CALL me a jaded cynic – alright, it’s been done. But when Scotland’s energy, enterprise and tourism minister describes an animated Hollywood film as a “once-in-a-century” marketing opportunity, is it the best way to sell Scotland to the world?
Fergus Ewing was at the John McIntyre conference centre this week, to launch the 2020 Edinburgh Tourism Strategy. Put together by business and tourism leaders, it mostly laid out worthy but dry financial goals, like generating an additional 4.15 visitor nights for the capital and pushing visitor spend up by 50 per cent, to £1.5 billion a year. The new extension to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre was about as sexy as it got.
But Ewing dwelt at some length on how he had watched Pixar’s Toy Story films 30 or 40 times with his daughter. This revelation ran into a long spiel about Pixar’s new film, Brave, set in a fantasy Scotland and voiced by an all-Scottish cast. The Edinburgh connection was not immediately clear.
Brave, he said, was going to be bigger than Toy Story – a $200 million film, released in 72 different countries . It was a once-in-a-century opportunity for the tourist trade. He said the film would be watched by several hundred million people worldwide, many 30 or 40 times. With Brave, said Ewing, it will be “you’ve seen the movie, now seen the country”.
Brave, released this summer, is the story of Princess Merida, with a fountain of curly flame-red hair, set in a mythical Medieval Scotland, mostly – from the trailer – the Highlands. She’s a tough little anti-Princess, and an archery champion.
The film is voiced by Scottish stars: Kelly MacDonald as the Princess, Billy Connolly as her father, King Fergus, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane as bristling Scottish lords.
It was conceived by Brenda Chapman, a Pixar veteran with Scottish roots, with location visits here by the animators. After initially planning a “generic northern European feel”, she said in a recent interview: “We thought, Oh, to heck with it, let’s just say it is Scotland”. Connolly came on board and the makers “decided to stop beating about the bush”.
Emma Thompson, who once said she “feels Scottish”, plays Merida’s mum, Queen Elinor. Relations between the rebellious redhead and her mum’s determination to make her conform, and marry, are the film’s driving narrative. There’s also the 12ft bear that ate her father’s leg.
Ewing is by no means first in the Scottish Government to bang on about Brave. Dr Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, calls it “just huge”. First Minister Alex Salmond has taken a close interest.
Here’s the theory. The trailer for Brave, all we’ve seen so far, is laden with tartan, and features Highland Games, craggy mountains and lakes. There’s a tall stone circle in the trailer that looks distinctly Orcadian, though placed among bushy trees.
No mention yet of where Edinburgh comes in. It leaves you wondering what the ministers have got up their sleeve. Are there dreams of a theme park, here or in Florida?
Braveheart sent visits to the Wallace Monument soaring. Lord of the Rings saw tourists converging on New Zealand. The Da Vinci Code ruined the quiet, mysterious beauties of Rosslyn Chapel by turning it into a mecca for tourists obsessed by a dreadful thriller.
Do animated films really sell countries? The Australian Tourism Commission launched a marketing campaign tied to Finding Nemo. There was a mini-boom in tourism on the East Coast of Australia in 2003, with people swimming off to “find Nemo”. My memory is more of a rush to buy clown fish.
Normally in these situations you might warn: wait for the reviews. Brilliant ingredients don’t mean a brilliant show. Brave has a darker feel than previous Pixar outings, it is said, and is the company’s first fairytale. Ewing himself wondered aloud how Billy Connolly is going to sound in Swahili, Urdu or Mongolian. If they translate the voices, do they translate the accents?
In the mid 1990s, with the release of Disney’s Pocahontas, about an early settler’s love for an Indian princess, Virginia’s US heritage sites went big on the branding. But plans for “Disney’s America”, a patriotic Virginian theme park, fell through.
Brave will sell millions of red-headed Merida dolls with archery kits. But will it sell the kind of “authentic” Scottish experience, which was the other buzzword at the conference, or are we peddling Brigadoon-style Highland Games with archery tournaments?
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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