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Pixar gets into the girl game

The animation giant ‘Brave’-ly goes where it hasn’t before with a female lead character

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When Boardwalk Empire‘s Kelly Macdonald signed on to voice Merida, the redheaded star of Pixar’s next animated film, Brave (out June 22, 2012), she was excited to land such a vibrant role. ”She’s a feisty one,” she says. ”All she wants to do is ride her horse and get lost in the forest…. Not your typical Disney princess.” Nor is she your typical Pixar, well, anything: Astonishingly, Merida is the very first female lead character in the 25-year history of the acclaimed animated studio. ”It did surprise me,” says Macdonald. ”I kept thinking, ‘Wait, is that right?”’

As for why Pixar took so long to put a woman at the center of a film: ”I have no idea,” admits Brave director Mark Andrews, who worked in the story department on Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille. He does insist that the studio’s story-driven, director-centric philosophy means that demographic concerns shouldn’t play a factor in creative decisions. ”I only think that once we were in [the process of making Brave], it was kind of like, ‘Oh, hey, wait a minute! Wow, we’re doing this — this is great!”’ he says. (Andrews replaced the film’s original director, Brenda Chapman, last fall; she remains credited as a director and screenwriter.)

Brave marks a few other firsts for Pixar. For one, it’s the studio’s first fairy-tale film. Merida defies the wish of her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), that she settle down and marry, which ends up launching her on an epic quest through the medieval Scottish highlands — making Brave Pixar’s first period picture as well. Andrews and members of his team spent a total of 19 days in Scotland, sometimes doing quite in-depth research on the area’s evocative landscapes. Chuckles Andrews, ”There was skinny-dipping in the lochs.”