Oh, the tangled web of feature animation. When Brenda Chapman, who had directed “Prince of Egypt” and was set to become the first female director of a Pixar feature, was fired from “Brave” 18 months before it was set to be released, after a contentious (sometimes outright hostile) production period, she regrouped at Lucasfilm Animation, working as a creative advisor on an unspecified feature film project. When Disney acquired Lucasfilm, it seemed to most that Chapman would quietly move along too, and she has, but not before finishing up work on the Lucasfilm project and passing it along to a more-than-worthy successor. She also spills some details about what she’s working on now.
Before Disney’s acquisition, scuttlebutt was that Lucasfilm was working on an animated feature centered around the world of fairies and that it would be a musical, but not an original one – it would feature well known, expensively licensed pop songs. The animation feature would have been handled by the same Singaporean studio that did the animation for Lucasfilm’s phenomenally popular “Star Wars: Clone Wars” animated series. It’s unclear if this is the project that Chapman worked on, or where that feature currently sits in the pipeline, especially since Disney has its own lucrative fairy franchise already, in the form of a series of delightful, elegantly animated direct-to-video features that star Tinkerbell from “Peter Pan.”
About the Lucasfilm project, Chapman said: “I have been working on a project with Lucas for quite some time — about six months. When Lucasfilm was handed over to Kathleen Kennedy, she asked me to consult on the film to help solve its story problems. It was an opportunity for me to work with her. I felt honored to be asked by her, after what happened at Pixar. DreamWorks [Animation] was very generous to me in postponing my start date with them so that I could work with Kathleen, also. My work on the project is done. My good friend, Gary Rydstrom, is directing it now.”
Two things are obviously of note: Chapman is back at DreamWorks Animation, where she directed “Prince of Egypt.” She says in the same interview that Jeffrey Katzenberg called her after finding out what had happened with “Brave” and Pixar and invited her back and she graciously accepted, working on the consulting job at Lucasfilm at the same time. She is currently working on an adaptation of a children’s story with her “Brave” confederate Irene Mecchi, but she can’t say which children’s book, except that it has a “strong female protagonist” (of course). Secondly, that Gary Rydstrom is directing the mystery Lucasfilm project is a pretty fucking big deal.
Rydstrom, for the uninitiated, is an absolutely genius sound designer who joined the Pixar team a few years back, contributing the jaw-dropping sound effects work for “WALL-E” and directing a pair of outstanding short films, “Lifted” (about the aliens learning how to abduct people) and “Hawaiian Vacation,” the first post-“Toy Story 3” short film involving those characters. Rydstrom also had a feature-length project in development at Pixar called “Newt” that was canceled due to similarities with Blue Sky Studios‘ “Rio.” Rydstrom has history with the “Star Wars” franchise, too, having provided the sound effects for the first two prequels and the Disney ride “Star Tours.” So thinking that this new feature involves the “Star Wars” universe isn’t exactly outside the realm of possibilities.
Finally, when asked if Chapman would ever return to Pixar, she had a pretty definitive answer. “That door is closed,” Chapman said. “I made the right decision to leave and firmly closed that door. I have no desire to go back there. The atmosphere and the leadership doesn’t fit well with me.” Yeezus.