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Brave (in theaters June 22) is a bit of a maverick among Pixar’s animated repertoire. As the studio’s 13th feature, it represents the first time a Pixar picture has starred — finally! — a female protagonist. Brave‘s also the animation powerhouse’s first fairy tale, its first movie set far in the past (ancient Scotland), and marks a step into slightly darker and creepier territory. In Japan, for instance, the film will be called Merida and the Frightening Forest. “It’s appropriately scary, as much as it needs to be to tell the story effectively,” says Mark Andrews, who shares directing credit with Brenda Chapman. “But it’s not overly horrific or terrifying — we’re not going for a PG-13 rating. You’re in good hands with a Pixar movie, as always.”

Andrews was careful not to reveal too much of the story, but this much we know: Merida (Boardwalk Empire‘s Kelly Macdonald) is a teenage princess in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, and as such, she’s expected to marry one of three suitors from neighboring clans. But Merida, being the fiery free spirit that she is, wants nothing to do with the tradition. “How she resists [this custom] leads to more and more trouble that ultimately endangers not only the kingdom, but her loved ones,” says Andrews. One of Merida’s choices involves seeking the assistance of a witch (Julie Walters), who grants the princess a wish that goes horribly wrong.

Check out more about Merida and Brave‘s other major characters, as well as see four new character posters exclusive to EW, below:

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald)

“Merida just happens to be, by default, in the society of a princess,” says Andrews. “We don’t really call her Princess often in the movie. And she’s trying to reconcile this difference between how the world wants her to be, and how she sees herself. Ultimately, she’s going to have to look inside herself, and what she finds in the mirror is not exactly what she expected. That’s kind of our definition of ‘brave’ in the movie — looking inside yourself and coming to grips with who exactly you are.”

Despite being a princess, Merida could also easily pass as a fearsome warrior. “She can compete with anybody,” says Andrews. “She knows how to ride, how to defend herself. She can use the sword, and she’s an excellent archer — that’s one of her loves. She climbs and is not afraid to get dirty. She’s very much a tomboy, and kind of unbridled in contrast to her mom, Queen Elinor. The [character] design of Merida is all about this free-spirit nature. Her curly red hair is all over the place. How are you going to visually tame that, you know?”

King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson)

Merida’s father, King Fergus, is the appointed ruler of the DunBroch kingdom. “He is the Bear King — this big, boisterous monarch who’s full of life,” says Andrews. “He still has that kind of berserkness about him. He’ll rage, like all good passionate folks, but he cools quickly.” Fergus also sings a “party song” at one point in the movie. “The song’s about his trials and tribulations with the great demon bear Mordu,” says Andrews. “It’s the evil bear of the kingdom — the one that Fergus hasn’t been able to defeat yet and is responsible for taking his leg.”

In contrast to Fergus, Queen Elinor is focused and composed. “She actually runs the kingdom,” explains Andrews. “She’s the smart politico — diplomatic, refined, elegant. Elinor has big plans for Merida, since she’s the next in line. And Merida doesn’t want to do it. There’s this difference between mother and daughter, and it goes back a long ways. When we come into the movie, we show how they were [when Merida was a child] and what they’ve become at this turning point in Merida’s life.”

From left to right: Lords Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), and Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane)

Merida is expected to marry the first-born son of Lord Macintosh, Lord MacGuffin, or Lord Dingwall. “Lord Macintosh, the wild-haired one who looks like a rat and a weasel, is always looking for the conspiracy,” says Andrews. “He’s not trusting and paranoid about everything. He’s always thinking that somebody’s trying to get the better of him. And he’s got his eyes on you, with those big, googly eyes.”

Macintosh is also sporting blue woad dye on his skin. “That’s a traditional thing for the Picts, which are the ancient ancestors of the Scots,” explains Andrews. “It’s part of that Celtic culture that gives you protection from sword blades in battle, or strength to meet your foe. We wanted to respect those roots, so we gave him some blue woad.”

The hulking blond guy is Lord MacGuffin. “He’s stoic and loyal,” says Andrews. “He is the steadfast, true one. He’s a rock, though he can be bawdy in his own right.” And next to him is Dingwall, the curmudgeon of the trio. “He’s the oldest member of the clans,” says Andrews. “He’s been in the most battles, as you can see by his fused neck and spine. He’s done it all, seen it all, and he will call it as it is. He’s like the guy in your family you never want around because he’s always going to call people on their s—.”

Hamish, Hubert, and Harris (The Triplets)

Merida’s younger triplet brothers are named Hamish, Hubert, and Harris. (Clearly Fergus and Elinor are big fans of alliteration.) “You can’t tell them apart, and they steal the show,” says Andrews. “They love sweets and are always getting into mischief. And they can do no wrong as far as Fergus and Elinor are concerned.” Andrews also revealed that the triplets won’t have any spoken lines in the film: “They giggle and laugh — that’s it.”

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  • Movie
  • 94 minutes
  • Mark Andrews
  • Brenda Chapman