Animation fans were shocked when, a year-and-a-half before the film’s release, animation giant Pixar fired Brenda Chapman, an animation vet and the studio’s first female director (she was also the only female member of the studio’s vaunted Brain Trust creative committee), from her deeply personal first project, “Brave.” While Pixar maintained that she was still on staff, the writing was on the wall, and earlier this year it was announced she had decamped for an unspecified role at LucasFilm Animation. As one animation vet told me yesterday, “Pixar definitely has a glass ceiling.” A recent blog post by Chapman, who has become more outspoken about how she was treated on the film, claims that the only reason she was hired at Disney Animation, back during the studio’s upswing, was because she was a woman.
In a beautifully written post that is well worth a full read, Chapman says that, when she was hired for Disney Animation’s story department, back in 1987, she was there because, in her words “they didn’t have enough women in creative positions.” In fact, they had no women. When the executive hired her, he said (according to Chapman), “We need a woman. And you’re the right price.”
She says that even though she was labeled the “first female story artist at Disney” (a claim that she actually denies – she just thinks she was the first female story artist at Disney in a long time), a title that had a certain amount of burdensome import, once she got into the system she loved every second of it. While she doesn’t take direct credit for any of the more adventurous choices made in those movies, she carries a certain amount of pride in the fact that Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” were outspoken, independent women who didn’t wait around for a prince to save them but instead took matters into their own hands. Chapman worked closely on both films.
(What’s strange is that Chapman doesn’t ever mention Linda Woolverton, a Disney writer who was responsible for co-writing “Beauty and the Beast,” which earned her an Oscar nomination and had her in close working proximity to Chapman. She also worked on “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and Disney’s most outwardly feminist animated feature, “Mulan.”)
Chapman is careful not to equate her hiring experience at Disney to Pixar, but the connection is fairly clear. At the time she was hired at Pixar, the studio was increasingly coming under fire for its lack of female creative principles (and female characters). With Chapman, they got both – a female director, beloved in the community (since leaving Disney she had directed “The Prince of Egypt” for DreamWorks Animation), and a film that had a female protagonist in “Brave” (which, at the time, was a much darker and more atypical princess story). What’s interesting, too, is that this post was made the day after the announcement that Pixar had hired Marti Noxon, a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Mad Men” vet, to write an unspecified project for the studio (from what we understand, Disney is high on hiring anyone who came from the Joss Whedon academy, after “The Avengers” record-breaking run for the studio this past summer). The glass ceiling at Pixar might still remain, but at least there are some cracks in it now.