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After movies starring the likes of Buzz Lightyear, a little robot named Wall-E, a fish called Nemo and a car named Lightning McQueen, Pixar is releasing its first film with a female lead.
Brave is also Pixar's first fairy tale. It's set in a medieval kingdom in the highlands of Scotland, where a queen stages a competition. Suitors from rival clans vie for the chance to marry her daughter. Each clan puts forth its finest, but the feisty princess is unimpressed. And she takes matters into her own hands: Grabbing her bow and arrow, and flipping back her mane of wild red curls, she enters the competition herself.
Princess Merida is voiced by the Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald, who tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that the film actually could have been set "anywhere, at any time."
"It's about that mother-daughter dynamic and the trouble teenage girls can find themselves in when they start battling their mother," she says. "I loved all that. I'm sort of nervous for my mother to see the film, to be honest, because I spend the whole film going, 'Mom!' I think she's going to be a nervous wreck."
Macdonald, known for her roles in movies like Trainspotting and the TV series Boardwalk Empire, took on a very different kind of character in Brave.
"I was really lucky. I think I fed a lot off of Mark Andrews, the director, who is the loudest, most exuberant man I've ever met," Macdonald says.
She says working on an animated film was a challenge, though.
"It's totally different from film and television acting," she says. "And I really loved it. It was really liberating."
NPR's Linda Wertheimer speaks with Brave producer Katherine Sarafian
On animating Princess Merida's hair, which required Pixar to create new software
"We'd really worked with the same suite of software since the earliest days. So it was definitely time for an upgrade, but adopting new software is highly traumatic for a team. Everything had to be reinvented. But, you know, it was worth it, because the story served up this challenge of this spirited, untamed wild child of a girl. And that hair was part of her design and part of her character."
On visiting the real scene to get the on-screen setting just right
"When we got there, what we discovered was that the land is just steeped in legend and storytelling. Every person we met told us some sort of story ... every tree and rock and blade of grass seemed to have its own story."
On having a team that included several women
"The industry is gradually changing and shifting, and I think we have more women coming into animation and story programs in schools than we ever had. Interestingly, a lot of our top animation folks who handled horse animation and the animal animation that's very tricky to do were female animators. I don't know if it's girls and their horses or what, but we really had a lot of great, knowledgeable horse folk on the film who were women as well."
On dedicating the film to Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs
"We lost Steve during production of this film, and our card at the end of the film says, 'Partner, mentor and friend.' And he was all those things and more to us. ... Much is said about Steve ... but I think there's nothing like working with him and knowing him directly, as we did. And he always used to tell us, 'Make it great. Make it insanely great.' He saw the movie — early versions of it — and I sure wish that he had been able to see it finished, because I want to believe he'd be really proud of us."