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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Brave

November 12th, 2012

Brave - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack

Brave is the latest from Pixar, a studio that hasn't had a box office miss during its entire run and they've only had one film fail to win over the majority of critics. Brave was not the biggest hit Pixar has produced, but is it among the best?

The Movie

The film begins in Scotland, many years ago. We are at the birthday party of a young Merida. Her father, King Fergus bought her a bow for her birthday, much to the dismay of her mother Queen Elinor. When Merida fires an arrow over the target and into the woods, she follows it. Once there, she sees a Will-o'-the-wisp, which her mother says lead people to their fate. Her father is not a believer of magic. It's a perfect party, right till the demon bear Mor'du attacks. King Fergus and his men are able to drive away the bear, but he loses his leg in the process.

The film then flashes forward to when Merida is a teenager, with three brothers, triplets. Merida and Elinor clash a lot. Elinor has been trying to prepare Merida for the life of a princess, while Merida would rather ride her horse through the woods, climb cliff faces, and more. Their familiar struggles come to a head when it is announced that the heirs of the three other clans of the kingdom will be sending their firstborns to compete... for Merida's hand in marriage. Obviously, this is unacceptable to Merida, but there is little she can do.

The day soon comes and the lords of the three clans arrive: Lord Dingwall, Lord MacGuffin, and Lord Macintosh. The lords, their sons, and their men are not at the castle of Dun Broch for more than a few minutes before a fight breaks out. At first King Fergus tries to stop the fight and then joins in. It isn't till Queen Elinor steps in does the fighting stop. She also has to lead the ceremony, but when she mentioned the first born of each of the leaders of the clans are the only ones who can compete and that Merida chooses the form of the competition, Merida immediately gets excited and declares the competition will be an archery competition. She has something up her sleeve, and on the day of the competition, after the others have had their shot, she declares that she will be competing for her own hand in marriage. It isn't a spoiler to learn she wins, nor is it a spoiler to learn her and her mother have a fight as a result.

After the fight, Merida rides off on her horse. However, her horse comes to a sudden stop at a ring of standing stones. It is here that Merida sees the Will-o'-the-wisp. This time they lead her to a small hut where a woodcarver lives. This woodcarver is a little more than a woodcarver and Merida quickly figures out she is a witch. She asks for a spell, one that will change her mom and change her fate. The witch gives her a spell, in the form of a cake. But after Merida feeds the cake to her mom...

This is where we hit pretty major spoilers.

Brave is a different type of film than Pixar usually makes. It is a period piece and a fantasy adventure film, which is makes it unique. It is also the first time a Pixar film had a female lead. Is the studio able to go in these new directions? Yes. First of all, it's about damn time there was a strong female lead in a Pixar film. Also, the script does an excellent job of setting up a world that is mostly realistic. There are still legends and stories of magic, but as King Fergus makes clear right away, most people don't believe in them anymore. With these two parts, one would naturally expect certain things to happen in the movie. However, and this is a major spoiler, there is no prince charming. This is not a typical fairytale about a young woman finding her prince charming. It isn't even about a young woman struggling to overcome the constraints of society, and in the process, finding her prince charming who supports her desire to be more independent. The film is instead about a mother and daughter struggling to understand each other and to see their conflict from the other side. This is the heart of the film, but to describe how the film goes about it goes way too far into spoiler territory. This is a real shame, because there are many parts of the movie I would love to talk about. When Merida realizes what she does and tries to fix it, it gives her and her mother time to bond in the woods. And Queen Elinor's attempts to remain regal despite her... condition are arguably the best parts of the film.

There are less plot intensive points I can discuss, including the tremendous amount of humor in the film. The three lords and their rivalry are a source of humor, as are Merida's three brothers. King Fergus adds equal part heart and humor as the father who has long indulged his daughter's more tomboy tendencies, but is also ferocious when it comes to defending his family.

I would get into the technical aspects of the film, but it's Pixar. It's nearly perfect. (Because the movie takes place in medieval times, there are a lot of scenes lit by torchlight, so it is really dark, too dark.)

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with two of the directors, Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell; Nick Smith; and the story supervisor, Brian Larsen. There are also two short films. La Luna is about three generations of a family, whose job involves the moon. The Legend of Mor'du is an expansion of the legend of Queen Elinor and Merida, this time told by the Witch.

Disc one of the Blu-ray combo pack also has nine behind-the-scenes featurettes, starting with Brave Old World, which is a 13-minute look at the artists' trip to Scotland for inspiration. Merida and Elinor is an 8-minute look at the two lead characters, both their personalities and some of the technical aspects of their characters. Bears is a 6-minute look at the bear designs. Brawl in the Hall is a 5-minute featurette on the fights. Wonder Moss is a 3-minute look at the mathematical formula to create the Scottish nature. Magic is a 7-minute featurette on the magical element in the movie. Clan Pixar is a 5-minute look at the things the folks at Pixar did to celebrate Scottish traditions. Once Upon a Scene is an 8-minute look at all of the deleted scenes. There are also four extended scenes.

Disc two starts with an alternate opening. Fallen Warriors is a 2-minute featurette on some of the deleted scenes that made it very far along the process before they were cut. Dirty Harry People is a 4-minute featurette on design of the characters. It is English... Sort Of is a 4-minute featurette on some of Scottish dialect heard in the film. Next up is a 3-minute featurette on Angus, Merida's horse. The Tapestry is a 4-minute featurette on the tapestry, which is an important symbol in the movie. Up next is a collection of promotional animated bits and finally there's some art galleries.

As for the technical presentation, it is as close to perfection as I have seen. There's not a lot to talk about, because there are no problems to discuss. The level of fine detail is outstanding, even in the darker scenes. The colors are vivid, which is especially important in the outdoor scenes. There's obviously no issues with compression, etc. The audio is just as good with perfect clarity... except for Young MacGuffin. Then again, that's cause he accent is so thick that I couldn't identify individual words [ Copy Eds note: That's because he speaks Doric, a dialect closer to a Scandinavian language - I can speak a few words, badly]. As for the 3D aspect of the film, this is the best 3D film I've seen. Not only is the 3D very natural and not gimmicky in the least (it adds depth and doesn't throw things at the screen) the film's stunning visual quality isn't hurt even a little bit by the 3D. Sometimes there are more compression issues in the 3-D version compared to the 2-D version, but that is not the case here.

Finally we get to the price. The DVD costs $16, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack costs $20 and the 3-D combo pack costs $28. The price difference between the DVD and the Blu-ray is fantastic. The price difference between the Blu-ray and the 3-D Blu-ray is standard.

The Verdict

Brave is pick of the week material. There's no doubting that. The DVD is worth picking up, but the Blu-ray Combo Pack is the much better deal. And if you have made the leap to 3-D, 3D Combo Pack will likely be the best looking 3-D film in your collection.

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Filed under: Video Review, Brave, Robbie Coltrane, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Mark Andrews, Steve Percell, , Brian Larsen