Would we look at Brave more kindly if it didn’t come from Pixar? Would its flaws and foibles bug us quite so much if another studio took it on? Probably not. It has so much to recommend it – its technical credentials are so strong and its characters sufficiently endearing – that its problems wouldn’t matter so much. Unfortunately, this isn’t another studio and Pixar demands standards far beyond those of mortal men. They did so well for so long that “good enough” no longer cuts it. Brave, sadly, can’t climb any higher than that. Hit the jump for my full review of the Blu-ray.
Granted, as eye candy goes it can’t be beat. Directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell use every trick in the book to deliver the sights and sounds of medieval Scotland to us: breathtaking in their scope and fully realized in every detail. You can almost smell the pines, and the Blu-ray lets you spot every cone and needle as they rush by. The characters benefit from similar attention, notably our heroine Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) whose wild red hair would have confounded lesser animators. Visual delights go a long way, and I confess that Brave doesn’t suffer a whit from multiple viewings in that department. The Blu-ray reflects those high standards: the only format you should consider if you want to do this movie justice.
Unfortunately, man cannot live on stunning visuals alone, and sooner or later we have to start paying attention to the story. It’s not strictly bad; just very run-of-the-mill, with a headstrong princess out to prove that she can make her own decisions and well-meaning parents who inadvertently stifle her. In this case, Merida must wed one of three dippy Scots lads and thus fulfill various ancient bargains. When she refuses – or, more specifically, when she bests them in the archery contest intended to determine her husband – those alliances start to break down.
It hardly stirs the blood, though Andrews and Purcell more or less manage to keep it on track. Things take a more severe dip when Merida inadvertently unleashes a witch’s curse on her family. Then there’s the unholy bear stalking her father, her three young brothers who find themselves in mortal peril, the magical denizens of the countryside who may or may not aid her… and on and on and on.
The presence of so many elements isn’t the problem. But Brave resolutely fails to combine them into an organic whole. They collide against each other with distressing inelegance, each commanding a small portion of screening time, then stumbling away like a drunk. The lack of a strong villain further damages the film’s forward momentum, and with all of these ideas searching vainly for a cohesive center, the purpose of the exercise eventually becomes lost.
There are compensations to be sure. The voice actors bring their A-game and what the script lacks in drive, it makes up for with clever, witty dialogue. Andrews and Purcell keep the energy levels high and for all of its narrative confusion, the film bounces along at a perfectly agreeable pace. We can’t even call it the worst Pixar movie ever made; with the sour tang of Cars 2 still in our mouths, Brave feels like a positive triumph.
That’s certainly enough to recommend it… and the Blu-ray caries plenty of goodies to help cement the deal. Beside the sound and picture – which will make you weep over their sheer beauty – it contains the original short La Luna which ran ahead of it during its theatrical run; a new short concerning the original of the demon bear; an alternate opening; extended scenes; promotional material; a pair of pieces of Scotland and Scottish slang; art galleries; eight behind-the-scenes featurettes; and an informative audio commentary featuring four of the film’s creative team.
Indeed, the package is so handsome that the film itself almost comes as an afterthought. And that’s the real problem. It could have – should have – been a triumph of animation as a medium, on par with the rest of Pixar’s long line of classics. Instead, it’s just okay: a big shiny package holding a very ordinary gift. Pixar has set the bar so high that any slip feels like a disaster. Brave is far from disastrous. It just can’t keep up with its pedigree, a fact made all the more tragic for its otherwise solid credentials. Going from great to pretty good is understandable… but still a step in the wrong direction.