Museums & the Movies: Brave

August 20, 2012


A princess is knowledgeable about her kingdom. She doesnae doodle!”
(Queen Elinor)

Ever since Pixar announced their latest movie was going to be set in Scotland, I’ve been waiting for it to hit the cinemas. Admittedly, I was a bit worried it might suffer from an overdose of stereotypes, given some other questionable cinematic interpretations of Scottish history and culture (Braveheart anyone?), but I should have trusted more in Pixar who have yet to disappoint me. Yes, the movie is full to the brim with tartan, bagpipes and protagonists with flaming red hair, but it was also funny, entertaining and even heartwarming, and the lush green hills, pounding Scottish rhythms and haggis suppers left me just a wee bit homesick. Although Germany loves to dub foreign movies, Berlin is metropolis enough to have a cinema showing the original version, so luckily I was even able to see it Scottish voices and all (though that didn’t help much with the homesickness – incidentally, today marks exactly one year since we left Edinburgh).

This is Pixar’s first storyline to feature a female protagonist, Princess Merida, and like many other Disney princesses she’s precocious and proud, and would rather go out shooting arrows on the back of her horse than pick a suitor from the neighbouring clans to marry – though given the candidates on offer, I can’t really blame her. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but suffice to say pride leads her to do something foolish, and then she spends the rest of the movie trying to set it right. In the process, she learns the meaning of true bravery (hence the title^^).

But what does this have to do with museums, I hear you ask. Well, Pixar are known for the intensive research they do for all their movies, and Brave was no exception. The Scottish Highlands portrayed in the movie may just be a mystical fictional version of themselves, but many of the locations and objects have a basis in reality.

Lewis Chessmen National Museum of Scotland

As the National Museum of Scotland says on its website, the Disney Pixar team visited the museum in 2006 and 2007 to do research for Brave, during which they “photographed objects from the Museum’s Scottish collections to help design weapons, fabrics and decorations included in the film.” Two of the museum’s star objects to look out for include the Lewis Chessmen, “one of the most famous archaeological finds in Scottish history”, which can be seen during a pep talk on local legend that Queen Elinor gives her daughter, and the Carnyx, an ancient war trumpet which makes an appearance at the beginning of the Highland Games held to determine which of the suitors should win Merida’s hand.

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