November 13, 2012
Can we thank Pixar in this first collaboration with Disney for the liberation from Walt's stereotype of a cartoon Barbie princess looking for a life-long-lover for happily-ever-after?
Written by a woman (Brenda Chapman), Princess Merida is the anti-cupid. She uses the bow and arrow to rebuke and refute romance - not to stoke it.
She lives with her dad Fergus and her mom Elinor, monarchs of a medieval Scotch feudal fiefdom. She's a princess by birth, a tomboy at heart, and a rebel by design. So the story is conceived by a girl about a girl.
So what's in it for the boys? For little ones, there are semi-comical skirmishes, pratfalls, fist-a-cuffs, sword fights, and big monster bears.
Pretty silly girly girls are notably absent.
And Princess Merida shares stage time with three toddler brothers - triplets. The mischievous little buggers contribute most of the humor since the Princess's suitors are a gross lot.
The latter do lots of funny things, but as a spectator, there is an undercurrent of horror at the thought she would have to wed or bed any one of them.
No. She is so superior in intelligence and strength that they would forever land on the sofa, starting at the honeymoon.
Most people see the movie as a mother-daughter conflict (as the writer intended), but it seems more of a class struggle between the over-civilized uptight future of Great Britain (the mom's cadre) versus the Goth behavior of a bunch of boors (the dad's) that created the British Empire.
Princess Merida, the semi-sane adolescent, has to choose between them. Or shape a different destiny.
Of the voices, the favorite has to be Scottish comedian and charismatic magnet, Billy Connolly. He is the uncouth Goth-like King Fergus, married to a prim-proper Queen Elinor, (Emma Thompson).
Also heard is award winner Julie Walters, the witch. (Can you have a fairytale without spells or brooms?) And look and listen for Lord Macintosh played by late-night host, Craig Ferguson.
All you need is a good story, (and you don't really have one here), and mere competent catchy line cartooning should be enough. But the stellar animation studio - Pixar - is a company comprised of artistic perfectionists. They know how to make animations that attract audiences and earn Academy Awards. And they do their best with the plot.
The bonus features make a case for the nomination. The top animators and designers went to Scotland for inspiration - and found plenty of it.
They created new software for bouncing red curls.
They refined fur for the bears. And they created handsome, engaging, eye-catching, hairy hooves for the scene stealing Angus, Merida's stout steed.
But I'm thinking there's not enough in this celluloid package to take home the golden Oscar.
There's a sweet short that accompanies Brave. "La Luna" presents a whimsical explanation of how to make a crescent moon out of stars.
And at the very end of the film's credits, a surprise obtuse clever closure has been fashioned. You have to be quick to catch it and the little kids won't - never mind getting them to sit through the everlasting scroll of hardworking animators and production babies.
(Editor's note: The Ultimate Collector's Edition of Brave includes a 3D Blu-ray version of the movie. The 3D effects are masterfully realized. Rather than resorting to the common tricks of arrows flying off the screen and straight at your retina, the illusion of depth is created by placing items in the near foreground and constantly moving the camera.
With that said, I don't know how wise it is for children to wear those 3D glasses for extended periods of time. And if your 3D TV requires the active shutter glasses, make sure that you have a stockpile of batteries on hand.)
Disc 2 of this Collector's Edition includes Bonuses are for hardcore animation fans. Presented is minutia about the art of making this film. The audience is not the kids - unless they are old enough to consider a Pixar-kind-of-career. It would, however, interest peers in the biz.
The subtle nuances of refined fabric, fur and hair are not always spotted by the average audience, but Pixar artists are interviewed about their latest notable achievements.
Viewing cut scenes usually illuminates a film's story line, but not here. The deletes are so cryptic that they are shown, as Director Mark Andrews said, to display artists' work that would otherwise be unseen and unappreciated. Since animated features are usually time consuming and complicated, great care was taken to be judicious, fastidious and frugal with the Brave animators' talent.
For the yet un-satiated, there is a Director Commentary and three international trailers. This Blu-ray of the three disc package is more archival than it is entertaining. You've been forewarned.
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Length: 95 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
7.1 and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
7.1 Dolby Digital Plus and 5.1 Dolby Digital
5.1 Dolby Digital
English SDH, French, and Spanish