When you grow up in a conservative family with role models like Cinderella and Snow White, chances are you're going to live the rest of your life expecting Prince Charming to come and sweep you off your feet and take you away to live the dream. But not if you're Brenda Chapman. If you're Brenda Chapman, you're going to grow up angry and frustrated by this vision of helpless women and join the animation world to change the narrative.

Brenda is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and director who has signed some of the most successful animation feature films of our times (Brave, Prince of Egypt, The Lion King), but above all, she is a THU Knight, who will be attending this year's gathering to share her knowledge and experiences with the Tribe, to help each and every one of us move forward in this competitive and ever-changing industry.

THU discusses the past, present and future of animation with this very resilient and BRAVE woman – pun intended.


There's a prejudice against animations: people often think that they're just for children. What do you think?

I agree that many people - especially in the United States - think that animation is just for children. I think that has to do with years of American feature animated films being made for families and children. We tried, with PRINCE OF EGYPT back in 1998 to make a “film” - not just an “animated film” - to see if we could break that perception, but unfortunately, it didn’t. It seems that in some of Europe and Japan, animated films enjoy a higher regard by adults. I would love to do a dramatic film in animation, but it would be very difficult to get it made or to distribute it beyond festivals or art houses. It’s a shame, really. There is so much more you can do with the “suspending of disbelief" in animation than in live-action.


You have the power to shape the dreams and ambitions of the future generations. Do you feel this responsibility while creating or is your focus on entertaining?

I feel that responsibility more now, than before I made BRAVE. The reactions I received from young filmmakers, students and young audiences made me realize how important that responsibility is. Yes, I want to entertain, but I want to inspire even more.


How do you start the writing process? Do you think of a message you want to convey and write a story around it or the other way around?

It’s different every time. Sometimes it’s a relationship that I’ve experienced (like that of my daughter and me for BRAVE), sometimes it’s just a little idea that takes root of a plot, sometimes it’s a thematic moral I want to explore, sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above and more. There is not one rule or set of rules for inspiration to follow - and I must be inspired to be able to start writing.


Is there a specific moment you recall that marked a change in your life and defined who you are today?

The day the late great (and wonderful) Joe Ranft looked at my student film story boards - while I was struggling to animate it during my last year at CalArts – and asked me if I’d ever thought of going into story. A light bulb went off in my head, and thus he changed the course of my life and career.


Do you consider yourself to be a feminist and why?

Yes, I’m definitely a feminist. Why? Because I spent a great deal of my childhood watching my mother be a willing slave to my father, and with society’s approval, because she had been brainwashed as a child to believe that she was put on earth to serve her male counterparts. Even as a little girl, that struck me as really really wrong. However, the exact moment in which I consciously became a feminist was as a young teenager, when my father angrily got up from the supper table and said, “Two women in this house [my mother and me], and I have to get up and get my own salt!” Yep. That solidified it.


What is the ultimate fulfillment for a girl today, since we all agree that it's not marriage?

Whatever that girl wants it to be.


The role of women in animation, both on-screen and off, has changed substantially since you joined the industry. What's next? What battles are yet to be fought?

I don’t think the war is won for women in animation - so there are still battles to be fought… for more women in technology - and in more leadership positions, for more directors, for more story supervisors, for more lead animators, etc. We’re getting there, but we still have a long way to go. Another big battle is to get strong female characters on screen - with stories that aren’t always romantically inclined, or even warrior princesses, or even just princesses… we need a bigger variety of stories that portray female characters in as many diverse situations as there are for male characters.


Can you tell us about a situation where you had to overcome a major problem during your career and tell us how you did it?

Most people who know of me, know about what happened to me on BRAVE. That was the most difficult moment in my career. But with so much support from my crew and the industry, I picked myself up and kept going - and found that I was stronger for it.


What do you think is the main quality a person should possess in order to succeed?

Confidence - NOT to be confused with arrogance!


Which one of the characters you contributed to create resembles you the most and why?

Queen Elinor in BRAVE. As my daughter inspired the character of Merida, I related very much to the Queen and her frustrations with such a willful child… also knowing we both had a lot to learn about being a mother. She was created out of my own fears, frustration and love for my daughter.


Did you ever create a character that possessed something you didn't but that you envied them?

Merida - I would love to be that good with a bow and arrow! :)


You were lucky enough to enter your dream company with your dream job, but a lot has changed since then. When did you decide to start directing as well as developing stories? Which role do you prefer and why?

I’m assuming you are referring to me being hired by Disney fresh out of school? My dream was to sit in a room at Disney and draw when I was younger. Then I wanted to be an animator - then I realized I loved creating stories. I’ve never stopped loving to create stories. Although I was hesitant to step out of the story department into directing - I had to be “convinced” by Jeffrey Katzenberg to become a director on PRINCE OF EGYPT - I found that it was a natural progression. Directing was just another way to expand on what I loved - an “all encompassing” way of creating and telling a story. I loved being a story artist - and I love being a director – they are much the same to me.


Get to know more about Brenda Chapman