Brave (2012) PICK
Pixar Short Films Collection 2 (2012) PICK
Ruby Sparks (2012) PICK
Two noteworthy releases from Pixar: Brave is Pixar’s first fairy tale with the studio’s first female protagonist. The first-act setup is familiar — a tomboy princess who chafes under her mother’s tutelage — but, in the second act, Brave morphs into a magical parable about filial piety, the dangers of pride and anger and the need to accept responsibility and admit mistakes. All of this, along with the heroine’s intact and ultimately happy family, amounts to some rare moral terrain for Hollywood animation these days. It may not be top-drawer Pixar, but it’s got a humanity that even the best DreamWorks cartoons to date can’t match.
Pixar Short Films Collection 2 is a continuing testament to Pixar’s pioneering revival of the once-neglected short animated film as an industry staple. Following Pixar’s groundbreaking Luxo Jr. (included in the first collection), most of these shorts are dialogue-free vignettes, like modern-day silent films.
This second collection is a bit less sparkling than the stellar first volume: Some shorts — particularly feature spin-offs like the Up-inspired Dug’s Special Mission and the Toy Story short Hawaiian Vacation — are cute but disposable. But there are real gems, too, including the witty (and educational!) Your Friend the Rat, the charming Partly Cloudy and the surreal (and mildly risqué) Day & Night.
If you’ve seen too many Hollywood comedies about a brooding young hero and the bubbly girl who completes him, you may want to check out Ruby Sparks. It’s an uneven but sometimes brilliant comedic fantasy about an introverted young writer named Calvin (Paul Dano) and a magical girlfriend named Ruby who literally materializes from Calvin’s literary fantasies. Once he’s done freaking out, Calvin decides he can accept life with the perfect girlfriend — but will she ultimately accept him? A sharp-witted deconstruction of the "manic pixie dream girl" stereotype, Ruby Sparks was unsurprisingly written by a woman (Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby!).
Content Advisory: Brave: Animated violence and scary imagery; mild suggestive humor; a sequence of fantasy magic; fleeting spiritual implications requiring some perspective. Might be too intense for sensitive youngsters. Pixar Short Films Collection 2: Assorted slapstick violence and mild rude or risqué humor in some shorts. Most shorts are fine family viewing. Ruby Sparks: Sexual references and situations (nothing explicit), including nonmarital cohabitation; some crude and obscene language; some drug use. Mature viewing.