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If Brave were to be released by any studio other than Pixar, it would be considered a rousing success. Unfortunately, it does fall under the Pixar banner, and as such, there are certain expectations in place. Expectations that simply aren’t met by this ambitiously animated but surprisingly bland story.
Much has been made of the many firsts associated with this film. Brave is Pixar’s first fairy tale, first female heroine, and first protagonist with two living parents. In trying to check off all of these firsts however, it appears that they forgot to tell a story worthy of their ambitions. Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire) stars as Merida, daughter to the rambunctious king and “proper” queen of a Scottish kingdom. Her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) believes that she should live her life as “a lady”, forsaking her passions for archery and the outdoors in order to follow tradition and marry a suitor to be determined through competition.
Of course, being a fairytale in the Disney vein, Merida comes across a witch who grants her a wish. In this case, that wish being to change her fate. It’s a rather vague request, but Merida seems convinced that it will simply change her mother’s mind about her getting married. I won’t give away what actually happens, but a transformation occurs that will forever impact the bond between mother and daughter.
It’s not that this is a bad movie. Far from it. However, it doesn’t feel as special as most of their previous works. This is despite the beautiful Scottish scenery, with textures and details surpassing anything they have ever done before. The problems with the film are all within the story. While there is the one twist I won’t mention, everything still feels very routine. The narrative moves forward exactly as one would expect, and that’s the problem. I just couldn’t get fully invested in the story as there was nothing particularly noteworthy to pull me in. I found myself consistantly wowed by the technical aspects of the film, and completely bored with the film itself.
There is a tonal inconsistency in the film that I found rather surprising. The level of realism to the world feels wasted when populated by over-the-top caricatures involved in slapstick gags worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon. The filmmakers try to capture the majesty and awe of the Scottish landscape and the myths of the region, and then inter-cut these moments with pratfalls and obvious sermonizing. There is a lot of heavy-handed talk about fate and being your own person, but it really doesn’t amount to much without the story to support these ideas.
Having said all that, the recently released Blu-Ray is phenomenal, as expected. It’s almost a guarantee that Pixar will release an amazing Bu-Ray disc to support their film, and this is no exception. The multi-disc set comes with a Blu-Ray in 3d, the standard Blu-Ray, the Blu-Ray bonus disc, the DVD and a digital copy.
Of course, the best way to watch the film is in 3D, and once again, they have created an amazingly immersive experience. With nature and magic playing such integral roles in the film, the 3D really enhances the beauty of each. It’s haunting to be immersed in the world of the film, surrounded by the beauty of the Scottish landscape. The Wisps, magical creatures that guide Merida’s path, seem to invite the viewer on Merida’s journey as they are guiding her towards her destiny. There are also several rather intense sequences involving Mordu, a legenday bear that ripped off Merida’s father’s leg. The 3D is so immersive in these sequences that it is impossible to look away.
This collection also has an extensive amount of extras, far more than can be taken in in one sitting. I feel like I literally know everything there is to know about the process it took to get this film to screen, along with what the experience of working at Pixar must be like. The analysis is so detailed and so thorough, it really helps bring into perspective the thought process behind each decision that was made on the film. I might not agree with every choice they made, but at least I understand them all. In addition to a very thorough art gallery and collection of marketing materials, there are deleted scenes in various states of animation, documentaries about the animation process, the look of the film, and on and on. There is also a fascinating short film called the Legend of Mordu, a history of the character as told by the film’s witch.
Every time I see their anthropomorphic lamp bounce onto the screen, I get excited, knowing that I am about to see something special. This is why I was so disappointed when I realized that they didn’t quite hit this one out of the park. However, I can appreciate what they were trying to do, and will continue to go into each of their films expecting greatness. Being one of the most reliable studios in operation, anything less than perfection feels like a disappointment and this one just barely fell short.