My Review of Disney/Pixar's Brave

A View from the non-Hollywood Movie Watcher

First, let me state that I am not a professional reviewer.  The thoughts and opinions expressed below are in no way educated or non-biased.  Nor are they in any way endorsed by Disney or any of its associated companies.  Then again, isn’t that what you want in a review? Real people giving you real thoughts?  OK, here we go then……

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As Always, Story is Key

Let’s start with a general overall impression of Brave, Pixar’s newest release.  I’d put it up there with some of the best movies I’ve seen.  Not just animated, movies in general.  The story, a Pixar-required quality in any movie, is very, very well done.  You have your hints at the end in the beginning, a mix of humor and fear, and the best interlaying of what makes every story a must read: suspense, loyalty, history, revenge and triumph.  You may not recognize it as the movie plays, but your mind is absorbing all of these things to make you want to see the end of the movie just so you know how it all turns out.  Plus, Pixar has done a great job of weaving a lesson into the Brave storyline.  It’s an old lesson, sure, but aren’t the best ones always?

The Uncanny Valley

I saw the movie in 2D, as I wanted to see how well Pixar is pushing the envelope for reality animation, and 3D isn’t as detailed as 2D is.  You won’t be disappointed in the realism, but then again, you may not even notice the realistic images passing before your eyes.  Why? Well, Pixar has pushed the animation-reality envelope to its breaking point, and then pulled back just before you feel like it bothers you.  I’m speaking of the Uncanny Valley, which has vexed animators for many years.  The human mind can’t quite process an animation that is too realistic, and when we see one, we tend to feel uncomfortable (or, rather, view the images as Uncanny, get it?).  Pixar seems to have solved this by focusing its massive animation ability on non-human objects, making them seem perfectly real, while the human parts of the movie have little imperfections that back the viewer away from the Uncanny Valley.

For instance, look at the realism in the graphics of the last few Pixar films.  The trees, grass, sunlight, buildings, water, pretty much the entire background looks perfectly real.  If you didn’t know you were watching an animated film, you’d swear it was real life.  I first noticed this in Cars 2, when the opening ocean water sequence looked as if they went out and filmed it on the actual ocean.  The light refracting from underneath the ocean swells looked just as it does when I see it from a cruise ship.  The reflections of light from the spray, the way the water moves, it’s all as if it was actually filmed.  The same is true for Brave.  But not just the water, the forest scenes look real, the castle stones look as if they were hewn by hand and actually built up so Pixar could film them.  And, of course, the water flowing through the stream with the fish swimming by seems as if they went to Scotland and actually found that stream, as opposed to only existing in 1’s and 0’s on a hard drive somewhere in the cloud.  Classic Pixar.  But the humans, well, they were obviously animated.  The movements, the proportions, everything made it obvious that these were not real, so you didn’t feel as if there was an Uncanny Valley gaping before you.  The bear, in my mind, was the perfect mixture of this.  When the bears had to be human-like, the realism seemed to be taken down just a bit, so it was obvious it was fake, but when you didn’t see the bear’s eyes, or face, it was as if the fur was really moving over a real life bear.  Of course I am just stating my opinion, but I really think they had to modify the realism based on what they were trying to tell the audience.  If it’s a bear, make it look 100% real.  If it’s a bear that is actually telling it as a human, dial it down a bit, to avoid that ever present valley creeping up on you.

In fact, I am so sure that this is what Pixar planned that I am contemplating asking a good friend of mine, Skipper Barsky, to ask Mr. Lasseter when he sees him this Fall.  Yes, Daniel, I am sure you will meet him.  So ask him if I'm right, please?

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Now, it wasn’t all good in Brave.  No, we can’t have a perfect anything, can we?  I must say I was a bit bemused when (spoiler alert!) the bad bear died after having been crushed.  The scene of the person inhabiting the villain bear being released after death, and then giving a sort of “thank you” to the vanquisher before floating off ghost-like into the ether, well, it smacked a bit too much of Vader dying and showing himself to Luke before vanishing into the same ether.  Then again, it may have just been a nod to Lucas, since they are heavily credited in the final credits.

Speaking of final credits, make sure you wait (the extra 10 minutes) to see them until the end.  Yes, there is an Easter Egg at the end.  Not too big, but it’s worth the wait.  Plus, you’ll see the tribute to the original Pixar man, and finally be able to figure out why Craig Ferguson’s clan is named what it is.

All in all, I think I’ll go spend my money to go see Brave again.  Yes, it’s that good! Enjoy!

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