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With: (voices) Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Sally Kinghorn, Eilidh Fraser, Peigi Barker, Steven Cree, Steve Purcell, Callum O'Neill, Patrick Doyle, John Ratzenberger
Written by: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, based on a story by Brenda Chapman
Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell
MPAA Rating: PG for some scary action and rude humor
Running Time: 100
Date: 06/10/2012

Brave (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Red Headstrong

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Some critics have been giving Brave fairly tepid notices, perhaps tapping into the so-called "production troubles" that have circulated through the rumor mill, or perhaps unfairly comparing it to other Pixar titles. But whatever the reason, these folks have cheated themselves out of an excellent movie, and one that I'd rank among the top half of Pixar's output thus far. (And a massive improvement over the last one, Cars 2.)

Brave features Pixar's first full-fledged, front-and-center heroine, and while some fretted that this seemed like the influence of Disney -- which perhaps wanted another character for its moneymaking "Princesses" franchise -- Merida is not like that. Confronted with the prospect of marriage, Merida resists... not because she's waiting for Prince Charming, but because she simply does not want to be married. She wants to find out who she is first, which is a terrific idea.

This movie is also more powerfully dramatic than many of Pixar's other movies, in that the emphasis is not heavily on the comedy. There's nothing wrong with comedy, of course, but the emphasis on heavy stakes in Brave causes it to be more cohesive and consistent than some of the other Pixar entries. As good as WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009) are, no one would argue that their endings are as good as their beginnings. Brave keeps up the quality all the way through.

The story starts with Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a princess of Scotland with a huge mound of tangled, voluminous, fiery red hair. Her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), wants her to be a proper princess, and has her under a barrage of strict rules. But Merida is a free spirit, like her father Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly). So when Elinor arranges for Merida to marry, Elinor balks, going so far as to enter and win the archery contest that had been designed to choose her suitor.

Following that debacle, she runs away and discovers a witch's cottage. She asks for a spell to "change her mother," and, of course, gets more than she bargained for. The witch (voiced Julie Walters) gets most of the movie's funniest lines, the ridiculous suitors get some laughs as well, but Merida's triplet younger brothers steal most of the comedy with nary a single word.

However, the meat of Brave lies in the burning passion of the story, the struggle to connect, and the grand nature of storytelling itself. The movie opens with a flashback, which is actually Fergus telling a story of his battle with a legendary bear, Mordu. When it cuts back to the present, the boys are able mimic their father's every word and gesture, and yet the story is still told with fire and fury. The movie only slows down for a couple of mournful Scottish-style pop tunes, which some fans may like, but were a bit too slow for me.

As for Pixar's technical prowess, they have pulled it off here with ever more expressive human characters, more detailed hair and fur, and more complex grass and trees. Merida's hair is the movie's centerpiece, however; it's a technical masterpiece, a thing of beauty, and also a pure, visual definition of Merida herself.

Best of all, Merida is a good role model for girls, much healthier than anything from Twilight or The Hunger Games. If I were going to choose a badass girl archer, I'd take Merida ten times out of ten over Katniss. (I wonder if, thanks to these two movies, plus Hawkeye in The Avengers, if archery is going to make a big comeback this year?) In any case, don't believe the hype and check out Brave for yourself.

Just before Thanksgiving, 2012, Disney released a five disc set, with a 3D Blu-ray disc (for those few that have invested in that technology), a Blu-ray disc containing the feature film, a second Blu-ray disc full of extras, a DVD, and a digital copy. Given the film's digital source, the Blu-ray sound and picture quality are about as good as it comes. Extras include an audio commentary track with director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen and editor Nick Smith. The beautiful La Luna short film is included here, as well as a new short, The Legend of Mor'du. There are tons of little featurettes (both serious and silly), extended scenes, and an alternate opening.

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