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'Brave' filmmakers say new movie isn't typical Disney princess story

Director Mark Andrews, left, and producer Katherine Sarafian, right, pose for a photograph at Casa Loma in Toronto on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. The two have a new film called "Brave". THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
June 20, 2012 - 3:25 PM

TORONTO - Pixar films have always revelled in the unconventional, turning seemingly uncommercial ideas — movies starring lonely robots, foodie rodents and widowers in floating houses — into box-office behemoths.

But the animation studio's latest offering, "Brave," centres on a plucky princess railing against her overbearing mother in 10th-century Scotland — and to some disgruntled fans, that sounds awfully close to the sort of traditional children's movie churned out by Disney, which bought Pixar in 2006.

So that's left director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian in the odd position of having to defend against accusations that their film, opening Friday, simply isn't weird enough for Pixar purists.

"I've heard: 'Oh God, they're going to go into a tried-and-true medium,'" said Sarafian during a recent interview conducted, appropriately enough, outside Toronto's regal Casa Loma.

"There's a great tradition of let's say Disney princesses and Disney fairy tales. And here, we quite deliberately set out to make a Pixar hero, not a Disney princess. We tried — all the way through our process — to be very Pixar about it, which means very different and very fresh."

Added Andrews: "They don't really know us if they think we're going conventional. They aren't real Pixar fans."

Given that feisty take, it's perhaps no surprise that Andrews based his film's headstrong heroine in part on his own flesh and blood.

The film's star is Merida (voiced by Golden Globe nominee Kelly Macdonald), a fiercely independent adolescent with a flowing mane of curly ginger locks and a knack for archery. When her caring but conventional mother tries to force her to select a suitor from one of three neighbouring clans, Merida rebels and — with help from a conniving witch — fractures that maternal bond.

Like Merida, Andrews' 12-year-old daughter has three free-wheeling younger brothers who seem unburdened by the responsibility demanded of her. So Andrews drew on that dynamic in crafting "Brave," which he also co-wrote.

"My daughter goes, 'The boys get away with murder!'" squawked Andrews, affecting a high-pitched voice not unlike Marge Simpson's.

"I'm like, well, I'm going to put that in the script."

The mother-daughter relationship provides the film's core, and Andrews — who took over from director Brenda Chapman after she left the project over creative differences — wanted to ensure that both clashing characters were sympathetic.

Meanwhile, as is typical of Pixar, he went to painstaking lengths to ensure the accuracy of the film's medieval Scotland, from its castles to its native creatures to its unique folklore. Andrews — who wears a black T-shirt with "Got Haggis?" scrawled across it to an afternoon of interviews — led the production team on several scouting trips overseas to cultivate ideas for the movie.

And he wanted to ensure the film (which also includes voice work from Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson) featured appropriately high stakes, which meant including some ominous material that could frighten the film's youngest viewers.

"I think we're happy to put that out there in the marketing materials and everything so people know you're in for a thrill ride ... this is not your mother's or grandmother's tale," said Sarafian.

"It's not 'Lady and the Tramp.'... We'd be irresponsible filmmakers and we wouldn't be (telling) the best story we could tell if we shied away from the darker aspects of this.... There had to be scary animals and scary things happening and dangerous things in order for us to really feel something at the end of the story."

"Brave" marks the first time a female protagonist has headlined a film in the Pixar canon, which also includes "Wall-E," "Up," "Ratatouille" and the "Toy Story" series.

The filmmakers behind "Brave" say they were surprised to see that factoid gain such traction as word spread about the movie.

"Everyone's saying: 'the first female heroine!'" said Sarafian. "We were a little bit stunned by the response. And what it tells me is there's a thirst in audiences for more out of their female characters. They've been wanting more."

And given the mint generated by "The Hunger Games," it might not be a bad time to release a film headlined by an arrow-slinging heroine.

"2012 has turned out to be the year of the bow," agreed Andrews.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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