April 02, 2012 at 07:00 AM EDT

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?”

NEXT PAGE: King Fergus and Queen Elinor

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Brenda Chapman
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