Brave features a new kind of hero for a Pixar film. Producer Katherine Sarafian tells Aref Omar about the film studio’s latest animated feature
PIXAR is known for its brand of entertaining animated films that have heart and a special touch that audiences of all ages can relate to. From the Toy Story series and Monsters Inc to The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall-E, the famed company has produced hit films and crowd favourites for all genres.
For the latest film, simply titled Brave, Pixar goes into Disney territory and tackles the fairytale story with a fiery female lead to boot.
“Yes, we grew up with the classic Disney fairytale genre but, for Brave, we wanted to do a completely different take,” says Brave’s producer Katherine Sarafian during a phone interview from Tokyo.
She adds that Princess Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald), the heroine in Brave, differs significantly from the Disney princesses of old, who mostly went on quests to search for their happily ever after moment. “Her motivation in Brave is her love for her family and her deep relationship with her mother,” says Sarafian.
Set in the Scottish highlands during medieval times, Brave follows the adventures of the young and feisty Princess Merida, who dreams of being free from her seemingly mundane responsibilities of court life.
An accomplished archer and capable horse rider, she’d rather be outdoors than in the castle, learning the ropes of royal protocol dressed in stuffy dresses from her mother, the elegant but tight Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson).
“Both the female leads are headstrong women. The princess is rebellious and yearns for things to change and the Queen is a working mother, a professional running the kingdom,” she says.
The situation takes a turn for the worst when Princess Merida is presented with three suitors from other clans, as dictated by tradition. This leads to the princess taking drastic measures, which result in serious repercussions. In the end, she must race against time to right the wrongs and save her mother in the process.
“The mother-daughter bond is central to the story and their relationship changes over the course of the movie,” says Sarafian.
Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, the basic premise of the film was inspired by their own experiences with their families. “Both of them have Scottish heritage too and a deep love for the country, so that was the motivation for the film’s setting,” she says, adding that this was an original story, and not based on any existing fairytale.
Sarafian and the production team took two working trips to Scotland to research the various locations, customs, culture and people there.
“Making a movie at Pixar is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Sarafian of Brave. Princess Merida’s luscious red curls alone took two years to render to perfection.
Initially single when she took on the film project, Sarafian recently gave birth to her second child.
“The long period was a given so we had to pace ourselves. We worked hard to keep it (the production) ongoing and came up with lots of activities to stay focused,” she says.
According to Sarafian, all the men working on Brave had to wear kilts every Friday during the production duration.
“We also had broadsword fighting and archery lessons for fun, and for helping with the physicality of acting out the scenes for the artists,” she says.
Sarafian joined Pixar in 1994 as a production co-ordinator on the studio’s first full-length feature film, Toy Story. She says that it’s been a long road but thinks that Pixar is one of those places where one can work on lots of different films and have a “different career” on each film.
The native Californian has since worked on films like A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. As a producer for Brave, she had a hand in telling the story and was in charge of the final delivery of the film. She also got the voice talent, musicians and had to manage the budget, time and various artists.
Like a proud mother she is happy with the result of her labour of love and hopes that Brave will deliver another hit for Pixar.
“The number one motivator was our trust in the final result, which was to tell the best story we could,” she says.
Catch the 3-D version of Brave in cinemas now (regular formats of Brave will be screened from June 28).