Tag Archive: Disney


Zootropolis-1Arguably, the output from Disney Animation Studios of late has been better than that of Pixar Animation Studios, not that the two are competing. Since 2010, Disney Animation (with John Lasseter as its head of production) has released Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now Zootropolis, all of which were graced with strong to exceptional box-office numbers and equal critical acclaim. Pixar, while capable of still producing both critical and box-office darlings like Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, have seemed to lack a certain spark or depended upon hits of yesteryear (continuing to do so this year with Finding Dory). Disney themselves are once again leading the pack when it comes to mainstream animation, and in Zootropolis they have cemented what we were already beginning to suspect; Disney are in something of a resurgence period, one to match the second Golden Age of the 90’s. And this time, it’s political.

In  a world populated by animals of an anthropomorphic nature, whom all co-exist peacefully, young rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just become Zootropolis’ first rabbit police officer. While often being faced with a certain degree of prejudice due to her size Zootropolis-2and species, Judy none the less is keen to make an impression and prove she’s more than capable to tackle the serious cases often handed out to her colleagues. The opportunity soon arises when she is tasked with a missing animal case, one of many in the city. Teaming up with street-wise con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy soon uncovers a conspiracy that could upset the peaceful balance held in the city of Zootropolis

Zootropolis is the type of animation that offers plenty for more adult viewers, despite the fact that it is a feature populated by talking animals walking on their hind legs. It is an incredibly timely tale that deals with various degrees of prejudice, holding a mirror up to American society, both its past and unfortunately its present. It tackles these mature themes through sophisticated allegory, all the while remaining a cute and engaging caper allowing for plenty of fun to be had throughout. Disney has often been very deft at such a balance, but rarely has it felt this timely.

Zootropolis-3Along with this potent allegory, Zootropolis also has a team of animators working at the top of their game. The level of detail in the design of the numerous districts of the city of Zootropolis and its suburbs is phenomenal, with many scenes littered with intrinsic features and visual gags. This is the sort of film which will appreciate home viewing experience so one can pause a frame and pick out all the wonderfully imaginative details that can be found within a chosen scene. The character designs as well hark back to Disney of old, with the 1973 Robin Hood particularly coming to mind through numerous characters.

The general plotting of Zootropolis is perhaps the weakest point of the film. While it does have some smartly applied allegory, it does take a while to get to the truly meatier aspects of its politically tinged plot developments. For the most part, the proceedings take on a noir-ish element, and it is not always all that successful, particularly when it feels the need to reference both films within that genre and popular culture which don’t particularly share any DNA with the proceedings. It means a few of the gags do fall flat, but for the most part the script remains largely witty, if a touch too obviously self-referential in regards to Disney’s history (and future).

Zootropolis does a great deal beneath the surface of being a seemingly traditional Disney animation. It has an incredibly well written central female role, as well as populating the rest of the cast with characters who feel well crafted and well defined, even if this still suffers from the prevalent issue of Disney movies of Zootropolis-4late struggling to deliver a truly memorable antagonist. The voice-cast across all the characters, no matter how small their part, all do excellent work, particularly Goodwin and Bateman, who strike a strong chord as the two leads whose dynamic is incredibly refreshing, proving to be excellent company across the neatly paced run-time.

It shall be interesting to see how long this strong streak lasts for Disney, as they will more than likely succumb to the call of sequelizing their recently popular titles (Frozen 2 is happening, a decision which is surely more financially motivated than it is creative). For now, though, they can revel in what is proving to be a resurgence in which both the studio and the audience benefit, providing films that offer excellent entertainment and important moral lessons for all ages. A shining new era is tip-toeing nearer.

4/5- Textured, progressive and incredibly timely, Zootropolis can easily class itself as an instant Disney classic. 

 

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Magic in cinema can take numerous forms; the more overt and the more subtle. Disney has practised  the more overt type since the formation of its studio and is quickly producing updates of their classic titles. Others take the approach, adding a supernatural element without ever fully explaining the workings of it, the mystery adding to the element of magic.  It is the sense of magic and wonder which connects these two films, the live-action remake of Cinderella, and The Age of Adaline. Both are films I would have been quite to avoid during their cinema runs, but hey, when you commit to a 12-hour day in a cinema, you work with what you’ve got.   

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Cinderella (Dir: Kenneth Branagh)

The recent strain of fairy-tale remakes has done little to interest me, with most of the ‘revisions’ only serving to diminish iconic characters (Maleficent) or present soulless money-making imitations (Alice in Wonderland). Cinderella, on the surface, has  little to offer. It is a remake of a Disney film whose sexual politics can only seem dated to a modern day audience, and even to a studio who seemed to face such issues with the mega-hit that was Frozen. Yet, within this remake, touches have been made, elements lifted, that allow for Kenneth Branagh’s bright re-telling to charm with ease, despite your best intentions.

The story is very much the same, young beautiful Ella (Lily James), is forced to become a servant for her wickedly cruel step-mother (Cate Blanchett) and her step-sisters (Sophie McShera & Holliday Grainger) following the tragic death of her father (Ben Chaplin). Ella, who was raised to always have courage and be kind, does her best to find joy in her life, but soon finds times too testing to deal with. Fate, however, soon begins to shine on Ella as she is visited by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), who gives her all she needs to go to the Kingdom-wide Ball (a sort of glamorised 1600s version of ‘The Bachelor’ essentially), where she may just find a little romance in the form of the Prince (Richard Madden).

While the changes may be little, there is enough here to satisfy those who may have shrugged off this remake for demonstrating dated sexual dynamics. For one, Ella and the Prince meet before the ball, with him choosing not to reveal to her that he is the Prince, allowing for something a little more natural to form. There is a better sense of a genuine connection between the two, rather than a rush into marriage after one meeting at a ball. It is still as contrived as hell, but at least there’s some effort to change the dynamic.  ball

What is perhaps less forgiveable is the real focus the film seems to have on developing the stakes at hand for Ella. For what felt like a good hour, the film layers on the tragedy in Ella’s life, that the film becomes a rather depressing ordeal to sit through. James is adorable as the lead, which makes it all the more saddening to see her submitted to the series of unfortunate events that colour her life. Of course, it makes the ending all that more ‘happily ever after’, but for a kids flick, it certainly seems a bit too distressing. A musical sequence may have been welcome, but all are omitted here.

Branagh, however, is a deft hand at the sweeping epic, and delivers it here with certain flourishes and a talent for drawing out energetic performances from his cast, and it all amounts to an experience which is kinda hard not to fall for. It is a brightly lit re-telling that is simple in its pleasures (pretty visuals + pretty people) with little surprises that do just enough to mark this particularly re-telling as a little more worthwhile, and most definitely the best of the recent revisits. Although, granted, that is not saying much. 3/5 

AgeofAdalineThe Age of Adaline (Dir: Lee Toland Krieger)

Ok, this is most definitely a film I would normally never think twice about seeing, despite affection for Lively’s looks, Harrison Ford’s gravitas and the always welcome presence of Ellen Burstyn. The trailer was saccharine, but I could not doubt the intriguing nature of the ridiculous concept at the centre of it all. Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), a widowed single mother, has a car accident and essentially dies on a bizarrely snowy night in San Francisco. She is brought back from the cusp of death by a bolt of lightening striking her body. That occurred in 1937. Since then, Adaline cannot age, and looks set to remain 29 forever (the horror). Scared of what may happen to her if people were to know of her condition, she lives a life constantly on the move, changing identities every so often in order to stay elusive. That may all change, however, when in present day she meets a young man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman), whom she cannot help but be attracted to. This is soon all complicated by a connection in Adaline’s long and storied past.

Just listen to that concept, it is completely ludicrous, but that doesn’t stop Krieger (whose previous directorial credits include Celeste & Jesse Forever) from taking the material seriously and treating it like the romance of the century. And it’s kinda endearing. It believes and buys in to its own ridiculousness, something which you’ll either enjoy or despise. I for one found it difficult to not get caught up in it too, largely due to the conviction of all involved.

While the first hour occupies itself with the rather bland romance between Adaline and Ellis (which is made bearable due to how pretty the two leads are), it is when the voice-over kicks in and we witness the past of Adaline unfold, I found it rather hard to be disinterested by the mythology of Adaline Bowman. This particularly becomes involving as the second act kicks in and a certain reveal make the plot that much more compelling and ensures that you are hooked to the end (if you can make it that far).

Blake Lively, for all her success, has never quite cracked it as an A-List actress, which seems odd to me. Sure, deciding to star in the likes of Green Lantern probably didn’t help, but she is a perfectly pleasant actress who manages to give Adaline a sense of wisdom that one would expect a person to have who has lived for over 100 years. It isn’t going to win any awards, but Lively turns in an engaging star performance, as her natural grace and stunning beauty radiates the screen. Elsewhere, Huisman is an affable leading man, while Harrison Ford turns in a rather affecting and emotive performance, which is nice to see from a man who tends to phone-in a performance from Adalinetime to time. And big props to the casting directors for selecting Anthony Ingruber to portray a young Ford (see pictured), as it is positively uncanny.

The Age of Adaline will be hard for many people to sit through, as it is oh so sickly sweet, but there is something worth buying in to here. It has a charm; it knows how to frame its stars, even if its locales seem oddly washed away by the dulled out cinematography. I am sure that this is going to be one of the films that will be very hard to defend in future discussions, but I’ll go down as saying that I found enjoyment in its strange concoction of fantasy and romance. 3/5 

 

Animation is a craft, no matter what form it is in. Be it 2-D drawings (my personal favourite), stop-motion, puppetry, or computer generated, the work of a group of talented animators can be felt (well, if it’s well made that is). The dominate form of animation these days is the computer animated form, with Disney abandoning the form that made their Studio fortune. None the less, the studio has recently had a string of quite brilliant hits, from Tangled, to Frozen, and most recently with Big Hero 6. The second most prevalent form of animation is arguably stop-motion. The time-consuming process does herald a great deal of respect, with Laika leading the way in recent cinematic stop-motion endeavours. With two examples of these forms currently playing in cinema, I thought I would take out two birds with one stone to express my views on two examples of these different, yet no less creative forms of animation, Big Hero 6 and Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.  

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Big Hero 6 (Dir: Don Hall & Chris Williams) 

Disney’s first dip into the Marvel pool that is separate from the MCU mines material from a comic-book which began in the late 90’s. Although it bears little similarity, the central basis of the team allows for the Disney gurus to produce something that feels very distinctly Disney, and very distinctly Marvel at the same time. The film follows young teenaged genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who is left grief stricken following the death of his brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney). When he begins to stumble on a conspiracy surrounding his brother’s death, Hiro is aided by his brother’s robotic health-care invention, Baymax (Scott Adsit), in finding out the truth. When they stumble across what appears to be super-villain, Hiro sets about forming a super-hero team with Tadashi’s old class-mates in order to save the city of San Fransokyo, and reconcile his own grief.

The design and execution of Big Hero 6 is nothing short of spectacular. The futuristic city of San Fransokyo is a hive of colour, energy and creativity. The opening act, which does a highly efficient job of introducing all the main characters, buzzes with invention, with every character coming across as very rounded and clearly defined individuals. The infectious momentum of the opening allows for the devastating emotional beats to truly hit hard, allowing for Big Hero 6 to navigate more complex emotions than your normal kiddy-fair.

This momentum doesn’t quite sustain, as the film loses much of its originality as it becomes more and more of a superhero movie. The initial team-up remains visually unique, as the team discover and come to terms with their powers and what they are capable of. The film veers towards being more action-orientated in the final moments, yet what is impressive is the individual sense of character that remains within the more heroic moments. It is not afraid to continue to delve in to more mature themes, particularly when Hiro is faced with the identity of the man responsible for his brother’s death. It deftly balances the conventional super-heroics with its thematic concerns in a very sophisticated manner. BigHero6

Much of the charm of the film comes from its characters, and in the team we have a great bunch in which to spend time with. The true stand-out is Baymax, the huggable robot re-fitted for heroism is both a hilarious and touching creation, thoughtfully designed and well performed. The relationship between Baymax and Hiro brings welcome comparisons to The Iron Giant, with the films conveying similar sensibilities in regards to how they approach their audience; rarely pandering, and not afraid to explore mature themes, and most importantly, offering important advice for those themes. A fine addition to the Disney pantheon. 4/5  

shaunthesheepmovie

Shaun the Sheep Movie (Dir: Richard Starzak & Mark Burton)

Aardman have well and truly established themselves as masters of the stop-motion technique. While their feature films only come around once in a blue moon, they are often works of brilliance (Flushed Away not withstanding). Their latest, a big screen adventure for Shaun the Sheep, may not be up there with the likes of Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, is still a lovingly made piece of entertainment that anyone can enjoy.

Hoping for a bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off kind of fun, Shaun leads a scheme which will see the farmer incapacitated for a day so that the flock can take a break from the daily routine. When the plan goes awry and leaves the Farmer with memory loss lost in the city, it is up to Shaun to lead a rescue team. However, they soon attract the attention of a tenacious animal catcher, who will stop at nothing to see Shaun and his friends impounded.

Shaun is a character that I have a great fondness of, due to growing up in the company of Wallace & Gromit, with Shaun’s début in A Close Shave standing as a personal favourite of the W&G shorts. I am slightly too beyond the target audience for his TV series (even if I have dabbled), but he has continued to prove to be a popular character for Aardman to explore. The show plays like silent comedy, and the film-makers have been rather brave in keeping with that style for his cinematic venture. It allows for the format to develop more into the physical slapstick quality that Aardman are deft hands at.

Aardman have always proven capable of providing personality in characters who say very little. Gromit remains one of the most engaging animated characters of our time, and while the characters in Shaun the Sheep are not as endearing, they still have a remarkable amount of individuality for characters who only communicate through gestures and bleats.

The visual puns and background quirks that audiences have come to expect from Aardman are present and correct, but there is the sense that this particular property has not be made with adults in mind quite as much as their previous efforts. The sets are a bit cruder than some of their other work, while some of the jokes simply do not have the sophistication that the likes of Chicken Run exude. Shaun

Nonetheless, the dedication is, as always, clearly evident. No other form of animation exhibits the labour of the craft in the same way as stop-motion. The clear indents of finger-prints add to the charm rather than distract. They demonstrate that what you are seeing is a product of collective talents, working pain-stakingly around the clock to capture a single frame of film. It is for this reason that well-made stop-motion, with charming characters, is rather full proof when it comes to criticism. It is hard to critique something which has quite clearly been nurtured and cared for across every step of production. Shaun the Sheep Movie stands as yet another testament of the vibrant energy that the format can, and always does, provide. 4/5

Review: Frozen- Let it Snow!

Frozen-1I am always skeptical of movies which receive praise along the lines of: ‘Disney’s best since The Lion King.‘ For a film to have such a label attached to it is not fair to the film itself, or to the other Disney films in-between. Yet, this is something that Frozen has been stuck with. It is a big ask for a film to reach that benchmark, as The Lion King is a film that quite rightly stands out as one of (if not) the best of Disney’s Renaissance Era (from 1989 to 1999). So I tried to put that comparison out of my mind, and I suggest you do the same. It would not be fair to the film that is Frozen. However, it must be said, Frozen is one of the most impressive Disney movies to come out in recent years, following hot on the heels of Tangled; delivering a spirited, exciting, and down right beautiful experience.

A re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen tale, the film focuses on the relationship between two sisters, the Princesses of Arendelle; Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa was born with the ability to create snow and ice, and is scared by the possibilities of her abilities. During her coronation, Elsa loses control of her abilities and throws the kingdom of Arendelle into an eternal winter. With Elsa hiding somewhere in the forest, the free-spirited Anna takes it upon herself to find her sister and bring summer back to Arendelle. She soon finds assistance in the form of ice-carver mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer companion Sven, and an enchanted snowman by the name of Olaf (Josh Gad).Frozen-2

Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen tale has been in the hands of the Mouse House since the 1950’s, and ever since it has had difficulty trying to find how to successful adapt the character to the big screen. Ironically enough, they found the character a bit too cold and hard to relate to. The answer to this conundrum seems to have been to introduce a sister, which works a treat. The two characters of Elsa and Anna mark a refreshing change for the model of the Disney Princess. They are both much more independent characters, with individual personalities. Elsa is a tortured soul who wants nothing but to show how much she loves her younger sister, while Anna is an energetic and highly excitable, if somewhat naive, optimist. They both feel like fully-fledged characters and are given an abundance of personality from the fine vocals of the hugely talented Menzel and Bell.

The narrative progression of Frozen does not hold many surprises in regards to how one expects a Disney movie to unfold. After a highly emotional opening ten minutes (there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house), the film takes its footing on a well trodden path, hitting the beats we’d expect it to. However, while it may seem very traditional, there are some surprises along the way which truly make this stand out as one of Disney’s stronger efforts of recent years. We know how this story will ultimately end, but we may not be quite so sure on how the film will get there, leading to a thoroughly refreshing spin on the quest for love. It is clever, relevant, and shows true growth in the company as a Studio responding to the modern age.

Frozen-3Where the film strives to be a more traditional Disney movie is where the film struggles at times. Its desire to have an antagonist within the tale leads to some rather rushed and predictable plot developments that do not feel convincing or particularly well conceived. The film does not have many action set-pieces to speak of, with the film struggling on the bridge between the second and third act, never quite knowing what direction it wants to take the story in; does it make Elsa the antagonist, or does it try to find that conflict elsewhere? Eventually it settles on its footing, but it slips on the ice trying to get there. However, the film’s strengths far out weigh its weaknesses, and its strengths lie exactly where an animated Disney movies strengths should; in its artistry and musical numbers.

The animation within Frozen is simply beautiful. You feel the passion behind each animated pixel, as the animators do their utmost to tap the artistic potential out of the story of the Snow Queen. The way the snow glistens, the way the snow falls, the way the ice forms; everything is so stunningly realized that it is just a joy to behold (particularly in 3-D). The musical numbers, courtesy of Tony Award-Winning husband-wife pair Roberto and Kristen Anderson Lopez, are highly memorable and lyrically energetic and touching. The highlight has to be the main number ‘Let It Go’. With powerful thematically relevant lyrics being blasted out with gusto by Idina Menzel, the number soars above the rest and can quite easily stand shoulder to shoulder with some of Disney’s best numbers (expect to see it in many a Best Song category come February time). It is also focused around Elsa constructing her ice palace, which just so happens to also be the highlight in regards to the animation. A stunning sequence and song that demonstrate the loving craft and devotion that has obviously been given to this film. Frozen-4

Frozen will be a film that will come to characterize what I think is almost a second renaissance period for Disney. The last three movies from Disney Animation Studio’s (pretending Planes does not exist) have all been hailed as some of the studio’s best; Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Tangled. While Frozen may not seem to be as original as either of those two films, which it is not, it is by far my favourite of the three. It manages to withhold much of what defines an animation as a Disney film, while adapting itself to more modern sensibilities and attitudes, a blend which was completely void in Ralph, and something which was done with less aplomb in Tangled. Frozen is a heart-warming tale that is perfect viewing in this winter season, and is a film that will most certainly join the ranks of Disney’s best animated classics.

4/5- A traditional Disney movie with some surprising tweaks along the way, Frozen is enough to warm even the coldest of hearts this Christmas. Simply a joy.

Michael Perry Reviews ‘Brave’!

Greetings all! Andy Gaudion here, again, only briefly. Today I have another guest review for you, once again from the one and only Michael Perry! I am sure that we can all agree that his TDKR review was brilliant, and I am more than happy to have him back once again for his views on the latest offering from Disney/Pixar, the fantasy adventure Brave, out now (unless you’re in Alderney, in which case, we have Men In Black 3). Read on and enjoy loyal readers, and I promise I’ll blog something soon, or hand it over to Mike, he is pretty darn good!

After Pixar concluded their majestic Toy Story franchise in 2010 (well, hopefully it was the conclusion…), they were the unquestioned masters of the animated realm.  Boasting a string of classic movies which stood among the best ever put together – animated and otherwise – they had viewers young and old alike eating from the palms of their hands / fins / paws.

Then, along came Cars 2, and there was a shift in the balance.  Their first critical (if not commercial) misstep, the general consensus is that Cars 2 is nothing but a disappointment, and born from a film which didn’t really warrant a sequel anyway.  Suddenly, all sorts of doubts were thrown up: now that they’ve been bought by Disney, have Pixar sold out?  With a release date for Monsters University now slated, and rumours of Finding Nemo 2 spreading through the grapevine, has creative motivation been pushed aside to make way for a more money-centric objective?  These concerns have weighted Brave with a huge responsibility: Pixar have to prove that they’ve still got the mojo – they need to tighten their hold on the animation throne which is under threat from the gradual rise of DreamWorks.

Thankfully, though, Brave just about pulls it off.  Pixar have taken more chances on this one, with the narrative following their first primarily-human cast.  In addition, it’s their first film led by a female protagonist, and they have adopted a genre new to the studio personally, if not to their mother company: the fairy-tale.  However, Brave isn’t quite as adventurous as it seems to be on the surface.  Yes, it’s a film which is distinct in their catalogue, but it never fully delves into dramatically different territory, keeping the key components of their much-loved repertoire in place, and adhering to many of the conventions of a traditional Disney fairy-tale.

In the highlands of Scotland, the free-spirited, fun-loving Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) feels restricted by the wishes of her conservative mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  Elinor makes arrangements for Merida to be betrothed to one of the valley’s esteemed warriors, but Merida wants to take control of her own destiny.  Going against the grain of a traditional princess, her desires include practising archery, climbing mountains and chasing rainbows: none of that matrimony malarkey.  When the men of the land compete to win Merida’s hand in marriage, the tension between mother and daughter finally comes to a head.  From there, a dark dealing with a witch prompts a literal transformation, and without spoiling too much, Merida must find a way of bringing her mother back to her.

The tale begins fantastically, with a wonderful prologue featuring a young Merida as she receives her first bow.  As ever, Pixar’s visuals are truly breath-taking, with painstaking attention to detail bestowed upon both the scenery and the characters.  Pixar’s Highland-based heroes are brilliantly designed: colourful, expressive, and crucially, relatable.  Merida is one of Pixar’s finest leading characters: a feisty, flame-haired pixie with a believable vulnerability nestled just beneath the surface.  Kelly Macdonald does a terrific job, delivering a vocal performance which simply radiates fun and energy.  Elsewhere, Billy Connolly shines as King Fergus, a huge one-legged softie who keeps the humour levels nicely balanced with his buffoonish antics and playful jibes.

The first half of the film is a delight, as we get to examine the deftly-drawn relationship between mother and daughter, with both arguments given consideration.  It’s one of Pixar’s more mature touches: the ability to weave in elements suited to older and younger generations, and it’s a well-written, big-hearted and very human story.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments when the film stalls.  By and large, Pixar’s spin on the fairy-tale genre is delightful and fresh, but when the inevitable moralising arrives, it’s a little muddy and threadbare.  The final act, too, doesn’t entirely gel: it’s all a bit of a whirlwind rush with little time to catch one’s breath, and as a result, the emotional pull of the climax suffers.  There are also minor niggles: the will-o’-the-wisps are intriguing additions which could have done with more exploring, and likewise, the antagonistic force of the narrative feels like something of an afterthought, crying out for more space to breathe.

But there is always enough of that magic Pixar dust sprinkled about to just about keep it all in check: a lovely fishing scene set during a golden sunrise; an immersive world splashed with colour (main case in point being that wild, wicked hairdo); and Merida’s younger triplet siblings, who look set to be the groan-inducing infant comic relief, but who in fact hold their own amid the action – their mischief charming rather than irritating.

As Pixar offerings go, Brave can be comfortably ranked alongside A Bug’s Life and the original Cars: a film which may not quite compare with emotionally-fulfilling masterpieces such as Toy Story, Up and the like, but still a beautifully made, inventive piece of work, shot through with warmth and humour.

4/5- Brave might not be as courageous as its title implies, but it’s certainly strong enough to show that when Pixar have the right tools, they can still make animated movie magic.