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Brave on Blu-ray
November 12, 2012

Out tomorrow on Blu-ray is the newest Pixar movie, featuring the newest Disney princess: Brave. The story of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a spirited young woman who has trouble negotiating the path from childhood to adulthood, is an historical fantasy.

Her mother (Emma Thompson) wants her to become a lady, which means selecting a suitor in a way that’s politically good for the kingdom. Her father (Billy Connolly) has indulged her active side, teaching her archery and letting her run and ride wild. Merida is not ready to become her mother, full of plans and expectations. She’s so full of life that she sees only the restraint, not the caring, her mother has for her.

It’s a simply gorgeous movie, with wild Scottish scenery full of misty mountains and spooky forests. I was speechless at some of the locations, especially the waterfall, on Merida’s nature ride, all the more so when I remembered this was animated. It looks spectacular. Merida’s hair, her glowing, curly, red mane, is also terrific to see, realistic and uncontrolled.

I’m impressed by the details of how mother and daughter interact. The scene where they finally let go at each other, after Merida’s archery demonstration, is heartbreaking in its realism. Every female pair has felt that way, and every daughter has said (or thought) “I never want to be like you” to her mother without realizing how close they are and what a strength that can be. The look on Merida’s face, the quiver in her features and her determination not to let her feelings out, when her mother takes that final action with the bow, is so amazing in its detail and authenticity. I attribute it to Brenda Chapman, since it was originally her story, based on her relationship with her daughter, and it’s that truth that makes for the most touching moments in the film.

Since it’s also a Disney movie, there are the requisite songs and comedy breaks, particularly once the three competing lords (Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd) show up. For cuteness, there are Merida’s three matching brothers. I found myself wishing for a bit less of all of this, wanting to get back to Merida’s story whenever she wasn’t on screen.

I liked seeing the movie even more the second time around. I gained new appreciation for the focus on the relationship between the two women, especially once Merida has to rescue Mum from the horrible effects of her attempt to escape her fate. As a princess, Merida still can’t have the kind of full-ranging adventure that a prince does — her marital status is still important to the plot — but as a woman, it’s totally believable that one’s fate has to take into account one’s loved ones.

Now that Pixar has finally created a movie with a female central character, I look forward to them doing the same in modern day.

Special Features and Editions

The top-of-the-line set has five discs: Blu-ray 3-D, Blu-ray movie, Blu-ray special features, DVD, and digital copy. (I sadly can’t comment on the 3-D, since I haven’t yet upgraded my player.) The three-disc set has the two Blu-ray discs and the DVD. As you might guess from the inclusion of the second features disc, there are a LOT of extras that come with this movie. On the first disc, with the movie itself:

  • Two shorts: “La Luna”, which aired with the movie in theaters, and the new “Legend of Mordu”, about the demon bear. It’s done mostly in a limited animation style, sort of a scrolling over storyboard/ motion comic-like approach. It’s odd but works for the “listen to my tale” structure. However, in terms of story, while it’s fun to see Julie Waters’ witch again, the main content we already knew from the movie itself. You can see an excerpt from “La Luna” here:
  • Commentary by director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen, and editor Nick Smith.
  • Nine behind-the-scenes items:
    • Brave Old World (12 1/2 min.) — Brenda Chapman took a crew to Scotland to understand the country and culture. Emma Thompson also contributes.
    • Merida & Elinor (8 1/2 min.) — The lead characters are explored, from voice acting to design to animating Merida’s hair.
    • Bears (6 min.) — Similar, but for the creatures.
    • Brawl in the Hall (5 1/2 min.) — Similar, for the Scots and their fighting.
    • Wonder Moss (3 min.) — Creating the environment.
    • Magic (7 min.) — Information about the legends and fairy tale influences on the story.
    • Clan Pixar (5 min.) — The crew’s work methods, including team-building Scottish activities, from drinking to sword-fighting to eating haggis.
    • Once Upon a Scene (8 min.) — There were over 100 deleted scenes in the movie, so the artists talk about some of them.
    • Extended Scenes (12 1/2 min. total) — Four scenes are shown in a longer form, introduced by Mark Andrews.

The second disc has the following:

  • Fergus & Mordu Alternate Opening (2 1/2 min.) — What it sounds like, in rough animation, also introduced by Andrews.
  • Fallen Warriors (2 min.) — More deleted shots, more Andrews. These were fully animated before they were cut, which indicates how late in the process the film was undergoing changes. (There’s more story here, I fear, about the movie’s troubled history, but given Disney, I don’t expect to see that information included in the extras. Perhaps in 20 years, someone will make a documentary about it.)
  • Dirty Hairy People (3 1/2 min.) — How the characters were designed given the sanitary conditions of the time period.
  • It Is English… Sort Of (4 min.) — Translating the Scottish phrases, which were often contributed by the actors. Craig Ferguson, bless him, talks about his work, as well as many other of the Scots. (All the voices were authentic.) This is my favorite of the extras, because the actors are all entertaining.
  • Angus (3 1/2 min.) — Designing the horse. It’s neat to note how many women work at Pixar and participate in this and the other extras.
  • The Tapestry (4 min.) — Coming up with the plot device and metaphor and animating woven cloth.
  • Promotional Pieces — Trailers and promo clips. Some really cute animation and funny gags in here, although I have no idea where some of them aired. It’s intriguing to see how the US trailer is stuffed with comedy and action, while the Japanese trailer is more thoughtful, dangerous, and suspenseful and the UK trailer emphasizes Merida’s desire for freedom in a restrictive inherited role.
  • Art Gallery
  • Wee Gaffes — Easter egg! It’s not immediately visible on the menu, but can be found on the main screen. It’s a minute of CGI mistakes.
  • Renaissance Animation Man — Easter egg! A minute and a half of people praising Andrews.

The regular DVD has the commentary and the two shorts. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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