At some point when we were young we all watched at least one Disney princess movie. The early Disney princesses were dainty and the epitome of a damsel in distress. They wanted to be rescued, saved by the handsome prince and travel off to a far-away kingdom where they’d live happily ever after. But Princess Merida, the animated star of Disney/Pixar’s new movie “Brave,” isn’t your typical fair maiden.
Princess Merida is a prime example of independent Disney princesses who don’t necessarily need a man to save the day. As a matter of fact, there are some like Mulan or Rapunzel in “Tangled” that save their love interest themselves. We’re now in the middle of the empowered princess wave, and we couldn’t be happier.
In Disney/Pixar’s “Brave,” we center on the teenager Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) who changes her fate but at a horrible cost. Now she must save the kingdoms from ruin before it’s too late.
We got the chance to speak to not only the voice of Princess Merida, the talented Kelly Macdonald, but to Craig Ferguson and Kevin McKidd about the movie.
When did you realize that you were essentially voicing a new Disney princess?
Kelly Macdonald: Attention to detail is not my strong point and it quickly passed my by that I was going to be the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie until quite recently. Really until I started doing interviews. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know what I was doing, because it would have been a lot of pressure. But I don’t think I personally have watched a Pixar movie and felt wronged in that there wasn’t a female protagonist.
I think that they make films about fish, toys and robots. There’s some really strong female characters in those films like in “The Incredibles” or Jessie from “Toy Story.” So I never felt like I was missing out on that. But having said all that, I feel very privileged.
Craig Ferguson: Disney is so powerful that Kelly no longer owns her own voice. So as she speaks to you now, she begins to owe the Disney Corporation money. I will now answer all of her questions. [laughs]
To what extent could you identify with this character? Was there any aspect of it that you could relate to?
Kelly Macdonald: I wasn’t Merida-like when I was a teenager. She’s very adventurous, outdoorsy and energetic, and I was not. I was indoorsy, but I was a teenage girl, so that was the thing that I zoned in on really. It’s not that all teenagers are awful, but teenage girls are kind of worst I think than teenage boys.
So how was it being solo in the recording booth rather than working with some people?
Kevin McKidd: It’s great because it’s all about you. [laughs] You know, because —
Craig Ferguson: I think it’s nice because you make the movie in your head while you’re doing it. You can work when you close your eyes, see the film in your head and just participate in it. And what the interesting thing about this film is when I saw the film, after I had seen it in my head, it was better [laughs] which means that Pixar are better than me in making animated films.
How did your characters change as the story developed?
Kelly Macdonald: I’m kind of the late comer to the movie. I mean, they started making this seven years ago and I’ve only been involved for the past 18 months. I think they pretty much had Merida down and knew what was going on there.
Craig Ferguson: Well Kevin’s character changed a lot. [To McKidd] You’ve been on for a long time.
Kevin McKidd: Yeah, I started I think four years ago and I was only cast as Young MacGuffin to start with. Then at that time he was going to end up winning Merida’s hand in marriage. And then the story changed.
Craig Ferguson: But no one would’ve believed that.
Kevin McKidd: Because of the whole point. The whole message is that this protagonist is, as you said, is going to find [love] in her own sweet time, you know? I think for the greater good of the film and the message, it was a good thing.
Given the way that North American actors tend to mangle Scottish accents when they play Scottish parts, going back to, “I cannot do it captain,” do you all feel gratified that this is a cast of people mostly doing their own accents? And are your voices in the film close to your speaking voices?
Craig Ferguson: I didn’t understand a word of that. [laughs] I think it’s just a sign of the times. I think the world is different than it was maybe 20, 30 years ago, when regional accents were a very exotic and odd thing. But with the internet , with the YouTube and with all the different communication systems that exist in the world, I think people’s ears are much more tuned to authenticity and accents now. And I think that’s part of the smart planning of this film. Also, if you’re going to make a film about Scotland, it’s probably a good idea to have Scottish people. [laughs]
This is for Kevin [McKidd]. How did you go about developing two distinct tonal influences for the two voices that you’re doing?
Kevin McKidd: Well, I started as Young MacGuffin and it took us a while because they wanted the Young MacGuffin to be kind of where nobody could understand a word he says in the film because his accent’s so thick. And we started messing about with this sort of made up words and all that. That didn’t seem to work, so I suggested this dialect which is from my area in Scotland called the Doric. My grandfather spoke it and it’s a very thick, almost Norwegian style dialect that’s quite strange. So I did that and then they offered me Lord MacGuffin, the dad.
We started doing sessions where I did both of at the same time and I ended up just sort of meeting somewhere in the middle, kind of neither, between a rock and a hard place. So we’d do it in the mornings with Lord MacGuffin because I’ve just woken up and my voice was all hoarse. And then after lunch we would do Young MacGuffin. I just basically channeled my dad for Lord MacGuffin, because he’s grumpy and old and I’ve channeled myself as Young MacGuffin because I was a very, very painfully shy boy.
The theme of the movie is taking control of your destiny, your fate. Is it something in your life that was kind of out of control for a bit that you took control over?
Kevin McKidd: I was from a wee town in the northeast of Scotland. I think I was about eight or nine when I suddenly wanted to do this crazy acting thing. And I had no clue how to ever pursue that up there. There was no theater, national theater in Scotland or anything up there. There’s sheep and fields –
Craig Ferguson: And they’re a very tough crowd. [laughs]
Kevin McKidd: Exactly. So I kind of just had to really take matters into my own hands and sort of really doggedly pursue this thing, which I managed to get to be lucky enough to get to do. I think the message is a very powerful one for young people. Because I was this kids who’s on one path, was going to be a plumber like my dad, and I changed that. Now there’s probably good sides and bad sides to me changing my own fate.
Craig Ferguson: Very difficult to get a good plumber in Los Angeles.
Kevin McKidd: [laughs] Exactly. So I think that’s another subtle message in the film that, if you really want to change your fate or not, there’s always a payoff.
“Brave” is out in theaters everywhere this Friday in 2D and 3D.