With 2011’s Cars 2, the Pixar brain trust (namely John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter) took a bit of hit. For the first time in the studio’s history really, some began to wonder if after an unprecedented string of successes, Pixar had finally given into the pressure to make flashier kids’ movies without much substance. As it turns out, they didn’t have to worry. In 2012, Pixar and their animators returned to form with Brave, their most beautiful film yet.

Set in medieval Scotland, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is the first-born of King Fergus (Billy Connelly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida is strong-willed with a taste for adventure and she likes her freedom. Not surprisingly, Merida isn’t thrilled to learn she must soon marry. When the three clans in her father’s alliance visit with their eldest sons ready to compete for the princess’ hand in marriage, Merida wants nothing to do with this ancient ritual. She sets out into the wilderness in search of a way to change her fate. Merida meets an old witch (Julie Walters) who agrees to her out, but after a major transformation Merida ends up getting much more than she bargained for. Soon, she finds herself working to prevent her kingdom from going to war.

Brave (2012)Visually, Brave is the best thing Pixar has accomplished to date. Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman obviously sought to create a feast for the eyes and succeeded. It’s difficult not to be mesmerized by the spring in Merida’s red curls or the texture of a piece of fabric. At times, Brave is so visually attractive it’s almost distracting.

Getting back to the story, Brave focuses is on Merida and her mother, Elinor—two strong-willed women who differ in every other way.  While Elinor is tied to traditions, Merida wants to do her own thing and make her own choices. The differences between the two cause a rift between the two that will likely resonate with the adults in the audience. Kids will love the silliness of the characters and the frequent action sequences. The tone of the film is dramatic but not overwrought, quirky but never goofy.

While not quite up to the level of the Toy Story films, WALL-E or Up, Brave is just about everything fans have come to expect from Pixar. Some may find the narrative a bit lacking, but it’s imaginative and thoughtful. And if nothing else, Brave is one of the most beautifully animated films ever.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Brave is yet another stupendously beautiful transfer from Pixar. The detail here is just incredible. The different textures used in the film really come across wonderfully. Colors are bright and vivid and black levels are superb. There’s nothing to complain about here.

The Dolby 5.1 TrueHD track is just as impressive as the video. Dialogue is incredibly clean and uses the surrounds very well. However, I do have to admit I didn’t hear anything particularly innovative about the mix. Music swells move from front to back and action scenes involve all the speakers. Ambient effects also emanate nicely.

Brave includes the following soundtracks: English Dolby TrueHD 7.1, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1,
and English Dolby Digital 2.0.

English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.

Along with a standard DVD copy of the film, the following special features are included over two Blu-ray discs:

  • Audio Commentary (Disc 1): Director Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, story supervisor Brian Larsen and editor Nick Smith go through the film shot by shot, scene by scene, discussing everything from the film’s voice casting to its performances, story development, character designs, locations, animation, score and more.
  • Short Films (Disc 1, HD, 14 minutes): In La Luna, a boy, his father and his grandfather row out into the middle of the ocean to watch the moon rise and take care of some business. In The Legend of Mor’Du, Brave‘s witch reveals the source of Mor’Du the Demon Bear. La Luna is presented via a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround track, Mor’Du is presented with a 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.
  • Behind the Scenes (Disc 1, HD, 50 minutes): Eight behind-the-scenes featurettes are available on the feature film disc. “Brave Old World” follows the Pixar team as they travel to Scotland to do research. “Merida & Elinor” is a discussion of the lead female characters with the voice cast, designers and animators. “Bears” discusses the design of the bears and how they worked. “Brawl in the Hall” looks at the creation of the fight scenes. “Wonder Moss” delves into the complex algorithms that went into the creation of the movie’s background moss. “Magic” looks at Brave‘s fairy tale roots and magical elements. “Clan Pixar” introduces the artists and animators. And “Once Upon a Scene” offers a peek into several versions of Brave‘s opening, key scenes and story.
  • Extended Scenes (Disc 1, HD, 13 minutes): Four extended scenes, each with a pop-up icon that identifies the bits that were cut from the final edit. Scenes include “Meet the Lords,” “Triplets’ Distraction,” “The Ruins” and “Blockade.” (“Blockade,” was never fully completed and is presented in part with pre-viz animatics.)
  • Promotional Pieces (Disc 2, HD, 14 minutes): “Feast Your Eyes Montage (Wee Bits of Animation),” “Relics,” “Clan Dun Broch,” “Launch” and “Flying Guts Theater” and trailers from the US, UK and Japan.
  • Fergus & Mor’Du: An Alternate Opening (Disc 2, HD, 3 minutes): A deleted introduction — Fergus, alone and overmatched, loses his leg to Mor’Du in a snowy forest.
  • Fallen Warriors (Disc 2, HD, 2 minutes): A montage of shots that made it all the way through to the final stages of animation only to be cut during the last edit of the film.
  • Dirty Hairy People (Disc 2, HD, 4 minutes): The animators honor Scotland and the time period with dirt, hair, mud, tattered clothing and other subtle touches.
  • It is English… Sort Of (Disc 2, HD, 4 minutes): Scottish slang.
  • Angus (Disc 2, HD, 3 minutes): Designing and animating Merida’s horse, Angus.
  • The Tapestry (Disc 2, HD, 4 minutes): Merida’s family tapestry and its role in the film.
  • Art Galleries (Disc 2, HD): “Characters,” “Color Keys,” “Development Art,” “Environments” and “Graphics.”