It is poised to be the biggest-grossing movie about Scotland ever made, an animated fantasy starring an impetuous princess and comedy Highlanders painted blue with woad, populating a mystical fairy world of castles and soaring mountains.
Brave, a 3D animation from the Disney Pixar studios famous for Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the Incredibles, will offer a very different, more childish vision of Scotland from the heroin-ridden dystopia of Trainspotting or the militant nationalism of Braveheart.
Pixar’s 13th title is its first with a female lead, and with its heroic themes focusing on a rebellious, bow-wielding girl, voiced by the Trainspotting supporting actress Kelly Macdonald, some suggest it may even be a feminist epic.
So much so that Scotland’s tourism agency is mounting one of the largest marketing campaigns in the industry’s history to exploit Brave’s global appeal and harness the reach of Disney, the multibillion-dollar entertainment giant which earned $40bn (£26bn) last year.
VisitScotland has set aside £7m for a global advertising blitz to piggyback on Brave’s launch in 72 countries this month, a budget which dwarfs its normal campaign spending. The agency believes its Brave-themed Discover Scotland campaign could increase tourism in Scotland by £140m a year.
The tie-up is thought to be unique for Disney, and could prove doubly useful for the studio – its previous blockbuster, John Carter, was a great disappointment. The Guardian’s critic Peter Bradshaw gave it just one star.
Backed heavily by the first minister, Alex Salmond, who hopes to harness the movie to boost his political agenda to push Scotland’s profile worldwide, VisitScotland is cross-promoting Brave in the US and Asia, reaching into China and Japan, and launching a Brave-themed primetime television campaign in the US.
Adding to the government’s stamp on the marketing campaign, Salmond will attend the film’s premiere in Los Angeles on 18 June, at the start of the LA film festival, as he embarks on a trade mission across California. The first minister will also attend its European premiere to close the Edinburgh international film festival on 30 June.
Scores of influential film writers, movie critics and bloggers were flown into Edinburgh last week for a five-day expenses-paid “junket” at two five-star hotels in the city to watch the movie, interview its stars and enjoy all the stereotypical trappings that Scotland can offer.
After a lavish dinner on Friday evening, the following day they were coaxed with promises of free whisky, a high tea, story-telling and bagpipes onto a chartered private train ride for the day to the southern Highlands, dubbed the Brave Express.
Mike Cantlay, VisitScotland’s energetic chairman and the architect of this unusual deal, believes the movie offers an unprecedented opportunity that goes far beyond Brave’s theatrical release in 72 countries. Industry executives believe Brave will be the top-selling family DVD on the market this Christmas, Cantlay said.
He believes the film will plant fruitful seeds in the minds of its largely young audience, offering an image of Scotland free from drug-abuse, midges and depressing B&Bs. The film’s depiction of the Scottish Highlands and its castles, while embellished and exaggerated, was based on weeks of location work by Pixar.
“It’s a stretch to say people will see and immediately say ‘wow, I must go to Scotland’, but it incorporates many of the themes that work in different markets,” Cantlay said. “It launches in 72 countries around the world, it’s orientated to a younger market that as a tourist organisation we would potentially struggle to reach, and it’s particularly clever in non-English-speaking countries.
“It’s actually dubbed – you get the Billy Connolly-style accent in Japan, though I don’t know how that would turn out.”
Brave stars a host of established Scottish names including Billy Connolly, who plays King Fergus, Kelly Macdonald, best known recently for No Country For Old Men, who plays the red-haired heroine and princess Merida, and Robbie Coltrane, who provides the voice for Lord Dingwall. London-born Emma Thompson is the voice of Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, while Julie Walters plays an eccentric witch who grants Merida an ill-fated wish.
Braveheart enjoyed sell-out audiences in Scotland but grossed a comparatively modest $75m worldwide; by comparison the lowest grossing Pixar film, A Bug’s Life, took $163m. The studio’s most popular movie, Toy Story 3, hit $415m.
“It’s a fairytale, of course it is, but it crystallises the mood and the interest,” said Cantlay. “If you imagine the Chinese market, for instance, they don’t know much about midges; knowledge of Scotland, inevitably, isn’t necessarily as strong as you would want it to be.
“These are traditional, earthy themes, but it creates the interest. One of the things about the movie is that Pixar has spent a lot of time in the country and have used the cream of our acting talent, and they’ve captured and put over the good humour of the Scottish people, and in that it’s unique.”