Why is making an animated film sometimes even more difficult than live-action? Allow "Brave" director Mark Andrews to explain.
"We don't get anything for free," an energetic Andrews told HuffPost Entertainment at the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York City on Monday. "You want to shoot at the Ritz in this lovely room, you get everything for free: the paintings, the textures the carpets. All that has to be designed for us. You have to build every pixel in the frame. Think of the million questions that a director gets in live-action; I get hundred of thousands times more questions because stuff doesn't exist. You can get five different tables and bring them into the director and the director goes, 'That one.' They ask me what kind of table I want and I'm like, 'Umm, why don't you draw me up something?'"
Out on DVD and Blu-ray now, "Brave" was one of 2012's biggest hits. The film -- which is about the relationship between Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) and her daughter Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), set against the backdrop of medeval Scotland, where spells and magic are commonplace -- earned over $535 million worldwide and is in line for some major awards hardware. "Brave" finished as the unofficial runner-up to "Frankenweenie" for Best Animated Feature at the New York Film Critics Circle awards on Monday, and also grabbed 10 Annie Award nominations, tying it with "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Rise of the Guardians" for most nods this year. Should "Brave" also receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature when the list is unveiled on Jan. 10, 2013, it would be the ninth Pixar film to compete at the Academy Awards in the 12 years that the category has been in play; over that time, only "Cars 2" failed to secure a nomination for the animation studio.
Needless to say, it could be a very good few months for Andrews, who spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about awards season competition, why he replaced original "Brave" director Brenda Chapman on the project, and what kind of jokes Pixar won't do.
Congratulations are in order: "Brave" just received 10 nominations at the Annie Awards, including Best Picture. It's always pleasant. It's always a great surprise. We all know each other so we're all cheerleaders anyway. I know Genndy Tartakovsky and I know the other directors, so I'm very excited for them and I'm very excited for all the pictures.
Is there a lot of friendly competition between you guys? We're all friends, but we're definitely competitive. That's for sure. You're looking at the other guy to see what they have done. "I'm going to do better than that." It inspires you to do better because you know what you're up against. Everything is getting so close and everybody is doing so well. It's very exciting. The thing I noticed this year is that animation is outdoing live-action. We've got better films than the live-action films; our films are more heartfelt, they're more emotional, there's better filmmaking. It's like, "Watch out, live-action! Here we come, en masse!" We're like this charge of Rohan. We're just busting in there. It's great.
Does the competition extend to inside the company? Between "Brave," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Frankenweenie," Disney has three top awards contenders this year. Never, never. No, no, no. The awards are great, but at the end of the day, I just make movies. Whatever happens after the fact, happens. It's fine. I'm very happy with our work, I'm happy with the crew; we're all satisfied and thrilled to death about it and the success it has had. We're done. Everything else at this point is gravy. And, you know, I know Rich Moore. I'm happy for him. I'm happy for the Disney crew; I'm happy for those guys. I don't feel like a jealous kid. "Well, 'Ralph's' your favorite now! Rich is your favorite now!" It's not like that at all.
Pixar has this incredible legacy of great films; when you were making "Brave," did the specter of "Toy Story," "The Incredibles" and all those other movies loom large? The pressure for me doesn't come from, "Oh my gosh, this is Pixar's film and it's got to be another hit." The pressure for me comes from, I hope Brad Bird likes it. I hope John Lasseter likes it. I hope they honestly like watching the film. That's where my pressure comes. These are my mentors and my peers. I'm just focused on telling the best story I can, and I hope that, at the end of the day, they'll end up loving it.
You replaced Brenda Chapman as director of "Brave." How did that all come about? In the beginning, I was kind of on as a consultant for all things Scottish and all things medieval; I'm a history buff and a Celtic buff. [Brenda] had this beautiful idea about this parent-child relationship and that dynamic and setting it in Scotland. And that's about it. She wanted it to have magic; she wanted it to be anti-fairytale, anti-princess. But there was still a lot more of the page to fill in. So, what do you pull from to help inspire and create this thing? I know tons of Celtic and Scottish myths, so, I was there as a resource. I'm also a director at Pixar. So she puts the reels up and we get in a room together and we bang on it to shake it out to make it the best that we possibly can. After several years, you reach this point -- we did it in "Ratatouille"; "Toy Story 2" went through the same thing -- we're you're looking at it and going, "We don't have much time left and it's not as great as it can be. What do we do?" Unfortunately, sometimes a director change has to happen. This isn't new at Pixar, we've done it all the time. In live-action it's [also] par for the course. Most of the animated films this year have had director changes. It's sad, but sometimes that's exactly what you need.
Why did they ask you to take over? They asked me because of my closeness to the film, and because it's in my wheelhouse. I would have done a "Brave" myself: medieval Scotland, fantasy, sword-fighting, magic, epic. Of course; that's me. That's my middle name! So I jumped on board and took over the film and had 18 months to make it great. Make it insanely great. I did a lot of work. Brenda had it in a good place, but it was building upon what she had. I had just come off of finishing the "John Carter" script, which was an adaptation. I kind of rolled into this figuring the same thing: "I have to treat it like an adaption. I'm not going to just take it and retool it." It's like a good book that has some bad stuff in it. I rip that out, what do I have left? These are the good things, here are the holes and I have to fill those holes in [with things that seem like they were always there]. I think we did that.
"Brave" was one of the most polarizing films of the year in the HuffPost newsroom. Does hearing that surprise you? Love-hate is totally fine. There was this film called "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which is a fantastic, fantastic film. It's a masterpiece. I hate the damn thing with every fiber of my body. That guy -- that character is such an … asshole. There's not one good moral fiber of his being that he needs to be saved whatsoever. You're supposed to feel that way about him; that's the genius of it. Polarizing doesn't bother me at all. If they like it or don't like it, there's something there. They're being affected. At the end of the day, I've done my job as a storyteller. To me, in that story, this can only work if you break a dynamic; a bad pattern that these two people have. Merida and Elinor are stuck in their worlds. So you have to break it so dramatically that they can see each other for who they are.
A lot was made about how Merida was the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie. Did you think about that at all during production? Ultimately, it's a trap. Because while it's exciting and we recognized, "Hey, we've never had a female lead before!" We've never done a movie about a rat who can cook, a robot who falls in love, a superhero family, toys that are real. Everything is new to us. That's the great thing: Pixar will never do something we've already done. That's what we're mining. So, finally, this is the picture [with a female lead]: Great! What we're not asking: "What would a girl say? What would a teenage girl say? What would a princess say? She has to be a female: What is female?" That's the trap! At the end of the day she's just a character. Gender is out of it; race is out of it; the time period is out of it. At the heart, she's a dynamic independent person who's finding themselves. That's what we wanted to build. With the Queen it's the same thing. She is a parent stuck between two halves of herself fighting against each other. What is the best for her child. I don't like to call "Brave" a mother-daughter story, but a parent-child story. That's more relevant; that's more universal. That's, in essence, why the film works: Because it's about transformation and both sides have to transform.
"Brave" is ostensibly a kids' movie, but it's also got a lot of great moments for adults to enjoy. How do you toe that line? We want to go deeper. Sure, on the surface, it's for kids. But you go there and you go, "This guy is making his argument. He's giving me a lesson as a parent. He's throwing down the gauntlet." I'm throwing down the gauntlet to teenagers too. Or kids who are going to be teenagers. Or people who are going to be parents. There are lessons here. It's not just, "Oh, she got in trouble and changed her mom into a bear!" That's superficial. That's why we don't do fart jokes or go for the easy gags and try to stay out of cliches. It's a balance act; sometimes we fall into those just to go, "Yeah, that's not the way to go." We could do a film in no time! We could write our first draft, make it and release it to the public and it would look beautiful. But it wouldn't be satisfying. It's a craft that we're all invested in at every level at Pixar.