There's been a frenzied bit of news making the Internet rounds over the weekend. Pixar named its first female director! Huzzah! Yay! ... Deja vu? Yes, put the celebrating on hold for just a minute. This news -- about Brenda Chapman and her film, 'Brave,' came from The Hollywood Reporter (and was picked up by a number of sites including EW), which offered up a link to a Pixar Wiki for the news -- a site whose information comes from a Disney press release we shared with you back in April 2008.
It couldn't be that THR just wanted to highlight a new release date, and did so in a misleading manner. Though 'Brave' was once slated for Christmas, 2011, the film is now scheduled for a June 15, 2012, release, but that was announced back in April. Maybe it's just for emphasis? The news was basically swallowed in '08 by other features much further along -- footage of 'Wall-E,' 'Up' news and a release date for 'Toy Story 3.' That far-off feature 'Brave' (then known as 'The Bear and the Bow') didn't stand a chance.
Though the film's logo was released recently, it's not exactly news that Pixar has found its first female director, but it's definitely notable. Read on ...
Thirteen seems to be a lucky number for a couple of women at Pixar. The company has already given us 11 features, and 'Brave' is the second upcoming release after 'Cars 2' in 2011. As the original press release stated, 'Brave' is being produced by Katherine Sarafian and boasts Brenda Chapman as writer and director. Chapman has a solid animated history. She co-directed 'The Prince of Egypt,' was a storyboard artist on 'The Little Mermaid,' part of the creative team of 'Up,' and her pen has been involved with a myriad of animated classics including 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'The Lion King' and 'Cars.'
Featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, 'Brave' is a Scotland-set action-adventure focused on a royal daughter named Merida who "would prefer to make her mark as a great archer. A clash of wills with her mother compels Merida to make a reckless choice, which unleashes unintended peril on her father's kingdom and her mother's life. Merida struggles with the unpredictable forces of nature, magic and a dark, ancient curse to set things right." Considering the original title, it's no jump to assume Merida finds herself facing a bear with her bow.
There are, already, points of contention. When Cinematical's Dawn Taylor wrote about the backlash over the desire for Pixar to focus one of their films on a girl, she wasn't too thrilled that 'Brave' would star a princess. Though, from the short summary above, it's obvious that Merida is more than just a princess; the word "royalty" offers a whole bag of stereotypes and overused tropes that could very well plague the story and make it a whole lot more Disney and less Pixar. We can only hope that there's no boy-on-steed savior for the young woman, no need for a princely kiss, or end-of-film nuptials. Being an ace with a bow and arrow should help that, but considering Chapman's previous work, it's reasonable to worry that Merida could want to give up her life for love a la 'Mermaid,' or be swallowed by the chauvinistic environment all too present in 'Beauty and the Beast.'
But this is a Pixar Studios release, not a regular, Princess-primed Disney release. (Let's face it, Disney has proved to be too scared to truly break out of their ethnocentric, male-savior princess romances, so this allows for experimentation outside of the specific Disney brand.) It's dangerous to wish or hope, but after presenting one of the most beloved animated women the big screen has ever seen with Ellie and 'Up,' there's a distinct expectation for Pixar to offer something as equally engaging in 'Brave.' This expectation is even more fueled by the fact that this is the first Pixar flick directed by a woman and focusing on a girl, and Emma Thompson is involved -- a woman known for speaking out against sexist viruses in Hollywood.
But there's also a risk involved, making the film's title a whole lot more than the story of a 'Brave' girl. Pixar has made its name without succumbing to fairy tales. The company is known for some really great female characterizations that don't involve most of the regular "womanly" tasks -- like Ellie's tomboyishness, Helen and Violet Parr's ('The Incredibles') superheroine ways, or Jessie's yodeling cowgirl ('Toy Story 2'). There's no telling how the Pixar audience-at-large will react to the princess-themed girl adventure -- whether they'll simply code it as a Disney film and blow it off, or give it the benefit of the Pixar doubt. Even Disney changed 'Rapunzel' to 'Tangled' to try and appeal to boys, so the princess theme is bringing up warning bells even inside the Mouse House.
Still ... bows, kilts, and a young woman who makes a mistake and has to set out with her bow to make things right across the gorgeous Scottish lands? I'm hoping for the best. Are you?