On Monday, citing “reliable sources,” animation website Cartoon Brew reported exclusively that Brenda Chapman was not directing Brave any longer and had left Pixar. There has been no confirmation by Disney or Pixar, so details are not fully known. What we do know is that Pixar is going to do everything in its power to give us a great film. Read on for my full take on how I feel about all this. (UPDATE: The New York Times has confirmed Chapman’s removal as director, but she will remain at the studio.)
The directorial switch has caused some to question Pixar’s reasoning to part ways with Brenda Chapman on Brave. First off, no reason for the change has been offered by Cartoon Brew, Brenda Chapman, or the studio, so at this point we have no inclination as to why there may have been a change in director. Chapman is a highly respected figure in the animation industry, so the outcry was understandable. However, it is difficult to speculate as to what led to her reported departure from the project, so I would rather be careful before placing blame on an individual or a studio before the facts are known.
“This was supposed to be Pixar’s first film directed by a woman” – When Brenda Chapman was first brought on to head Brave, there was joy from many circles since she would be the first female to direct a film at the famed animation studio. After Cartoon Brew posted their article stating that Mark Andrews would now be helming the film, criticisms began to fly pertaining to the gender issue. “Why did Pixar remove their first female director and replace her with a male?” has been a common question raised by commentators. Again, we do not know what went on during the production of Brave, so it is challenging to discuss this point.
Looking at all the evidence that we have, the Emeryville studio is steadfast in their dedication to releasing quality films. Would it be great to see a Pixar film directed by a woman? Absolutely. Is Pixar aware that the female director of Brave has been replaced by a male? I’m sure that they are. However, Pixar’s intricate attention to their creative output leads me to believe that this is not a woman being replaced with a man, but is the vision of one director being replaced with another.
“Who is Mark Andrews? Is he experienced enough to direct Brave?” - Mark Andrews wrote and directed the Pixar short, One Man Band, was head of story on The Incredibles, and story supervisor on Ratatouille. It is true that Brave would be his first time in the director’s chair for a feature-length film, but he is not on his own. Collaboration is rampant throughout the studio and is built into the production process, so nobody is going to be left out to dry. There are many “Pixar Brain Trust” meetings held throughout production to assure the film’s quality is on track.
Also, other directors at Pixar were not exactly brimming with experience when first heading a film. John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton had never directed a feature film before going on to co-direct Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2. Pete Docter’s first time as director of a feature film was Monsters, Inc., followed by Up. You could make the argument that these great minds were not experienced enough to direct a feature film either.
On the other hand, Pixar has proven that they are not satisfied with staying within their comfort zone. Their proven directors could continue leading the film process, or they could bring in someone new (e.g. Brad Bird to The Incredibles) to give us a different vision. The studio has the ability to rest on its laurels as it has brought them incredible success, but knowing that they are willing to take a chance at giving us something truly unique is not only great but also exciting.
“Is Brave in trouble?” – Another question that is difficult to address. Pixar is secretive about the production process and the story of its films, so nothing is known. What we do know is that even under great pressure, the studio is wholly able at turning out a great product. Toy Story 2 was under production for years before Pixar decided to essentially start over to ensure a quality film. In a situation that may be more akin to the Brave situation, director Brad Bird was brought aboard Ratatouille years after Jan Pinkava had been directing the film. Both Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille went on to receive large critical and fan acclaim.
Pixar has proven time and again that they are quite capable at releasing great films. Even under the toughest circumstances, they have been unwavering in their commitment to their films. Analyzing the films that they have released, I have had no reason to doubt them before. Why should I start doubting them now?
UPDATE (4:45 PM): The New York Times has received confirmation from Walt Disney Studios that Brenda Chapman is no longer directing Brave. The only reasoning offered by the studio was that the change was made for “creative reasons.” No further comment was offered. Disney states that Chapman remains “on staff” at Pixar, which contradicts what Cartoon Brew reported. It is certainly great to hear that she is staying at the animation studio. (via The Pixar Blog)