There’s no better proof of Disney’s unparalleled dedication to giving you your money’s worth with their home media than two new releases, Brave and the Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2 (though more the former than the latter). Both Blu-rays come out today, and if you’re a Pixar completist, you’ll want to either get them immediately or put them at the top of your holiday wish list. If only for the amount and depth of special features on the Brave combo pack, for example, the Blu-ray is worth owning. (Yes, that’s even if you were cool on the film as a whole.) But more to the point, both of these releases are fascinating to watch in terms of Pixar’s continued evolution as a filmmaking studio.
Brave, Pixar’s thirteenth animated feature, is its first with a female protagonist, the young and headstrong Merida (Kelly MacDonald), princess of a Scottish clan who will one day be the next queen. Her mother (Emma Thompson), the current queen, is a proper lady who strives for her daughter to follow suit. When Merida seeks out the help of a mysterious witch to ostensibly change her mother’s mind about betrothing her to one of the other clans’ dim-bulb heirs, things quickly spiral out of control. (Suffice to say, if you’ve managed to go unspoiled on the film’s major twist, you’re best off remaining unaware until you watch it.)
The 3D Blu-ray combo pack is nothing short of stacked, both in discs and in features. There are five discs here: the 3D Blu-ray itself, a 2D Blu-ray with the feature and a slew of supplements, a second 2D supplement-only Blu-ray, a DVD version of the film, and a Digital Copy. Oddly, the 3D Blu-ray has the fewest features: just the film and the short that accompanied it in theaters, the ethereal and beautiful La Luna. Both 2D Blu-ray discs are full of supplemental material, thankfully, despite the first Blu-ray just being labeled “Feature.” You can watch a series of extended scenes with introductions by one of the film’s directors, Mark Andrews; or you could listen to the film’s wonkish and jocular audio commentary, with Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell, editor Nick Smith, and story supervisor Brian Larsen; or you could check out a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes that highlight the filmmakers’ trips to Scotland, how they incorporated magic into the story, how they animated bears, and how they let off movie-specific steam throughout the production by playing clan-style games.
Like many other Pixar Blu-rays, the special features will leave you impressed at the attention to detail the Pixar staff puts into every scene and character, and make you jealous that you don’t work there. (Or maybe that’s just me.) So much of the computer-animation process is documented on the Brave special features, as it goes for Pixar’s other films, that these supplements serve as a compelling walkthrough of such modern filmmaking. These features are also an excellent reminder that whatever perfection we associate with Pixar’s completed works rarely is there at the beginning. We live in a culture where a movie that goes through reshoots is automatically categorized as a presumed failure. Pixar’s long fought against that presumption, as evidenced by these features. Call me a Pixar apologist if you like, but I’m consistently in awe of the honesty on display in these home-media special features. They could pretend they knew exactly what they wanted from the beginning, but they allow themselves to be seen as people who make mistakes and learn from them.
Brave is still a solid effort from Pixar, though not fully up to the high level of quality from Ratatouille or Up. Still, I’d argue that Brave is one of Pixar’s more ambitious films. Especially considering that the current popular slam against Pixar is that they’re no longer original—look, they’re doing a Finding Nemo sequel and a Monsters, Inc. prequel!—I think what the filmmakers attempt in Brave is all the more impressive. I won’t go as far as saying they achieve each of their aims, but I’m glad these folks are still aiming high after nearly two decades of being the standard-bearer in exceptional family entertainment.
The second Pixar Short Films Collection Blu-ray is maybe not as much of a must-buy if you or your family are more invested in the feature-length stories only. And certainly, a number of the shorts on this two-disc collection—one Blu-ray disc and one DVD—can be found on many recent Pixar home-media releases. (This is because many of the shorts were attached to films like WALL-E, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2 in theaters and thus, on the subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases.) However, you may well be curious to hear what the people who made these shorts have to say about their work. Each of the 12 shorts in the collection gets an accompanying commentary, all of which are edifying and entertaining in their own way. If you’re a commentary junkie, don’t scoff at the idea of this collection, either: you could buy the Brave combo pack and watch La Luna, but only here can you also hear writer-director Enrico Casarosa talk about the behind-the-scenes of the 7-minute short.
Recently, I’ve gotten on Disney’s case about some of their home-media releases, especially of the older films making their first appearance on the high-definition format. I’ll freely admit that, for example, I’m no huge fan of Pete’s Dragon, but a series of features documenting its creation would fascinate me nonetheless. Of course, you could argue that Disney will pay much more attention to delivering packed Blu-ray releases only to its new product; the Brave and Pixar Shorts Collection, Volume 2 Blu-rays stand as strong examples of that argument. But why not put forth the same effort to older films on Blu-ray as we do to newer ones? I can’t be the only person who would adore special features outside of a bland 10-minute documentary. One hopes that Disney will continue to expand its home-media department. If they can make Blu-rays as impressive and detailed as those for Brave and the Pixar Shorts Collection, Volume 2, I hope they can do the same for movies that opened decades ago.
– Josh Spiegel