screen time but they are fun little comedy act. I especially would’ve liked to have seen the plot exploit more of their own transformation into bear cubs. Connolly's King Fergus and the lords are all big forces of nature and all their scenes are fun to watch. Overall, there is a still a lot to like here and there will probably be something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
The Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0
The Blu-ray version of the movie is presented in 1080p High Definition in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray transfer looks great, vibrant, and incredibly crisp and clear. The visuals and landscapes for the movie look great. It’s an amazing type of setting you really see done in animation. Merida is a striking figure for the movie and the visualization of her spirit through her fiery red hair is fantastic.
The Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
Audio is presented in 5.1 surround sound for the English, Spanish, and French language tracks. Optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are also available. The main disc is also packed with an English 7.1 TrueHD track if you have this setup. The sound mix is great especially for Patrick Doyle’s original score which fits right in with the period and setting.
The Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
The Packaging & Extras
The Ultimate Collector’s Edition/3D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for Brave consists of a 5-disc set. A whole disc is dedicated to the 3D Blu-ray version of the movie for your 3D TV’s. The main Blu-ray disc has the feature, two short films, and a host of extras. There’s an additional disc consisting of just special features. And the final two discs are the DVD version of the movie and also a digital copy disc for your computer and mobile devices. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition is packaged in a translucent blue plastic clamshell style case. The slip cover cover has a metallic silver border and also a lenticular cover image of the movie poster on the front featuring Merida. Here’s an overlook for the special features for the movie:
La Luna Short Film
The Legend of Mordu Short Film
Brave Old World
Merida & Elinor
Brawl in The Hall
Once Upon a Scene
Dirty Hairy People
It is English…Sort Of
You definitely get your money’s worth of extras for this release. Besides a good deal of special features on the main Blu-ray disc (audio commentary and shorts are included on the DVD disc) you get a whole second disc of additional extras.
The Audio Commentary for the release features director and writer Mark Andrews, co-director/writer/and voice of the crow Steve Purcell, and editor Nick Smith. I always enjoy listening to tracks with the Pixar creative team and this is no exception. Noticeably absent is female director credited on the movie, Brenda Chapman. The troubles the movie faced during production are not addressed. The filmmakers do provide anecdotes on changes in the story and how it evolved over time. I think there was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen for this story and a time where having a Pixar brain trust around might’ve worked to the detriment of the movie rather than the benefit to a certain degree.
The delightful short La Luna which played with the movie in theaters is also included for the release. Also a new supplementary short to the movie is also included with The Legend of Mordu. This gives some further backstory to the Mordu tale referenced in the movie and how Mordu became a demon bear. It’s told mostly with 2D, tapestry-like images but it works really well and its bookended by scenes with Julie Walters’ witch.
We get a good deal of deleted footage with the Extended Scenes and Alternate Opening features. Nothing really mind-blowing was cut from the film. What’s neat about the footage though is a lot of it was animated, though not all completely finished. Usually deleted scenes for animated films are seldom put to animation and are usually only assembled in an animatic form, or storyboards edited together with some voices and some maybe temp sound FX and music. The Alternate Opening features a one-on-one confrontation between King Fergus and Mordu which was later changed to include young Merida, Elinor, and the Wisps which did work a lot better.
There is a boatload of mini-featurettes centered on the making of the movie as well. They are too numerous to mention, but they do a good job of showing how resourceful and industrious the Pixar team are in their research in setting out for a production such as this. Brenda Chapman thankfully gets some presence and interviews for the featurettes. It was interesting to see the Pixar team doing live sword fights and battle choreography work for reference for the animation. There is some hints at lost story angles in that there was the idea that Merida was attracted to the son of Lord MacGuffin, which the movie didn't really need but was interesting to see they explored early on.
The Promotional Pieces feature the trailers for the movie as well as TV segments Disney used to promote the movie on their TV networks. The promotional pieces have a few cute pieces of story and comedy not seen in the movie with the triplets and the other Scottish lords that are a lot of fun. A comprehensive Art Gallery for the movie rounds out the extras.
I think what the special features are missing though is the lack of a play all feature for many of them. As a result, the navigation for the extras is rather clunky. Overall though, if you are an animation and Pixar enthusiast, you will likely be happy as a clam here.
The Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
The 411: Brave is a still a strong, if somewhat underwhelming, film from the folks at Pixar. The plot in many ways is a little derivative and just lacks that extra polish, substance, and emotional resonance that made the films of the Toy Story franchise, Monsters' Inc., Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and WALL*E so satisfying. Overall, Brave is still very good and entertaining family fare with a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. The Ultimate Collector's Edition combo-pack release is loaded with supplementary material and the most exceptional presentation options available for the film as well.