Sean Connery Puts Out for Scotland
"Guardian of the Highlands" (2012) (retitled from "Sir Billi") is now out on Blu-Ray/DVD and on demand. This is a little-known effort from Scotland shops Billi Productions and Glasgow Animation. That everything was developed in his Scottish homeland is no doubt what led Sir Sean to come out of retirement. This follows on a short from the same outfit, "Sir Billi" (2006).
The story plays on Sean Connery's past as James Bond unmercifully. Connery plays Sir Billi, an eccentric veterinarian determined to save his ailing beaver despite opposition from, well, just about everybody and everything. Shirley Bassey of "Goldfinger," "Diamonds are Forever" and "Moonraker" fame sings the title song, and she can still belt it out.
Don't set your expectations too high. This is not a Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks level of animation quality. The colors are distracting and amped-up and everything looks rather dated in terms of animation style. The characters are simply drawn and not particularly lifelike. The action is "heart-warming" and "adventurous," with as many references to James Bond from the Sean Connery days as they could possibly work in. This is a case of the dancing dog - it's not that it does it well, but that it does it at all. And, they pulled it off, producing an animated feature from soup to nuts entirely in Scotland, so hats off to the Scots for entering the big leagues of animation. In terms of competing on the global stage, this film is at best mediocre, but in terms of what it represents on a personal level for the people involved and the Scottish animation industry, it is beyond stellar.
According to screenwriter Tessa Hartmann, business partner and wife of the director, Sascha Hartmann:
"This is James Bond meets Indiana Jones in the Scottish highland. Sir Billi is an eccentric veterinarian grandpa figure fighting to save this beaver. Sir Sean is a very big supporter of Scotland. He liked the idea of doing something completely original, something that had passion. But also something that was born and created in Scotland for the world."
Working entirely in Connery's native Scotland, the two sent out a shot-in-the-dark request to the retired Connery to voice the lead actor role, enclosing a sample of their previous work. As Tessa Hartmann recalled:
"One Friday night with the kids at my ankles, I was cooking dinner and my phone rings. It's Sir Sean on the line. I almost fainted. He apologized for taking so long to come back. He said, his grandchildren had been at his house and the kids had picked up our sample DVD. They had watched it over and over again."
Production took a long time, Scotland not being Hollywood. Sir Sean was obliging throughout, even though there were recording sessions from 2008-2012. Sascha Hartmann says:
"He said that his characters are always heroic, Bond is the hero. And suddenly you have exactly the opposite. A reluctant hero who is overweight. He's quite old. He moans a lot. (Connery) said that James Bond has all of these traits. Just not on the silver screen."Also voicing characters in the film are Alan Cumming, Chris Jai Alex, Patrick Doyle, Miriam Margolyes and Ruby Wax. If you are a Sean Connery fan - and who isn't? - you could do worse than spending some time with "Guardian of the Highlands."