Opens Friday at Scotiabank
The central heroine of Disney-Pixar’s Brave is a rebellious teenager who stubbornly refuses to accept her lot in life. She’s Scottish, and how could she be otherwise? Scotland is the only country the Romans couldn’t invade (the city of Glasgow held them back) and it remains the only nation in the world where Coca-Cola is not the number-one soft drink: it’s Barr’s Irn-Bru, invented in 1901.
The country that gave us the television (John Logie Baird), the first pedal bicycle (Kirkpatrick Macmillan), the telephone (ex-pat Alexander Graham Bell), logarithms (John Napier), raincoats (Charles Mackintosh), tarmac (John McAdam) and even pulling rabbits from hats (John Henry Anderson) breeds a determined race of people.
And so, fiery-haired Merida (voiced matter-of-factly by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald) is a new type of Disney princess (and the first-ever female lead for Pixar). There’s no prince at the close of this fairy tale, no horse but her own trusty steed, Angus. After three suitors from local clans arrive at her door, Merida takes one look at the lads and decides that she’d rather go it alone, thanks very much.
Merida’s fighting spirit comes courtesy of her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly), an impulsive but big-hearted ruler who teaches his daughter swordsmanship whilst imparting clan history, and who sports a peg-leg from a battle with the demon bear Mor’du years previous. The princess is also kept on her toes by her three tousy-headed little brothers, identical triplets Harris, Hubert and Hamish, who are always getting into mischief.
Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson, whose mother, actress Phyllida Law, is a Scot) is determined to round out the rough edges in her daughter and insists that Merida choose a spouse. Instead, Merida flees to a forest populated by will-o’-the wisps and witches (Julie Walters) and inadvertently helps cast a spell on her mother, putting her at great peril. Merida must rely on her bravery and her skills with a bow and arrow to undo the curse.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that for a change, the mother in this Disney story isn’t killed (Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White, Finding Nemo, to name a few); instead the mother-daughter dynamic takes centre stage, made even more poignant by the language barrier caused by the spell. The animation, already spectacularly rich, is at its best when focusing on the non-verbal communication between mother and daughter.
It’s refreshing to this native Scot, at least, to hear genuine accents from the likes of Macdonald, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltraine, rather than those frightful Hollywood-Scottish accents of yore (Brigadoon, anyone?). Music is similarly authentic: gone is Randy Newman’s twangy ballads, replaced by Patrick Doyle’s moody, heroic score, different from the composer’s previous offerings (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Thor). And yep, he’s a Scot, too.
Perhaps the most important Scottish emigrant for the Disney clan was Jimmy MacDonald, who falsettoed the voice of Mickey Mouse from 1946 to the 1980s. No one’s saying you’ll be eating black pudding instead of popcorn, but maybe a girl-power movie featuring a Highland heroine is overdue? The last Scot-centric Disney flick was Greyfriar’s Bobby in 1961, and the hero in that film had four legs. Merida’s indefatigable spirit makes her an ideal role model for girls and boys alike, wherever your family bloodline comes from.