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Immersed in Movies: Revisiting 'Brave' with Director Mark Andrews

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 14, 2013 at 3:56PM

Pixar isn't used to playing the dark horse, but that's where the animation powerhouse currently finds itself in this year's Oscar race with "Brave." But last night the Scottish mother/daughter adventure/comedy won the Golden Globe and seized some momentum over its two Disney rivals, "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph."

Brave, Princess Merida

Andrews also improved story points. For instance, when Merida turns her mother, Queen Elinor, into a bear, the transformation initially occurred outside the castle. But by moving it inside the castle he raised the jeopardy. "You've got a bunch of guys who kill bears for a living inside there, so that created a lot more opportunities."

Indeed, turning Elinor into a bear was one of "Brave's" riskier conceits. It's a wild, unexpected twist yet Andrews believe it was justified as part of Merida's rite of passage and in further developing the mother/daughter story. "Break them out of the paradigm that they're in," Andrews explains. "That's the great shift in this traveling road movie. We have to hand-deliver this thing to New York, but we have to go to your mother's for Thanksgiving, and I'm the only one who has the car. That changes everything. We wanted to avoid the classic body switch movie but we talked a lot about 'Freaky Friday' and seeing life from somebody else's perspective. But Shakespeare did it first with God-changing roles and breaking out of these intense situations."

Harder still was finding the right balance with the bickering mother and daughter. You want to like both Merida and Elinor while seeing the merits of each point of view."It was a leap of faith but it's a fable and we wanted it to translate around the world and be relatable, and I think we succeeded," Andrews adds.

Meanwhile, "Brave" benefitted technically from the extra time. The advancements in hair and cloth simulation were essential in giving Merida's red, curly hair the right texture and bounce; or the grooming of her horse and Mor'du; or the multilayered kilts; or the look of the Scottish Highlands with its green grass, rolling fog, massive rock formations, and delicate moss.

In fact, Merida's hair was viewed as inconceivable at first by the Pixar animators, but the software they built on "Brave" was further tested and improved on "Monsters University" (June 21).

The biggest change is that, as a director, Andrews knows they can do anything. You can do hair and fur and cloth and you can have characters touch. "The trick now is to be more nimble," he says. "The job is no longer to build things but to change things."

And that was "Brave," which was all about change.

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Features, Animation, Brave, Interviews , Pixar

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.