Trusting Your Vision with Brenda Chapman


Today’s episode features Academy Award-Winning film director, Brenda Chapman. She was the head of story for The Lion King, co-director of The Prince of Egypt, and the writer and co-director of Disney-Pixar’s Brave.

In this episode, you’ll learn about Brenda’s own heroine journey, how she began directing when she didn’t feel completely ready for it, and her resilience as one of the few women in animation. As an expert storyteller, she also helps us see how we can learn from characters and their flaws, and what that can teach us about our own lives. Share in the wisdom of a true feminist and gifted creative who trusted her vision and kept fighting for what she believed in.

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Highlighted Excerpt:

Majo: I want to talk about some broad themes now, particularly about the heroine’s journey. There’s a lot of talk about the hero’s journey and Campbell’s work, I’m sure because you’ve studied story you know about that… how do you see the heroine’s journey as different? Is it different?

Brenda: I’d say yes, in some ways. Because I feel like women look at things differently. But in the end, for story, you still go through that journey of starting with a flaw and learning to overcome that flaw or embrace that flaw. And then you come out the other side.

I feel like the heroine may go through that journey but she does it in her own way. There’s more self-reflection, there’s more emotion, yet there’s still a lot of strength.

Majo: I’ve never heard the concept of flaw as being so fundamental and powerful. I guess I’d always thought about story as obstacles that are external rather than internal.

Brenda: To me, the external obstacle is a reflection of the character’s inner flaw. It’s like Mor’du in Brave, he was sort of a metaphoric villain in that he represented a mother’s fear of what happens when you don’t follow tradition. So I take a character’s inner flaw, that thing they need to learn, and then I find a way to embody that externally.

Majo: Do you think we live our lives that way?

Brenda: I think some of us do. I think it would be healthy if we did. If we found what it was that we needed to overcome about ourselves that was holding us back or making us not be the person we have the potential to be... it could be co-dependency, insecurity, body image, whatever those things are that we internalize and end up making worse, because they grow!

But if we can learn to accept those things – to look at them straight in the face – it makes it easier to say, Okay, how do I turn this into something good, something powerful?

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Show Notes: 

  • Growing up in a small town in the midwest, Brenda spent most of her time escaping into the world of reading, drawing, and making up stories. [2:50]

  • How she fell in love with storytelling while studying animation at CalArts. [6:18]

  • How she got Disney’s attention, her defining moments there, and the circumstance that made her privately ashamed for years. [8:25]

  • Being one of a few female directors: How she stepped into her leadership, some of the amazing films she’s worked on, and leaving Disney for Dreamworks. [13:45]

  • The inspiration behind the story of Brave, a love story between mother and daughter. [18:05]

  • Working at Pixar, and how her biggest challenge made her a stronger artist, director, and creator. [26:24]

  • How the support of her colleagues helped Brenda through a dark time, and the surprising opportunities that poured in. [31:39]

  • How the heroine’s journey differs from the hero’s, and Brenda’s insights on the importance of using external metaphors to shine a light on internal obstacles. [34:47]

  • The flaw Brenda had to overcome/embrace on her own heroine’s journey, and her final words of wisdom. [39:07]

Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).


Learn more about Brenda


by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs

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