Disney-Pixar’s Brave finally opens on “home” turf this week, as the year’s most Scottish film lands in cinemas from Orkney to Galashiels.
For Scottish audiences, used to hearing the accent getting mangled on screen (Brigadoon anyone?), Disney-Pixars’ decision to use Scottish actors, including Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd as Lords Dingwall and MacGuffin respectively, is a welcome one.
The Lords and their sons are seen to arrive at DunBroch Castle, home of Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), just before things start to go very wrong in the Kingdom.
One thing immediately noticeable in Brave is that the actors haven’t been forced to tone down their accents, at least not too much.
“They were very tolerant of us putting in Scots words people won’t have heard before, but in the context of the settings you’d understand them,” says Coltrane. “Everybody instinctively knows what ‘jings, crivvens, help ma boab’ means, even if they’ve never heard it before.”
Unlike live action roles, the actors don’t resemble their characters in Brave. Was it odd for Coltrane to voice such a small character?
“The size of the body, throat and chest size have to be right or the public won’t accept it. The guys at Pixar know exactly how to do that. It was great fun to do, we’d try different things. All the production costs go into the animation so when you’re in the studio you have all the time in the world.”
“They make you do things in many permutations,” adds McKidd. “That gives them the option to use what they want.”
The pair also visited Disney-Pixar HQ in California before recording a word of the script.
“When I first went there I thought it would just be a chat about the film, but they have this whole presentation,” notes McKidd. “They talk through every beat of the story, they show you pencil sketches and you sit there as Brenda [Chapman, Brave’s co-director] talks through the entire film. They then take you to a room full of sketches, plasticine models of characters, bits of moss, a mood room.”
Chapman famously left the project early on, with new co-director Mark Andrews taking over. Did the story change much as a result?
“I don’t know that it’s changed that much,” says McKidd. “It’s a family drama, as opposed to a Princess story, it’s an adventure about this family that breaks apart and finds their way back together again. Maybe some of the details along the way, but the thrust of the story is still there.”
Though children won’t take much convincing to see Brave, adults might wonder if it’s for them. According to Coltrane, “There are a lot of good gags for grown-ups and the more times you see it, the more things you’ll see.”
“There are so many layers of complication and subtelty, which aren’t in every film, and that’s the hallmark of Pixar. I feel honoured to be part of it,” adds McKidd.
For Coltrane, once more recognisable for adult roles in the James Bond series or ITV’s Cracker, family films seem to be more prominent on his CV these days. Was that a conscious decision?
“The landscape changes when you have children,” states the actor. “I’d never have thought in the middle of Cracker that I’d be doing a family film, when I was cross-examining psychopaths. It’s just what came along. There was a lot of pressure from Jo [JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels] when she mentioned in print that I was the only person she would consider playing Hagrid, because she’d thought of me while writing the book.
“So then the children came and said ‘Dad, they’re making a film of Harry Potter and you’re playing Hagrid!’ and I’m going ‘Back up there, let’s see what the script’s like,’ and the script was wonderful, so that was that.”
“When you have kids, these things become attractive,” says McKidd. “You think your kids will think you’re great for once. For about an hour.”
So what does being brave mean to Coltrane and McKidd?
Coltrane illustrates his point with a quote. “An old soldier once said, ‘There are some men who have no fear and don’t make good soldiers because they get other people into trouble. A brave man is someone who knows fear and overcomes it in order to do something for the better of his or her fellows’.”
“I guess it’s following your heart,” ponders McKidd. “I was never meant to be an actor, I was meant to be a plumber like my Dad, and it’s just that, following what your heart’s saying rather than what everyone else says you should do.
“Which is what the story of the film is all about.”
Disney Pixar’s Brave opens in Scottish cinemas of 3 August and in the rest of the UK on 17 August.