Pixar animation studio’s latest film, Cars 2, hits theaters tomorrow, and promises to be a bright and colorful sequel aimed primarily at younger moviegoers. However, the studio will shift gears back to more original and complex material with next year’s release, Brave.

Brave marks the first full-blown fairy tale for Pixar, and based on early conceptual artwork for the film, it should not only be as beautifully animated as the company’s previous features, but will also find the organization behind classics like Toy Story and Finding Nemo venturing into new territory – both in terms of its mystical setting and darker narrative.

The film revolves around one Scottish Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald), an accomplished and overall capable warrior who inadvertently violates an ancient law of her magical kingdom and must seek out the mysterious Wise Woman (Julie Walters) in order to set things right.

Director Mark Andrews had the following to offer EW, with regards to how Brave will differ in tone from previous Pixar pictures:

“What we want to get across is that this story has some darker elements. Not to frighten off our Pixar fans — we’ll still have all the comedy and the great characters. But we get a little bit more intense here.”

Images of four important characters from the film have been released, and with the exception of The Wise Woman (who kind of looks like Up‘s Carl Fredricksen crossed with “The Ancient Booer” from The Princess Bride), they likewise look a bit more nuanced and complex in design – when compared to the human characters from previous Pixar movies, that is.

From the top left corner going clockwise, the characters pictured here are: Princess Merida, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), The Wise Woman, and Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson).

Per usual, Pixar’s animators performed a good deal of research before they went about recreating the natural landscapes of Scotland in CGI form for Brave. As evidenced by the luscious imagery of rolling hills and trickling streams in the film’s first poster, their efforts look to pay off handsomely.

Check out that first poster for Brave below:

With the followup to Cars arriving this week – and a prequel to Monsters, Inc. titled Monsters University on the horizon – there’s been some concern that Pixar is starting to move away from its emphasis on more original and creatively untested material. Sequels and spinoffs aren’t bad by design, but there is something more satisfying about the prospect of Pixar tackling an unusual and modernized spin on the classic princess fairy tale (a la Brave) – as opposed to just churning out new installments in already-established franchises.

Brave is slated to hit theaters next summer on June 22nd, 2012. Keep an eye out in the near future for the teaser trailer, which is expected to premiere in front of Cars 2 this weekend.

Source: EW, Bleeding Cool