Selling a film about medieval Scotland that centres on a mother and daughter ain’t easy. But if anyone can do it, it’s Pixar. From talking toys to talking cars to talking chef rats, the animation studio has built a universe of its own. The latest addition is the studio’s first attempt at the fairytale world—though director Mark Andrews would want to clarify that term—and the first with a female lead. Brave takes us to the ancient moors of Scotland, during the time of clans and un-ironic kilts. Coming out on Blu-ray/DVD this week, we talked with Andrews (who stepped in for Brenda Chapman only 18 months before the release) about Pixar’s “brain trust,” Merida's unique character, and why he learned so much about hair while working on the film.
SPACE: When anyone talks about Pixar you always hear about the “brain trust” and the very collaborative environment. Was that what Brave was like, too?
Mark Andrews: Oh, absolutely. All the Pixar films get vetted by the brain trust. It’s like sitting around with your friends after you watch a movie, and you’re talking about what was good, what could have been better, and what they should have done. That’s what the brain trust is. But, this time, I was in the hot seat! So, it’s the director asking: “What did you think? Give me some feedback so I can make it better.” Brave was one of those movies where there were a lot of moving pieces. It was something we hadn’t really tackled before, and there was a lot of directions to go. Cracking a story is the hardest thing. I like to refer to it as alchemy, since we’re turning lead into gold and it’s never the same formula twice.
In one interview you called Brave a “parent-child story,” but it’s unique since it’s about a mother and daughter.
Which is a parent child story. We need to have it universally relatable. I’m not a mom. I’m not a daughter. But I’m a son and I’m a dad. And there’s a lot of similarities that I can pull from and that are just as truthful and as meaningful. And Merida is a teenager, so we’ve all gone through those transformative years. It’s a very dynamic time where we think we have all the answers, but we realize our relationship with our parents is changing.
Merida also speaks to so many people because she’s so much more than a princess looking for a prince, in the classic fairytale sense. Why do you think that’s such an important route to take?
I don’t think it’s a fairytale at all. Not in the way you normally think about them. We knew we’d be compared to the fairytales, but getting into the film we didn’t want the princess to get rescued or have her be over-lorded by an evil stepmother. We wanted it to be more real. Merida doesn’t need some guy to define who she is. She doesn’t need somebody to come out of the blue and rescue her. She doesn’t need some fairy godmother or magical force from the universe to take pity on her and elevate her. Merida is the cause of her problems and gets out of her own problems. To me, and to Pixar, that was a very empowering and inspiring kind of character.
There’s such a range of tones in the previous projects you’ve worked on —John Carter, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Samurai Jack—what drew you to the world of Brave?
I like those big themes that are also intimate. Like the duality in the word “brave.” Not only is it physical bravery, where you are standing up to monster and demons, but there’s that internal bravery. That you’re brave enough to look at yourself in the mirror and reconcile the difference between how the world sees you and how you see yourself. Because you may look in there and not find the person you thought you were. And you have to find the bravery to accept that reality—because that’s a cold splash of water. When I came across that theme of duality that’s when the story really jumped for me.
Can you talk a bit about how you made Merida’s hair?
It was hard. As much as we could draw a feisty teenager with this big mass of curly red hair, making that a reality with computers is a lot harder. We learned a lot from The Incredibles and Violet’s hair. But with Brave we had another challenge—she had to have curly hair. And we didn’t have the software and the systems to make that a reality. So a lot of work was done taking the hairs, growing them out, figuring out how to curl them, what’s the right texture between these laser-straight curls, interlacing hairs, frizz, crinkled hair—there’s a lot of detail with hair! [Laughs] And then, it had to be directable: I want the wind to blow it, I want her hand to run through it, I need to get it wet, I need to make it dry, I need leaves to stick in it. It’s insane that we did it!