Blu-Ray Review: Brave

'Are we so relieved it’s not another Cars 2 that we’re treating it like Up?'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

If you liked Brave, you’ll be very happy with the Blu-ray. The movie looks stunning, especially in 2D, and there are tons of extras. I wasn’t that into Brave and a second viewing didn’t change anything for me.

Brave opens like the standard Disney princess movie where the rebellious Merida (Kelly Macdonald) rejects Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson)’s preparations for her arranged marriage. It’s intended to be a balanced story about generational stubbornness but it’s really not. The queen has clearly decided that social order is more important than her daughter and won’t hear of anything else. It feels like this was written by a parent, and the parent thinks they’re showing the balance of where they’re coming from, but really can’t even see how obstinate they’re being. Also, if you have to get married to prevent the four clans from fighting, then you’re saying relationships are about placating angry people. And that part comes true, they really can’t get along without Elinor’s codependent maneuvering, so how’s that for a message to young girls?

There’s some funny slapstick about Merida’s suitors and Merida empowers herself by winning her own hand in marriage. Then her mom turns into a bear. So that’s weird. I guess that’s different than the usual formula, where the social outcast leaves home, finds a surrogate family and returns to take his or her rightful place. Still, I’m not really into the story of the mom turning into a bear. It reminds me of The Emperor’s New Groove, where development retooling turned a Prince and the Pauper story into a bratty prince being turned into a llama. Emperor’s New Groove is awesome though, and it’s a farce. Brave is comedic but the bear isn’t a joke. It’s just weird tangent that didn’t work for me.

I suppose if I look at Brave as Pixar’s random exercise unburdened by traditional narrative, it’s awesome. Unfortunately, that’s not how I look at Brave so it’s not awesome. The story is all over the place. Merida leaves the kingdom, then she’s back, then she and her bear mom go on an adventure, then come back and there’s a battle. I’m kind of bored by all this.

I can understand why parents taking their kids to see Brave got choked up. The mother/daughter stuff feels sincere, but it’s so on the nose it’s not really earned. It would seem the Queen should be forced to see what’s great about her strong, independent daughter on her own, without being turned into a bear. It’s not an offensively obnoxious movie like Cars 2 but I can’t say it’s one of Pixar’s great ones, or even good ones. I mean, are we so relieved it’s not another Cars 2 that we’re treating it like Up?

The picture on Blu-ray looks stunning. I was frankly excited to get to watch Brave in 2D and the quality of animation is up to Pixar’s standards. The image is pristine with textured forests, villages and rippling water. It’s just so shiny, with every aspect of the Scottish countryside glinting in the sun or moonlight.

Plentiful bonus features add to the content on the Brave Blu-ray. The short film La Luna that preceded Brave in theaters is here, as well as the new short The Legend of Mor’Du. Mor’Du features an interesting animation style, more 2D and kind of resembling Tales of the Black Freighter from Watchmen. The story is just a retelling of the backstory we learn in Brave, so it’s nothing new. Man, even short films are going the prequel route. I didn’t love the movie though. If you loved Brave, the short is another legend of that world.

The typically extensive bonus materials are a bit too much to review in their entirety, but there are some interesting themes across the board. Most interestingly, writer/director Brenda Chapman appears in both behind the scenes materials and talking head interviews. She was removed from the film, so either they’ve seriously mended fences, or they recorded some of her soundbites before the issues arose. She is not on the audio commentary, which would have been recorded after the film was complete. Director Mark Andrews keeps the commentary moving with enthusiasm, engaging the listener and directing his commentators to keep sharing.

Most of the bonus features keep coming back to the real Scotland, which the Pixar team visited and even brought some of it home with them. The landscape comes from hands-on research, the fight choreography is modeled after animators playing with swords and just about any techie detail can be related to an anecdote about visiting Scotland.

There are quite a few deleted scenes, way more than usual for an animated movie, speaking to some of the constant creative uncertainty on the film. Much of the additional animation is entertaining slapstick, which was the film’s strength.

I didn’t love Brave so I give it a 5, but if you loved then it’s a fabulous presentation packed with bonus content. For me, at a certain point you’re not going to win me over no matter how much home video of Scotland you show me, but fortunately for you, the Blu-ray was produced with the fans in mind.

Follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.