Castles? Check. Highland games? Check. Tartan? Check. On the evidence of the first thirty minutes of Disney-Pixar’s upcoming animated epic, Brave, only the presence of an Irn Bru van and some Tunnocks teacakes could make it look any more Scottish.
ReelScotland attended a veritable clan gathering of journalists in London last month to watch the footage which introduced the teenage princess, Merida, and her world of pomp, ceremony and giant bears, the latter seen in flashback as King Fergus (Billy Connolly) recalls an encounter that changed his life.
Originally called The Bear and the Bow, the film follows Merida as she struggles to find her own identity. Her family are keen to see her married off to the son of another clan chief, but Merida would rather ride her horse, climb rocks and become an expert archer, all of which annoys her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and leads to Merida taking off into the countryside to encounter…well that would be telling.
Pixar’s Scotland is one that many of her residents will recognise, stuffed full of mountain ranges, waterfalls, standing stones and lush green landscapes, though the animators have taken some Braveheart-esque liberties with the film’s period setting, as co-director Mark Andrews explained in his post-screening Q&A.
Here are some selected soundbites from Andrews’ discussion, in which alternate titles (Bravehair anyone?), Britney Spears and red hair all get a mention.
On the working title, The Bear and the Bow:
“Every Pixar movie has a working title. For Incredibles it was Hero and Ratatouille it was just Rat.
“We had these shorter titles for production and they were going around and around with Brave and the Bow or The Bear King and his Daughter. Bravehair was one, a la Braveheart, but we always called it Brave in short and finally we got around to having to have a title and we just went with Brave as it sums up the heart of the movie in one go.”
On Pixar’s research policy:
“One of John Lasseter’s big philosophies at Pixar is research, research, research, research and so for Nemo you have to get under water, for Cars you need to know everything about cars right down to the speckled paint. For this we had to go to Scotland to research it and get the character of the film. We’re not trying to portray it exactly, we’re trying to get that character and that flavour, just like Disney did back with 101 Dalmations, it was a flavour of Britain at the time.
“We went over there for several weeks and there was more than one trip. We went everywhere from Edinburgh up into the Highlands to the Isles of Skye, Lewis and Harris, the Callanish Stones, castles. It was fantastic, we went skinny dipping in lochs, we lay down in the heather, we climbed boulders, it was fantastic.”
On Billy Connolly’s advice to the filmmakers:
“We got a lot of information from Billy, most of our cast are Scottish. I’m of Scottish descent and I’ve done the Highland games every year for my birthday, did the caber tossing and all that, so I was the unofficial aficionado at Pixar of all things Scottish when the movie was starting out.”
On Reece Witherspoon’s involvement:
“We did have Reese Witherspoon when we started the project and she was on for quite some time, getting her Scottish accent down. It was sounding great but as we were continuing with the movie she had other movies lining up, so unfortunately we were unable to continue with her and had to get a replacement. Luckily we found Kelly Macdonald, who is Scottish and was fantastic in the part. Her voice is amazing, and has that great “teenagery” quality. She had fun with the role.
Thankfully there’ll be no subtitles on the film:
“No way! Kevin McKidd, who does the voices of Lord MacGuffin and Young MacGuffin, who talks in the Doric dialect, would call up his mum to remind him how to they say certain things during some of the recording sessions in Doric. We’re going to leave it unintelligible because that’s the gag.
“We would have to tell Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane “now for middle America let’s just slow that down just a hair and enunciate a little bit more,” and they understood that.
On Hollywood’s fascination with Scotland:
“When we starting off on the film, Brenda (Chapman, Brave‘s co-director) and I had a love for Scotland, it’s just such a magnificent land and area. She wanted a setting that was magical, you can’t go to Scotland and not have that kind of experience. With our production designer we would always be arguing back and forth about which period it was.
“It’s actually a non-period, we’re talking fantasy Scotland between the 8th and the 12th centuries. There’s a mix of different ideas in there. They didn’t actually have stone castles until way later, but you don’t want to go to a movie and watch a thing that’s just built with a bunch of timber and be dramatic. With the kilts that’s a whole other issue. So we had a fantasy Scotland and again it’s that character of that time period and that moment.
“When you go period, there’s much more for the audience to get into and understand it on this visceral level, that you’re just going to be more accepting of the things that happen in the story that a little bit more rough and you just go with it.”
On in-jokes for Pixar fans:
“Everything is in here. All the typical things, those little insider jokes are all in the movie. You’ve gotta find them, which is going to mean hours looking at the Blu-ray.”
Does the film have a message?
“The message is to be brave. It’s this coming-of-age story where this young woman finds herself on the cusp of child and adulthood and she’s reconciling this difference of how the world wants her to be and how she wants to be seen in that world. The definition of brave to us is when you look inside yourself and own up to exactly who you are. What’s inside may not be who you want to be and may not be what the world wants you to be.”
On animating Merida’s hair:
“Disney animation has their own programmes and we have our own propietary software so it was all our own stuff that we’ve been developing. We’ve been doing hair since Monsters Inc with Sully and we had long hair with Violet in Incredibles and hair’s a big pain in the ass, same with clothes.
“When this film started we’re going to go kilts and hair, all the technicians crapped their pants, because it’s really hard. But everybody embraced it and we had to develop in concordance with making this film they made a whole new platform of tools at Pixar to make this film, so we were doing two things at once. We had this huge technological upgrade to tell this story and it’s been amazing to get that hair working and the kilts.”
How does it feel knowing Brave will almost be a sales brochure for Scotland?
“Fine by me. Braveheart got everybody there and if we’re helping each other out that’s fine.”
On working with composer Patrick Doyle and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis:
“Brenda Chapman came up with the original story and I inherited Patrick Doyle, and he’s just been marvellous. I’ve been a fan of his my entire life, from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, which he scored and had a little part in, and I’ve watched every film he’s ever scored, right down to Thor and Planet of the Apes.
“He’s a consummate professional, he’s kind of like the new John Williams. We worked with the London Symphony Orchestra and they’re fantastic. He just really got it and when we were discussing the music I said to him “don’t do Scottish, do not overtly do Scottish, we want that emotional base and if we hear a twinge of a pipe in there it’s all we’re going to need to set it up.”
“With Julie Fowlis we’re not getting Britney Spears. There’s an honesty that we try to pursue at Pixar and finding Julie, this fantastic Gaelic singer, and we have Mumford and Sons at the end, has been a great experience and it gives it that unique flavour that’s not “pop-y”.
Did the animators watch any Scottish films in preparation for the film?
“Dear Frankie is a great one with Gerard Butler. Braveheart, obviously. Local Hero is fantastic – when he leaves the phone finally, what a great device for his character. We watched a lot of them. The animators just dove right into every Scottish film, because if you look at this closely we were analysing how the Scots speak because the sound that a Scot makes with that accent comes out very specifically in the mouth. We were studying those so we weren’t getting the American “e’s”. Again it’s research, research, research, research.”
Brave is released in the US on 17 August 2012.