Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
June 20, 2012
Given the chance to shoot a bow and arrow alongside “Brave” director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian, I completely humiliated them.
No, no I didn’t. The 43-year-old, Bay Area-based folks behind Pixar’s latest animated film—in which young princess/archery enthusiast Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) attempts to deflect her mother’s insistence that Merida marry whichever suitor wins her hand—fittingly outshot me by a mile at the Lincoln Park Archery Club.
The movie wasn’t such a snap; Andrews, Sarafian and the entire Pixar team worked ceaselessly to vividly depict an animated world that’s the most reality-based of the studio’s efforts.
“Any organics was the hardest element,” Andrews says. “We have a scene in the movie that takes place by a river, and the water in that thing took a year to do on its own.”
Of course, the studio behind classics like “Ratatouille” and “Toy Story 3” doesn’t believe in doing things the easy way. “I go down wrong roads like anybody and I make mistakes,” says Andrews, making his feature directorial debut with “Brave” after working on the stories for “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Toy Story 3.” “But Pixar understands that that’s the process to getting something good. I don’t want to make a bulls-eye every time with every decision. I have to find out what I’m even shooting at so I have to make my mistakes. I just have to make ‘em often and I have to make ‘em fast to find out what direction the true answer is going to be.”
Andrews and Sarafian talked more about bringing the movie to the big screen.
Why do you think archery has become so popular in pop culture right now?
Mark Andrews: I think we go in and out of these cycles of it. It’s been around for a long time. It’s one of the first technologies besides fire that man actually made. It’s deeply rooted in mythos across the world. We have Diana the huntress, a bunch of the Greek gods have it, the Roman gods have it, Indian mythology, you have Ramayana, and to the samurai we always get that the sword is the soul of the samurai, but it was actually the bow before the sword. So it goes way, way, way, way back. It’s just an iconic, dynamic weapon that just takes a lot of skill and practice and focused attention to be able to do well.
How much more significant was the discovery of archery than fire?
MA: Huge, ‘cause then I don’t have to run and catch my prey. I can just spot it and kill it from afar. And then fire is essential ‘cause I don’t like raw.
Katherine Sarafian: You need to cook your prey.
I tried to cook my steak with a bow and arrow; it did not work.
MA: It does not work.
KS: It’s an excellent skewer for kabobs though.
How would Merida do in a competition against Katniss, Hawkeye or Robin Hood?
MA: She’d blow ‘em all away.
KS: She’s young and adventurous. She has the elements against her; she can’t just go take shelter in a nice, warm heated house or anything like that. She’s out in the elements.
MA: She doesn’t need mechanical contraptions on the end of her arrows to help make the shots. She’s younger than Hawkeye. Hawkeye’s what, in his 20s or something like that. She’s just getting into her prime. She’d take ‘em out.
And she doesn’t have humans trying to kill her.
KS: And she’s riding a horse a lot of the time.
MA: Shooting from horseback, it’s crazy.
People have talked about Pixar finally having a female lead character. Why do you think it took as much time as it did, and did that add to any pressure in helming the story?
MA: No, we can’t really be constrained by the [notion] of, “Here’s our first female protagonist.” Because then when we’re making the story it would become about that and not about the character, not about the story of who this young woman is and her role in life, that point of time when she’s transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, the dynamic tension between her mother wanting so much more for her, all the best but not giving her room to explore it herself. We focus at Pixar on the characters first and build from the ground up instead of marketing ideas or [that] now’s the right time to have our first female protagonist. It’s the right story at the right time and the right idea.
You did a research trip to Scotland and ate like the locals.
KS: Yep. Haggis haggis haggis.
How did that sit with you, and was there anything you weren’t up for trying?
MA: No. well, there are fish in milk. Kippers in milk. Which is a unique taste.
That hasn’t made its way across the pond.
MA: No, no, no. [For] good reason. But everything else there is wonderful. Haggis is actually an excellent, excellent food.
KS: Have you tried it? Have you tried haggis?
KS: It’s delicious. I hadn’t had it before I went to Scotland. We took two research trips. We ate haggis in every town. We stopped in every little stop in the Highlands and they would serve haggis and we ate ‘em all.
MA: It’s just like hamburgers. You have better hamburgers—there’s probably a favorite hamburger place you go in the city, and not all hamburger is the same. You got some better recipes and other recipes. And haggis is kind of the same thing. The misnomer is that you’re eating sheep stomach. You don’t ever eat the sheep stomach. That’s just what they cook it in.
KS: Just a casing.
MA: It’s a casing to marinate in.
So no big deal.
MA: No big deal.
KS: You split the stomach open and the stuff that spills out is what you eat. Which is completely different than actually eating the stomach.
MA: Which is meat and barley at oats and onions and vegetables.
KS: [And] seasonings.
Mark, you worked your way up into this, but did you have any first-time directing jitters?
MA: The hardest thing with directing a film is getting that story right. I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I didn’t come in with any jitters whatsoever working on the film.
“Cars 2” was the first Pixar movie to receive largely negative reviews. Was there any discussion in the studio about that?
MA: Not really. We are our harshest critics. When we watch it, we love it; we’re ready to release it to the world. Then it goes out there and it’s anybody’s ballgame.
KS: John always says—[studio head] John Lasseter said this recently, even about “Brave,” we make these movies for ourselves and we want our audiences to love them. We don’t make them for the critics, although we hope the critics as audience members love them too. We make the movies for ourselves and our audiences, and the audiences responded really well to “Cars 2,” and we’re proud of the film.
On Chicago: “This is one of the most beautiful skylines I’ve ever seen.” (MA); “I would actually move here. I was thinking how can people get anything done living here ‘cause there’s so much stuff to do. I’d want to blow off my job and hang out.” (KS)
Guilty pleasure movies: “Willow.” “It’s medieval sword-fighting and and magic, come on! With a strong woman that’s walking around with a bow on her back, are you kidding me?” (MA); “Anything and everything in the teen genre. Anything that involves bringing something on, bringing it on again … stepping it up … I like “Step it Up,” “Step Up 2 the Streets,” “Step It Up 3D.” and then anything in the Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock-romantic comedy genre. All day long I can watch that stuff. Katherine Heigl, I’ve watched them wall. The worse the movie is, the more I’m into it, especially on an airplane. I will watch them all. I love it.” (KS)
Fave pixar movie they haven’t worked on: “Wall-E.” “Taking this very intimate story and putting into this huge, huge huge world and I cared about that little trashcan. That’s pretty special to make me care about a trashcan. And it’s a love story between these inanimate objects, it’s fantastic.” (MA); “Up.” ““I always wished that I’d been able to [work on that] because it was so lovely and meaningful to me.” (KS)
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC