16 Questions for Brenda Chapman

Brenda Chapman’s life is the stuff fairy tales are made of — so to speak. In her real-life version, the talented and creative female thrives in a male-dominated industry and then returns home each day to her own fairy-princess daughter and Prince Charming husband. Indeed, Chapman has seen great success, initially as the first woman to direct an animated feature, 1989’s The Prince of Egypt from DreamWorks and later working on films such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Her husband of 24 years, Kevin Lima, is also a successful Hollywood director, with films like Enchanted and Tarzan under his belt. The plot twist came in 2010 as Chapman, Pixar’s first female feature writer/director and creator of this summer’s blockbuster Brave (ironically, a girl-power princesses tale), was suddenly replaced as its director — by a man. She shrugged off the controversy, is happy the final version (coming out on DVD this month) mostly reflects the story she wrote and is now working with Lucasfilm and lecturing around the country.

1. Why Marin? I received a job offer at Pixar back in 2003, and I thought, I want to live someplace cool (not trendy cool but temperature cool — I hated the heat of Los Angeles). I also wanted good schools for our daughter and I wanted to be near nature. Mill Valley was the perfect fit.

2. Where did you get the confidence to make storytelling and art your career? My mom. Her backstory fascinates me: born in 1922, raised by her grandparents and educated in a oneroom schoolhouse in White County, Illinois. Her grandfather believed a woman’s place was in the home — so despite her recognized artistic skills she was taken out of school in eighth grade, along with her teacher who had dared encourage her.

3. Where did you learn to draw? Again, my mom. She did great fashion drawings (Coco Chanel style) for me all the time — I just loved it. We would play the game where you scribble on a piece of paper and give it to the other person to make something out of the markings.

4. Your daughter is in eighth grade; could you imagine taking her out of school to become a homemaker? No, and ironically she loves sewing and creating beautiful things out of all kinds of stuff — but for her it’s a creative process, not domestic slavery. She loves singing and acting. I look forward to seeing what she chooses to pursue.

5. Any mentors? After looking at the storyboards for my third-year film at CalArts college, the late Joe Ranft — a great story man from Disney and later, Pixar, and a very dear friend — encouraged me to consider story. I took his advice and was lucky enough to land at Disney as a story trainee. I went on to work with work with Roger Allers, who was my mentor on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and others. He later asked me to be his head of story on The Lion King. Both Joe and Roger encouraged and inspired me.

6. Was there ever a chance the princess in Brave, Merida, would be anything other than a redhead? No. The wild curly red hair was always part of her character, and it was planned to really pop out on the screen against all the green of Scotland.

7. Did you model any characteristics of Merida after your own daughter? Her personality — and that she had a girl’s healthy body, not an anorexic supermodel body.

8. Which has the best cafeteria — DreamWorks or Lucasfilm? Well, DreamWorks’ cafeteria food is free and good, Lucasfilm grows its own produce and they have great chefs — that’s a tough one. I eat too much at them either way.

9. Inspirational animated films? I absolutely remember the rerelease of Cinderella in 1973; they had me with the opening scene.

10. Would you say your life is a Cinderella story? No, I love those old movies, but waiting for the prince to come and save you — give me a break. Brave was meant to break that mold.

11. Was it love at first sight when you met your husband? Ha ha, sort of. On the first day of school, at CalArts in Valencia, I had a work-study job at the registrar’s office, checking everyone in. I met every single student that day, including Kevin. He said he knew I was the one as soon as he saw me. Sadly, I don’t remember meeting him that day.

12. Is there a secret to maintaining 24 years of wedded bliss? Hang on through the rough years; they happen. Then the good ones happen again.

13. What’s downtime like for you? Sleeping! Just kidding — sort of. Reading, movies, hiking and spending time with family and friends. Although right now, I don’t seem to have much time for any of these things, except family.

14. Favorite pizza? I have fallen in love with Tamalpie, but I also love Frantoio — besides loving the pizza, I send the olive oil to my family.

15. Best drink and where do you like to drink it? The lemon drop at Frantoio.

16. Are you working on your next story? Always.

Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.