Being a big Disney/Pixar fan, I went to see the new movie Brave on opening weekend. Brave is the story of Merida, an independent, archery-loving young Scottish princess who longs to control her own destiny despite her mother’s wish to marry her off. When a magic spell Merida buys from a witch turns her mother into a bear, it’s up to Merida to return Mom to human form and mend their bond. I appreciated the strong female characters and the complex relationship between mother and daughter, and I really must applaud Pixar for continuing to push the bounds of animation. (Merida’s curly red hair was so visually stunning that I couldn’t stop looking at it throughout the movie.)
When we received two new Brave apps by Disney Digital Books last week, I jumped at the chance to review them (and stare at Merida’s hair again). The first app I looked at was the Brave Read-Along Storybook (June, $6.99), a collaboration with developer Small Planet. A “Follow Along” option with automatic page-turns offers an abbreviated version of the story, narrated delightfully by Nolan North (he’s got a Scottish accent!) and featuring the voices of four of the film’s stars. Movie-quality animated clips, animation, and plenty of sound effects and Celtic music accompany the text. However, the pace of this version is agonizingly slow, alternating between narration and visual representation. I wouldn’t recommend it except for the most patient of young users.
Instead, go for the “Read and Explore” option, which allows you to interact with the story and control the pace. In addition to North’s narration, you can record yourself reading each passage. During the narrative, users can simultaneously explore the interactive aspects. In the “Play” section, users can seek-and-find Merida’s hidden arrows, color in images of the characters, complete six puzzles, and attempt archery in “Merida’s Challenge.” This multilevel game — in which you shoot your collected arrows while moving past targets in the forest — was by far my favorite feature of the app.
The Brave Interactive Comic app (June, $1.99) offers a digital graphic novel version of the story. Panels appear one at a time until each page is filled; an autoplay feature can be turned on or off depending on the pace you want to keep. Designed for a slightly older audience, this app includes sound effects and music but no option to have the story read to you. On the plus side, this format does allow for a more comprehensive retelling of the plot than in the Brave Storybook, with bonus sketches and animation stills to discover throughout the story.
A “How to Draw” tutorial features fierce bear Mor’du, the ursine Queen Elinor, and, of course, Merida herself. (Now you, too, can draw Merida’s curly tendrils!) However, it was a wee bit difficult to get the hang of this section, and I found it unwieldy to use with the touch screen. I’d recommend this app for older users who are ready for more of a reading — and drawing — challenge.
Both available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (require iOS 5.0 or later). Recommended for primary and intermediate users.