Pixar’s Brave… or playing it safe?

Just returned from enjoying Pixar’s Brave. An entertaining movie, if – oddly for Pixar – an entirely predictable one. The story lacked suspense or surprise, and got by on the charm of its characters and the stunning locations.

This movie was to represent many firsts for Pixar: first period piece, first female protagonist and first female director. But then about a year prior to release it was quietly announced that director Brenda Chapman was no longer working on the project (though she still retains a co-director credit). This is not an unusual move for Pixar. Ratatouille suffered a similar setback with the original director Jan Pinkava being replaced by Brad Bird, but it is perhaps more notable that in this case a woman was replaced by a man.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Chapman speaks for the first time of the heartbreak of being removed from Brave, and wonders how women can gain more positions of power in Hollywood. Pixar, for all its genius over the years, is starting to come across as a bit of a boys’ club, with no women whatsoever on the famed brain trust and one too many movies about Cars. Surely there must be a some women in the organisation who can add a few x chromosome into the brain trust mix?

I doubt the truth of what really happened will come out anytime soon, and it’s a fact of life that directors and writers are often fired from movie projects, particularly in the perilous world of animation where Directors’ Guild and WGA rules don’t seem to apply. But I wonder if Brenda Chapman’s more personal version of Brave might not have felt so pat, might not have been so obvious? Might it not, for all its flaws, have been more interesting?

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unusuallytallstories

Author, screenwriter, and co-founder of the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

2 thoughts on “Pixar’s Brave… or playing it safe?”

  1. I’ve just come out of Brave. The kids seem to have enjoyed it, but I’m not detecting huge enthusiasm. As for me – I loved aspects of it (the character design, the heroine, the settings, the sense that normal male-centric structures were being avoided). But… the film didn’t click. It just didn’t connect, the electrical circuit had a break in it somewhere. I think it was the bear/spell thing. It came out of the blue to start with – Merida wasn’t looking for it. So was the witch tempting her in with the will-o-the-whisps? If so, why? And why did the witch then disappear? What did the w-o-t-w’s signify anyway? If the film
    Is about making your own fate, why throw in a sop to superstition? The changing of the mother to a bear seemed entirely arbitary. Why a bear, not an otter, or a daisy? Something to do with the king’s leg? What was that business with the hole in the ground and the evil bear? Just there to add tension to the final 10 minutes? Maybe the film doesn’t work because the person who is ‘changed’ and learned and grown is not the protagonist – Merida is delightfully feisty from beginning to end – but the mother, who I presume has learned to let Merida choose her own fate. Hmmm. Last fractured thought (sorry, writing this on iPhone at bus stop) – can a film where the protagonist is followed around by a parent be exciting? The most thrilling moment in the film, unfortunately, was Merida’s initial ride. Nothing matched that… 😦

    1. “can a film where the protagonist is followed around by a parent be exciting?”
      I bloody hope so – just spent two years writing one…

      I think you nail much of this on the head, Paddy. Having let it sunk in, I think Pixar were trying to make a Ghibli film: the Willow the wisps remind me of similar sprites used in Miyazaki’s films, and the witch was like the Baba Yaga types that crop up in Spirited Away etc.

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