Saturday, June 16, 2012

Black Sheep Interviews Mark Andrews

An interview with BRAVE director, Mark Andrews

Who would have ever thought that the studio who brought you rats in kitchens, robots in space and monsters in closets would be considered brave for telling a princess story? Yet, here we are. Pixar Animation Studios is set to release their 13th feature length animated film, BRAVE, this month, and all anyone can seem to focus on is the fact that for the first time in Pixar history, the protagonist is a girl.

“It is weird,” BRAVE director, Mark Andrews, tells me when I ask him if the attention his main character’s gender is garnering, is at all strange to him. “It’s not like we have a big dry erase board that says, ‘Pixar films until 2025: Girl picture, giraffe picture, something in Saudi Arabia!’ If we focused on that aspect, on marketing, on what we haven’t done, then we would be playing to that instead of playing to the strengths of the character and the story.”

These particular strengths are what Pixar has come to be known for and this can be at least in part attributed to their incredibly organic attention to detail. “We are more focused on building something from the ground up instead of hitting some bar or some expectation,” Andrews tells me of the Pixar philosophy, when we meet at Toronto’s Casa Loma, during the BRAVE press tour. “We’re still very much in the canon of Pixar, which is to say you’re going to get something where you don’t really know what to expect, but trust us, its gonna be good.”

The film had just screened, to great fanfare, for Toronto audiences the night before. Naturally, Andrews wore a kilt to the event. In what is now a great Pixar tradition, a number of the film’s animators, along with Andrews, spent a couple of weeks in and around the highlands of Scotland to take in the scenery. Andrews considers this research pilgrimage to be invaluable if you want to get out of your head. “You have to go, you have to touch everything to get here,” Andrews motions toward his heart at this point. “And once I get here, then I can get it on to a page or into a painting or tell somebody else about it because I can give them these details to hold on to. You get to the character of it all.”

Andrews, hard at work
The character everyone is talking about is Merida, a red-haired fireball of a character, as bullheaded as she is fearless and forward thinking. Not only is Merida, voiced in the film by BOARDWALK EMPIRE's Kelly McDonald, the first Pixar girl but she’s also a princess at that. “Disney’s done the princess, y’know, a lot,” Andrews jokes boisterously. “We knew we had a princess. It serves the story and raises the stakes but we knew we were making an anti-princess. She’s everything a princess is not.”

Taking on a princess in a long line of princesses, while still making sure to make the character modern and relatable to today’s crowd, meant tweaking the formula a little. “Being a princess and being a woman are very different things. It’s not this old adage that you have to be saved, that you have to fall in love to be complete,” Andrews states with the pride of a father. “Merida’s not questing for happily ever after. She’s discovering who she is and how she fits into this world, on her own terms.”

Merida marches to her own beat
And so even though I began all of this by pointing out how odd it is that there is so much focus on Pixar first’s in BRAVE (add first fairy tale and period piece to the list while you’re at it), as opposed to the film itself, Andrews is happy for the attention nonetheless. “I kinda like that everyone is gravitating to the specifics about the film so that when they see it, they’re going to see it’s so much more than just a picture about a girl.”

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