Brave: Interview with the Directors
Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” follows the heroic journey of Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer and headstrong daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the unruly and uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane).
Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric Witch (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to harness all of her skills and resources—including her clever and mischievous triplet brothers—to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late, and discover the meaning of true bravery.
Andrews: “Brave” is about a teenager’s struggle with finding herself, with creating her own destiny. More specifically, it’s about Merida’s struggle in reconciling how the world sees her versus how she sees herself. True courage must be found on the inside. The main theme is being brave, finding the courage to let go. Merida is a very brave character—she climbs cliffs, shoots arrows, fights bears—but it’s really that bravery of the heart that’s the hardest.
Andrews: What I love about Pixar films is that we’re always trying to push the envelope and not be formulaic. With “Brave,” we’re telling a story that audiences are going to get wrapped up in. We put a lot of honesty into making this film. This film is very rich—it’s very tactile. The thing about “Brave” is that you want to reach out and touch it, you want to feel everything in the movie from their gowns and kilts to the big red mess of curls on Merida’s head. That’s what brings a special kind of warmth—a personal connection—to the big screen. We’re really pushing the envelope in terms of cinematography, lighting and photography. We found new ways to create texture and took human characters to the next level. The movie has unprecedented subtlety in its performances.
Chapman: Merida’s wild, red curly hair is so much a part of her character. It represents who she is. Mom is always trying to contain her daughter’s hair, but Merida likes to set it free. Throughout my whole career, I’ve watched many characters start out with beautiful curly hair and then have it straightened out to simplify line and pencil mileage. And I had no idea what a nightmare I was asking for when I said, “Nope, she’s got to have curly hair.” Luckily, the technical team at Pixar was up for the challenge, and they gave us exactly what we needed.
Andrews: The most important thing to Merida is her bow and her horse and the free time that comes with them. So she’s a phenomenal archer. She loves to be outside racing around the Scottish countryside on her horse Angus. Merida’s father, King Fergus] is this immense Highland warrior—the kind of guy who wears a bear cloak. He’s loud and boisterous, kind of like me, and full of guts and wisdom. He lost his leg to the demon bear Mor’du and will tell the tale to anyone whether they’ve heard it or not.
Purcell: It’s important to have humor to balance the emotion. The humor should come from the characters and radiate from their personalities, rather than having it feel like the gags are just placed on top of what you have. For example, the lords and their sons are very broad—their distinct personalities prove to be a great source of comedy.
Andrews: Dingwall [is] the shortest, oldest and most haggard of the lords, but he was fearsome in his time. He’s like that cantankerous old guy who sits on his porch and yells at the neighborhood kids, “Get off my lawn!” That’s Dingwall. Wee Dingwall is his guileless and awkward son.
Andrews: [The triplets] run around the castle, causing all matters of chaos and getting into trouble. They’re constantly a plague to their nanny, stealing all her cupcakes and tarts and escaping scot-free through some nook or cranny in the castle.
Andrews: [The wisps] almost like Marley’s ghost [in “A Christmas Carol”], because Marley’s ghost isn’t an evil spirit—even though he’s frightening, he’s trying to warn Ebenezer to change his ways. That’s what the wisps are doing. There’s a duality to them, because they’re either good or evil—they lead Merida into more and more trouble, but in the end, they’ve led her exactly where she needs to go.
Andrews: Kelly [Macdonald] is so alive and vibrant with a great charm, wit and quirkiness that totally works for Merida. The character is funny and goofy and can laugh at herself, but has this Scottish teenage angst. Kelly Macdonald is the soul of the character and she makes Merida truly appealing.
Chapman: Billy Connolly was my first choice for the role of King Fergus. He’s hysterical; he just cracks me up. I wanted Fergus to be larger-than-life—when he talks, everything sounds so incredulous. I just couldn’t think of anyone else who could have so much energy.
Andrews: Billy is exactly like Fergus in that he’s this gregarious comedian, who’s smart as a whip, has a great wit and just wants to tell stories all the time. The recording sessions were a riot—like life imitating art— we would take a break and get a half-hour of incredible story time with Billy. It was just hilarious.
Andrews: Emma [Thompson] is royalty in the acting world and she knows exactly what Elinor needed to be. She is queenly and regal and noble, but at the same time, she can be bawdy and funny. She can be very serious and theatrical—then crack a joke. That’s exactly who our queen is. Emma gives Elinor just the right amount of emotion, earthiness and humor.
Inspiration from Family
Chapman: I was dealing with a very headstrong daughter. She was so passionate and so strong—and she was four at the time. I thought, “What’s she going to be like as a teenager?” I started to imagine what a fairy tale would be like, with a working mom and a really willful daughter whose strength you don’t want to squash—but sometimes you do want to squash it a little. But in the end, it wasn’t a fairy tale at all. “Brave” turned out to be more of an epic action-adventure.
Andrews. I have a daughter and three sons, just like Fergus and Elinor. There’s a chemical thing in teenagers to fight back—they want to figure out the world for themselves. Teenagers are burgeoning, becoming the adults they’re going to be and that’s the really chaotic transition that’s all through this movie. It’s a parent-child relationship that’s core to this film—mothers and daughters or dads and sons, it doesn’t matter.
Purcell: The heart of the film is very important. When you have the spine and emotional heart of the film, then you can hang the other elements on it. If the spine is strong enough, it will support all the changes you make over the years as it morphs from one thing to another.
Scotland and its Influence
Chapman: I have a love of Scotland. It’s my ancestry, though I’m one of the great American mutts and my family has been around since before the Revolution, so I can’t find that old country family connection. Scotland’s just such an amazing place. It’s beautiful. The people are really hearty and they have an incredible spirit.
Andrews: I’m of Scottish descent. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon and spent a month exploring the Highlands. Scotland is just filled with myths and legends. It’s a magical place— rugged and majestic. The colors there are dark and moody and, at the same time, bright and cheery—all thanks to the crazy weather.
Chapman: Scotland is wild and rugged with its rocks and mountains, trees and valleys—but there’s something growing on everything—there’s a softness to it. The environment actually reminds me of Merida—this perfect but complicated blend of hard and soft.
Andrews: The people are hospitable, warm and friendly, and they take you in right away. They’re all fabulous storytellers. I’ve never been so enraptured and terrified by heroic tales and ghost stories. One of the things we really wanted to emphasize with “Brave” was that every character is a storyteller in his own right and every location has a story.
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