Merida is the headstrong and adventurous daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor who bucks an age-old tradition, causing havoc in her family’s Scottish Highland kingdom. But while the teenager is trying to take hold of her destiny, her actions force her to find her own true strength in “Brave.”
In Pixar’s 13th feature film, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is set to be married to the son of one of the neighboring lords – Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) or Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane) – to keep the fragile peace in the land. Her father (Billy Connolly) is a warrior king who sees his archery loving daughter as almost a boy herself, but her elegant and traditional mother (Emma Thompson) has groomed her daughter for the wedding her whole life. Merida flees and lands at the doorstep of a witch (Julie Walters) whose “magic” turns her wishes into a nightmare.
With every new film comes a first for Pixar, which has pushed the boundaries of what animation can do since its first film “Toy Story” debuted 17 years ago. With “Brave,” Pixar has its first female protagonist.
“Attention to detail is not my strong point and it took me a passing while to (get) that I was going to be the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie until quite recently when I started the interviews,” Macdonald said. “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know it while I was doing it. It’s a lot of pressure. But, I don’t think I personally have watched a Pixar movie and felt robbed that there wasn’t a female protagonist. They make films about fish and toys and robots and there are some very strong female characters in those films, in ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Toy Story,’ so I never felt like I was missing out, but I feel very privileged having said that.”
Like with most animated films, the voice cast worked separately.
“We were all in different areas of the country and parts of the world,” McKidd said. “It was a shame, but I think Katharine (Sarafian, producer), said that if we were all in the same room we would never have gotten any work done. It was a shame we didn’t get a chance to do sessions together.”
While it was the first animated film for Macdonald, and McKidd had voiced video games, Ferguson had previous voice work as Owl in “Winnie the Pooh” and Gobber in “How to Train Your Dragon.”
“I think it’s nice because you make the movie in your head and while you’re doing it you can close your eyes and see the film in your head and just participate in it,” Ferguson said. “The interesting thing with this (movie) is when I saw the film, after I’d seen it in my head, it was better (Ferguson laughs), which means that Pixar are better than me at making animated films. I think that’s not going to be news.”
The three Scots said the filmmakers, including director Mark Andrews, were flexible when it came to dialogue.
“They’d say, ‘This is the line of dialogue’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah, but it would be more natural’ or ‘A Scot would say it more like this,’ or “It would be funnier of we said it like this,’” McKidd said. “So they were very open to us changing things and giving us different options”
Ferguson added, “I think it’s a sign of the times. I think the world is different from the way it was 20 or 30 years ago when regional accents were a very exotic and odd thing, With the internet and YouTube and all the different communications systems that exist in the world, I think that people’s ears are much more attuned to authenticity in accents now. I think that’s more of the smart planning of this film.”
McKidd grew up near Inverness, a small town in the Highlands, and used that experience as a voice source for the boisterous Lord MacGuffin and his son Young MacGuffin, a shy boy whose his father wants him to compete for and wed Merida. McKidd first got the role as Young MacGuffin and then the filmmakers decided he should voice his father as well.
“I started as Young MacGuffin and it took us a while because we wanted Young MacGuffin to be ... nobody could understand a word he says in the film because his accent is so thick,” McKidd said. “So we started messing about with that, making up words and that didn’t seem to work. I suggested this dialect from my area called Doric, which my grandfather spoke. It’s a very thick, almost Norwegian-style dialect that’s quite strange and so I did that. Then they offered me Lord MacGuffin ... we started doing sessions where I’d do both at the same time and I ended up meeting somewhere in the middle. I was between a rock and a hard place so we just had to do Lord MacGuffin first thing in the mornings when I’d just woken up so my voice was like that (speaks in a low, gravely voice) and then, after lunch, we’d do Young MacGuffin. I basically channeled my dad for Lord MacGuffin because he’s grumpy and old (laughter) and I channeled myself as a young boy. I was a very painfully shy boy. That’s why I became an actor.”
With its history of Oscar-winning films and worldwide blockbusters, the actors jumped at the chance at working with Pixar.
“I think as soon as I was asked to go in and meet some people from Pixar I knew it was going to be special,” Macdonald said. “I had no doubt from the moment that the finished production was going to be really special and cutting edge. That’s the thing about Pixar, every movie … is the most cutting edge technology, but you look back at the films, “Toy Story” was 17 years ago, and with all the technology we have now, it still stands up. It’s extraordinary. I think that comes from the top. Pixar chief John Lasseter is a very special man and it’s just people that love their jobs and do their jobs very well.”
Ferguson added, “You do the voice and you have that, but there are so many things that are outside of your control so trust is involved. When (something like the job) is offered — it’s not really an offer, it’s more like a summons — Pixar requires your (presence) and you go, otherwise you’re a fool. That’s kind of what happens. They’ve earned that right by what they’ve done. What gives you a special feeling, it’s not a judgment of one performance, but realizing what these people have done, trusting that they will do it again, and that’s really it. There’s trust involved.”
Genre: animated adventure
Release date: June 22
Production company: Pixar
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Cast and Crew of Brave:
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane and John Ratzenberger
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Written by: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi
Produced by: Katherine Sarafian