Pixar breaks their tradition of stories featuring male lead characters with their 13th animated feature, Brave, a story about a young princess, Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who tries to break the traditions of her people. Set amongst the magical highlands of Scotland, inhabited by witches, will-o'-the-wisps, and talking crows, the real magic of the story is revealed to be mutual appreciation and respect.
Being a princess, Merida is expected to marry a prince from a neighboring clan in order to keep the peace. No one has this expectation more so than her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who strives to turn Merida into a proper lady while Merida prefers riding her horse Angus and practicing archery. Elinor tells her the legend of a prince who followed his own path and the ruin caused as a result, but Merida doesn't care and has ideas of her own. During the ceremony to determine her husband, Merida rebels, embarrassing her family and causing friction between the clans.
Merida races off into the woods, and with the help of will-o'-the-wisps stumbles upon the workshop of a witch (Julie Walters). Merida barters for a spell that will change her mom, which she presumes will change her fate. The witch gives Merida a cake, and when Elinor eats the treat, change she does, only not as Merida had hoped. Elinor turns into a bear, which is troubling because bears are reviled through the region due to the dreaded Mor'du, whose notorious acts include the taking of the left leg of Merida's father King Fergus (Billy Connolly). Merida and her mother have two sunrises before the spell becomes permanent, so they must work together to reverse it while staying one step ahead of those who would kill her mother.
Brave is an entertaining fairy tale with a good moral, but unfortunately, there's never a moment's doubt things will be resolved with everyone living happily ever after, which lessens the dramatic stakes. Also, Merida's character doesn’t offer much beyond being a bit of a brat, so the viewer isn't as emotionally invested as they could be. I understood where she was coming from in terms of standing up for herself, but a scene is needed where the viewer bonds with the character in order to root for her success. The young triplets (Harris, Hubert, and Hamish) are the most entertaining characters in the film and expect them to turn up in future shorts.
The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer, displayed at 2.39:1, delivers an outstanding-looking image. The colors are vivid, from the lush green countryside to the reddish-orange hair of Merida's family members. The details are very fine and sharp as revealed through the strands of hair (the characters are a hairy lot), and the mist coming off the waterfall. The rain comes through with such clarity it looks real.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track holds its own with the video. The presentation immerses the viewer with the atmosphere of the scene, whether set indoors or outside. Objects can be heard moving through channels, side to side, as well as rear to front. The dialogue is clear, except for intentionally undecipherable Young MacGuffin. Patrick Doyle's score soars through the surrounds. The track features a balanced mix and a great dynamic range. The only issue was the LFE, which was generally a solid, powerful force, but rumbled to the point of distortion a few times, like when the ships passed by.
The Ultimate Collector's Edition of Brave features the film on Blu-ray with Bonus material, a second Blu-ray disc containing Bonus material, a DVD of the film and a few Bonus items, a disc with a digital copy of the film, and a Blu-ray 3D disc.
All of the Bonus material is in HD. The first Blu-ray disc includes the following: a commentary with director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen and editor Nick Smith. They provide a great overview of the film's creation. "Short Films" (14 min) - Oscar-nominated "La Luna" is a charming story and a beautiful-looking film that introduces a young boy during his first day working the family business with his father and grandfather. "The Legend of Mor'Du" finds the witch from Brave expanding upon the story Elinor told.
There is over an hour of "Behind the Scenes" featurettes that present how "Brave" was created. Original director/story originator Barbara Chapman appears discussing her vision for the film and no mention is made about her leaving the project. "Brave Old World" (13 min) shows the artists location scouting in Scotland. Character creation is revealed in "Merida & Elinor" (8 min) and "Bears" (6 min). "Brawl in the Hall" (5 min) covers a fight scene, "Wonder Moss" (3 min) examines the background work, and "Magic" (7 min) explores the magic incorporated into story. "Clan Pixar" (5 min) shows the Pixar team working and creatively blowing off steam. During "Once Upon a Scene" (8 min), alternate ideas are shown and during four "Extended Scenes" (13 min) a scissor icon appears to show the frames that were trimmed from the final edit. Of the four, "Blockade" was not completely animated.
On Disc 2, "Fergus & Mor'Du: An Alternate Opening" (3 min) presents a different version of events. "Fallen Warriors" (2 min) is the material director Mark Andrews removed during the final edit. The animators show how they created authentic-looking characters in "Dirty Hairy People" (4 min). A brief look at the Scottish language in "It is English...Sort Of" (4 min). There are also very brief looks at the creation of "Angus" (3 min) and "The Tapestry" (4 min). Lastly, there are Promotional Pieces (14 min) and Art Galleries to look through.
Although likely to appeal mostly to young girls, Brave is an enjoyable movie with appreciable attributes. The Blu-ray delivers such an extremely impressive presentation it deserves to be talked about when considering the best of the year. It is worth experiencing just for the A/V specs.