CATEGORIES Movie NewsThe star of Pixar's latest feature, "Brave," is Princess Merida, a Scottish lass who must carry on with family tradition and find a royal suitor. But Merida wants nothing to do with tradition; she wants to climb mountains, ride horses and control her own fate (and she certainly doesn't want to marry a man who cannot handle a bow and arrow as well as her). Merida is nothing like the traditional "Disney princess," and that requires a non-traditional actress to give voice to the character. Pixar found what they were looking for in critically acclaimed actress Kelly Macdonald.
If you watch "Boardwalk Empire" (she plays Margaret Schroeder) or have seen her in "No Country for Old Men," (as Carla Jean Moss), you're certainly familiar with Macdonald's quiet but captivating screen presence. But all that timidness had to go out the window to portray a carrot-topped headstrong teenage archery buff.
Moviefone spoke to Macdonald about the unusual challenges that come with voicing a cartoon and how she's bracing for her new position as the voice of a role model.
It was great to see Scottish culture depicted because I feel like Scotland gets ignored when it comes to Hollywood. What aspect of this newfound cultural exposure are you really excited for American audiences to see? It's lovely to have the focus on Scotland for awhile. I think the world can be divided into people that have been to Scotland and people who are planning on going to Scotland [laughs]. I think it's going to do the tourist industry in Scotland no harm at all. It's funny to be involved in a project with all these incredible Scottish actors. There's a lot of talent in there, but we've not been in the same room. So it's an odd one.
For a project like this, do you have a different approach to your performance as opposed to something like "Trainspotting" or "Boardwalk Empire"? It's a completely different acting muscle you have to use. I had to find a new way of doing things because the way I work is usually subtle; a lot of it is reaction to other actors and a lot in the space, and I couldn't rely on any of my old tricks. When you do animation you have to be really, really loud. Everything has to be multiplied by a hundred, and even the really subtle stuff is that bit bigger when you're recording. It's not a solo experience, but you're the only actor in the room at any time. So it's a very spontaneous thing. You go in, do your thing and then that's it.
Disney is so rooted in film history. What does it mean for you personally to become a part of that Disney-Pixar legacy? It means a lot. I never dreamt in a million years that I would be invited to play any part in a Pixar film. If it was live action, I don't think I'd get anywhere near the casting room, frankly [laughs]. I'm going to have to wait awhile after the film comes out before it sinks in.
Have you begun to encounter the new audience that you'll be gaining with this? You've largely been an actress for films for adults and now you're doing this global blockbuster that's a role model to little girls. I know, it's huge! She's going to be a little-red headed icon, I think. I'm so... yeah. It's weird. I'm going to have to wait a couple years to feel the effect myself.
What kind of impact did Disney have on you growing up? I didn't really watch a lot of animation. I've watched all of the Pixar films as an adult because I've got a young child, but "Snow White" is the only one that I really remember; "Bambi" as well. All the new princess ones passed me by. I didn't really watch any of those.
Well there's already been a lot of critic chatter about what Merida means for young girls, but what do you hope a young audience takes away from watching "Brave"? The thing I love about Merida's character is she makes a mess of things, but she's the one that tidies her mess up. She does it on her own. She doesn't need a prince to come in and help her, her dad to come in and help her, or her mom to come in and help her. She takes responsibility and she fixes things and she apologizes. If you were a little kid today, what would you think of Merida and her attitude to her parents, to life and her responsibilities? Never mind if I was a little kid. Now, I'm just like hopelessly in love with her.
"Brave" opens Friday, June 21.
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David Edelstein, New York MagazineKelly Macdonald is an inspired choice to voice Merida, having a tone that is at once dulcet and exasperated. You can see the Miyazaki influence in the glowing will-o'-the-wisps that lead the girl in the direction of her destiny, and in the longed-for transformation of a parent that turns almost instantly into a disaster to be overcome.
Drew McWeeny, HitFix"Brave" is actually one of the most streamlined, direct stories that Pixar has ever told. It's almost deceptively simple, a very simple narrative that feels like it unfolds in about 40 minutes, never pausing or digressing in any significant way. Some may criticize its laser focus, but I think it works well precisely because it seems to be in motion from the beginning to the end.
Glenn Kenny, MSN MoviesSeeing what happens packs a particular wallop that keeps the action engaging in a way that is, yes, somewhat atypical of Disney fare and even a little leftfield for Pixar. Indeed, what seemed a relatively conventional family film gets downright eccentric. Delightfully so, I thought, and I'm curious as to whether kids agree (whether their parents agree isn't nearly as interesting a question).
Christy Lemire, Associated PressAfter beginning in thrilling fashion, "Brave" turns rather silly and slapsticky rather quickly, as if it were aimed mainly at the little kids in the audience rather than the whole family, for whom most Pixar movies are so satisfying and quite often moving. (Admit it: You sobbed uncontrollably at the beginning of "Up" and the end of "Toy Story 3." We all did.) This time, the usual depth of story and well-developed characters simply aren't there. It's a pleasant diversion but, comparatively, a disappointment.
Melissa Anderson, The Village VoiceOf course, Merida's insurrectionary spirit can last only so long in a House of Mouse vehicle; the majority of Brave's running time after her uprising is devoted to restoring the sanctity of the nuclear family and smoothing away all rage against Mother. (After all, Pixar is a company that lists "production babies" in its films' closing credits.) But for a while, the film moves into bold, at times perverse, territory.
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.comThis is like the "Inglourious Basterds" of feminism; all it took to bring down patriarchy in Scotland was one spunky redhead standing up to say no! Moms and girls everywhere deserve this movie, absolutely, and I hope they have a great time. But they also deserve much more, and much better.
Alonso Duralde, The WrapParents looking for smart, independent and proactive role models for their young daughters will be thrilled by "Brave," Pixar's latest (and the studio's first movie toplined by a female character). But it would be reductive to welcome this exhilarating new film merely as a counterbalance to Disney's pre-feminist princesses: It's a rousing adventure and a hilarious comedy, and if its athletic and intelligent leading lady creates a new paradigm for animated features, so much the better.