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Here Honey, Let me Drive – Brenda Chapman on Getting Dropped from Brave

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She’s now an Oscar winner but most people knew that Brenda Chapman had been fired off of Brave and another director given the opportunity to “fix” what was wrong. What WAS wrong? Hear that sound? That is the sound of a million Pixar fan laments that it wasn’t as good as Toy Story, Ratatouille, etc. The Pixar branded no-likey that Pixar had gone in a different direction, namely the usual Pixar (Hollywood) paradigm of male on top, male discovering self, male growing up, with the help of a plucky female!  The story works because we’ve all been so conditioned as audiences that we can’t really seem to accept anyone who messes with the structure.  For some of us, we have to come off like militant feminists who rail against the status quo because no one else seems to mind – as long as money is being made, who really cares?

Brenda Chapman says that her experience to alter this status quo, to deliver unto Pixar something it never had before: a female lead. Can you imagine? In 2012 that this sentence even has to be uttered? And yet, it is. Women mostly make the world go round yet they most certainly do not drive “family entertainment.”  Says Chapman,  “Sometimes women express an idea and are shot down, only to have a man express essentially the same idea and have it broadly embraced. Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen.”

I dare say, even with women in high places it will continue to happen. The reason being, no woman wants to fail in a high powered position so they will probably do what male executives do: make money the best way they know how.   After all, the most powerful forces in the Oscar strategist business are women – Cynthia Schwarz, Lisa Taback, Lea Yardum, Bumble Ward, Terry Press.  To say nothing of the high-powered women who run studio.  Their job is to sell a movie, not necessarily to sell a movie that corrects society’s ills.  So I’m afraid the only people who will ever really change anything will have to be audiences who buy the tickets and loudmouth bloggers like me who continue to champion works by women and continue to make noise about it.  Change will have to come from outside in, I figure.

As for Brave’s unconventional storyline, it’s probably that Chapman is a mother that I loved Brave’s odd story.  Most were expecting a rollicking adventure, not something so unexpected as the story of a mother and a daughter.  It made a shitload of money, $237 million, whether it won the hearts of Pixar fanboys or not.  And isn’t money the bottom line anyway?

 

 

26 Comments on this Post

  1. Do we have any idea yet what “her” version would have been like?

  2. Q Mark

    To be fair to Pixar, we have no idea why Chapman was fired. It’s wrong to just assume sexism is at play when Chapman could’ve been mismanaging the budget, treating the staff like garbage, not meeting deadlines or a hundred different legitimate reasons.

  3. Ash Brannon was also replaced on a Pixar film he was initially to direct, Toy Story 2.

    I’m glad you liked Brave – no one I know did, and much of the problem was the disjointed yet very cliched plot, and the lack of a true character in Merida. Much like Up, a bunch of caricatures rendered to the most scientifically extreme level of cuteness.

  4. Okay Brave just felt a bit flat. Maybe it was in worse condition when Chapman had it. After all if the movie looks good they won’t just fire a director if they feel it can make a boatload of money. Kung Fu Panda 2 had a female director. Most Disney movies focused on princesses. Up didn’t have a plucky female character :SPOILERS: if anything the old man lost his spark after his wife died. Wall-E found love after meeting a “female” robot. Sure male leads may dominate animated films nowadays but often times they better themselves because of a female character. Also, if you think about it, there are far more male comedians than females and comedians normally voice the leads.

  5. I have a friend who works at Pixar in a fairly high level position (he’s the guy who cuts the trailers). As a result he has a lot of contact with directors because he needs to know what the movies are about so he can plan his editing better. Though he wouldn’t give away “the story” (most likely because he wasn’t THAT involved with the production yet), he was involved in a few meetings where topics discussed were:

    1. Disney (NOT Pixar) wanted more action and a character or two that would appeal to young boys (if you ever wondered why the three kids felt pointless, they were a result of the new director and vision).

    2. Disney wanted the title changed from “The Bear and the Bow” to “Brave” because the first title suggested it would be “a girls movie” and wanted a title that made it seem more like an action film. Chapman took offense to this because the title didn’t make any sense.

    3. Talks about the old direction were so different the film was almost scrapped and rebuilt. Thankfully, it would have cost too much to do that, which is why they went in the co-director direction.

    4. Pixar DID want the movie to be shorter because it was a gamble, and they weren’t sure if the current story could withstand the over two hour running time it was looking like. The movie as it stands is less than two, and some of “the filler” was trimmed. This is the only thing he mentioned that Pixar itself was concerned about.

    And while that is probably not the whole story, one thing that he did talk freely about is that Chapman was very nice, very motivating, and the staff loved her. For the Pixar animators it was “a dark day” when she was let go from the movie.

  6. @Kevin

    By Disney, do you mean John Lasseter, the current head of Disney Animation? Or a higher-up executive?

  7. Brave’s problems are 3: its only better than Cars among Pixar, its not better than recent Disney enforts with female leads like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog and it was not this years best… But the animated feature category seems to be under the dictatorship of the box office. With my respect to the people involved but a total waste of an Oscar.

  8. Yvette

    Pixar was the one studio I had complete faith in…
    And now this?
    A Pixar release is an event.
    Even my 13-year old niece was like…
    “It was ok, but..”
    It’s the first Pixar movies that felt completely flat and lacked a strong aesthetic.
    Now I see why.

  9. Yvette

    …the first Pixar MOVIE…’

  10. Christophe

    kevin, thx for the insider info!

    1. “the three kids felt pointless” really? they were my favorite thing from the movie and trailers.

    2. “the bear and the bow” suggests a girls movie? how so? it sounded much better than soulless “brave” imo.

    3. would have loved to see what would’ve come out from the original vision.

    4. I agree the theatrical version of an anim. feature shouldn’t be much longer than 100 min, but if they have extra scenes they can include them in the dvd version which allows bathroom breaks.

  11. Errr… To me, BRAVE is second only to RATATOUILLE in the Pixar cannon. The mother-daughter theme is very touching. Any teen who had family conflicts can relate to it. BRAVE is a beautiful film, much more emotionally effective than souless eye-candy like WALL*E.

  12. The Great Dane

    Christophe:
    I am sorry, but WHAT? An animated film shouldn’t be longer than 100 minutes? Why?? If the film is great and there’s a story that would take, say, 150 minutes to tell, why should it matter if it’s animated or not? To say a live-action film is allowed to be longer than an animated film is just nonsense. A film is a film is a film. Kids-aimed animated films are “short” just to get more screen times per day at theatres, I guess, but there shouldn’t be a limit. Films like Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away are two hours long and I wouldn’t want to be without a single minute of that so-called “overtime”. If the vision, story or atmosphere is there, any film could be 300 minutes long for that matter – animated or not. :)

  13. Christophe

    dane the great,

    Try to keep a young kid focused on a movie for more than 90-100 min, 2 hrs at best… good luck!

  14. @Christoph, the original title had the word “bow” in it. While some people were thinking “Like a bow and arrow, that’s kind of cool” some kids would probably think “Like a bow that goes in girls’ hair”. I get why they wanted to change the title. Should they have? They didn’t need to but I get where the concerns are coming from. Sometimes a movie title is exactly what grabs an audiences attention.

  15. @Collin

    It was a higher Disney executive.

    @Cristoph

    While the three boys are fun, notice how they don’t really do anything important in the film? The one thing they do do (help

  16. @Collin

    It was a higher Disney executive.

    @Cristoph

    While the three boys are fun, notice how they don’t really do anything important in the film? The one thing they do do (help Merida and her mom escape) the movie could have done without the boys help. Plus it wasn’t the “bow” part Disney had a problem with, it was the “bear” part because they felt people would think of cute bears and plush dolls.

    P.S. Sorry for the triple post, my browse4 is acting crazy right now.

  17. Rahul Agarwal

    Brave was great until it became about bears. The two halves of the film were so disjointed.

  18. Christophe

    kane,

    that makes sense, didn’t even cross my mind.

    kevin,

    i do agree, i was diasspointed by the triplets’ lack of screen time and relevance to the story, and i must’ve read a short description along the first title when they announced it, so i remembered it as being self-explanatory later on, thought it was apparently not.

  19. I would think they wouldn’t want to call it “The Bear And The Bow” because it hints at THE major plot twist of the film. I liked Brave. It was certainly a major improvement over Cars 2, which is the only Pixar movie without a clearly distinguishable theme or message. But I have to admit that its storytelling felt a little disjointed and the themes and messages didn’t feel symbiotically tied together. The ideas of “destiny” and “free will” are ultimately just MacGuffins to get us to the witch and the magic cake. You could swap out literally any themes for those and they could still serve the same purpose of getting the mother and daughter in their predicament. Instead of Merida not wanting to marry a suitor and wanting to make her own destiny, it could be about Merida caring about the forest. Her tribe wants to level the whole thing for economic development. The mother could be the strongest voice in trying to get Merida to go along with what’s best for the tribe, which would cause a rift between them, and ultimately when the twist comes, and the mother is forced to confront the forest head on, she would understand what Merida sees as so important and their bond would grow deeper. It’s just a little troubling to me that the establishing themes in the first act carry so little weight and have little to no bearing on where the story actually goes.

  20. Danemychal

    Yawn @ this story. The movie was good, not great. As has been pointed out, there have been better Disney films with female leads lately (like Tangled), most Pixar movies are better and there are other female directors of animated films doing just fine. I suspect no gender equality issues at play here. Male directors get replaced regularly. It’s part of the business.

  21. I am happy for Brenda. It’s a final fuck you to the people who fired her, and I just think it’s wild someone can win an Oscar for a movie they were cut from.

    As for Brave itself, I’d be interested in seeing what the other storylines were, because that was really the only film I didn’t want to see walk away with an Animated Feature Oscar.

  22. Jason B

    @Danemycha:
    “I suspect no gender equality issues at play here. Male directors get replaced regularly. It’s part of the business.”

    No, but you don’t understand, it’s about gender!

    I’m being sarcastic because this is so extremely speculative on a clearly biased perspective. When Julie Taymor was dropped from Spiderman the Musical, of course she could make all sorts of accusations but the end result was that the play wasn’t working. Let’s see if anyone else backs-up her story before making accusations of sexism. After all, how often in Hollywood do you hear about “artistic differences?”

  23. Watermelons

    Oscar-winner Jan Pinkava is another Pixar director replaced late in the game – Ratatouille was set to be his feature directorial debut after half a decade of work. He was replaced by Brad Bird in 2005.

  24. I liked Brave. I didn’t love it, but I really liked it. I was and am surprised at the backlash against it. Particularly coming a year after Cars 2. I was surprised by the cool look at the mother-daughter dynamic. I thought the triplets kept the humor and story flowing, it had good music. It was a bit muddled, and perhaps a wee bit light on it’s feet, but it was a solid effort. Matched about the best of what other animated studios came up with to me (about par for HTTYD in my opinion).

    All of Pixar has been going downhill since Ratatouille to me. But then so has all of Hollywood. 2007 was a magical year to me.

  25. Why in the world would Disney think people would assume “Bear” meant teddy bear? That makes no sense. Particularly paired with even half-assed marketing,

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