‘Brave’ breaks animation’s glass ceiling as Pixar princess plays hero
- Last Updated: 10:47 PM, June 16, 2012
- Posted: 9:26 PM, June 16, 2012
For a studio that’s turned out movies starring talking redneck tow trucks, clownfish, trash-collecting robots and large blue monsters, Friday’s “Brave” can still lay claim to featuring Pixar’s most unusual lead of all: a female.
After a dozen full-length films, “Brave” is the animation giant’s first to star a girl.
Headstrong Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a medieval Scottish princess who likes archery and horseback riding and climbing things. When her parents try to force her to marry the son of another clan leader, Merida rebels and rides off into the forest.
The cartoon business, like the rest of Hollywood, tends to be male-driven. On the list of top-grossing animated films, the highest to feature a girl as the lead character is No. 15’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Disney’s “Tangled,” with Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, performed reasonably well in 2010, but others, including 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog” have fizzled, perhaps as a result of their failure to attract young boys. (The title of “Tangled” was changed from “Rapunzel” and its marketing downplayed the film’s romantic plotline in order to draw dudes.)
Pixar is no doubt hoping that a tale set in the rough-and-tumble Scottish highlands with a tomboy heroine will be like a cinematic deep-fried Mars bar for a wide range of audiences.
“The most important thing to Merida is her bow and her horse and the free time that comes with them,” says co-director Mark Andrews. “She’s a phenomenal archer. She loves to be outside racing around the Scottish countryside.”
Even the character design made her a bit more masculine. For starters, she’s ripped, with a more muscular physique than most movie princesses.
“We knew Merida needed strength in her upper body to pull that bow back,” says Pixar production designer Steve Pilcher. “We wanted to feel her strength. She is a great force, and we wanted that to be visible.”
The character’s hair is a wild mane of unkempt red hair, meant to represent her free spirit and lack of vanity. Animators originally balked at the curls, because getting the physics correct is extremely difficult, which is why CG characters almost always have straight locks. Co-director Brenda Chapman, who conceived the story as “The Bear and the Bow” in 2008, pushed for the look and won.
She lost another battle, however. In a cruelly ironic twist, Chapman — the first woman to direct a major animated film with 1998’s “The Prince of Egypt” — was fired from “Brave” over “creative differences.” Andrews stepped in to complete the film.
“I think it’s a really sad state. We’re in the 21st century and there are so few stories geared towards girls, told from a female point of view,” Chapman told the Los Angeles Times.
Now, at least, there’s one more.