Legacy Content

Rhett Wickham: Great Animated Performances: Profiles of Modern Masters
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RW

When I spoke to Alice Dewey last week we were talking about how…I don’t want to overstate this…but with HOME ON THE RANGE, that’s sort of the tail end of … the last show in the last season of what’s been a very long run for this particular repertory company.

JM

Yeah.

RC

It is.

RW

That company, which grew together, reached incredible heights and challenged each other and…those artists…animators, production designers, producers, directors, story artists – all alike, reached the height of their craft or at least reached the highest point in their craft thus far. And then all of a sudden the company gets disassembled and that company of talent gets scattered to the four winds. It seems to me it’s one thing to switch tools – given all the internal debate about pencils versus pixels, that’s one part of the argument – but I think the more important side is how do you justify disassembling such an extraordinary company which could have taken all of that knowledge and experience and this new tool and then pushed that even further as a result of staying together and being ready to face that new challenge?!

JM

There were people who crossed over –

RW

And very successfully.

JM

Yeah, but then there were many that were left in the wake and some I think they just... They said ‘Well we’ll train people in-house’ but it was very much ‘Only to the positions we need on this production’ and that was a very narrow view. They didn’t really value their artists. That’s what’s been going on there lately.

RC

Which I think is very different than Pixar. I think the attitude at Pixar – which I’d say is maybe similar to the older Disney - is that it is the artists. The artists are what it is - even more than the name or more than reputation. It’s the artists are what make the films what they are. (sic)

JM

They’re thinking ‘out sourcing.’ That’s the way that they’re trained.

RW

Well, forget about lawyers, I say first thing we do is kill all the MBAs.

RC

But in a certain ironic way if you really look at it, and this may come out wrong, but what destroyed 2D animation is really not like ATLANTIS or TREASURE PLANET, it’s ALADDIN and THE LION KING. (Musker laughs) That’s sort of what destroyed 2D animation in that the success became so phenomenal and it was a success that could not be maintained as you say, but yet drove every studio to want to get in to this business. It created Jeffrey leaving and DreamWorks starting. And ultimately, in its own weird, ironic way, it is the phenomenon. If it had only been sort of modestly successful, and each film had done a little better, and some not doing as well…

JM

Speculative on your part.

RC

Yeah, speculative, but there is a distant aspect of that - when something becomes something of a phenomenon and then it can’t be sustained.

RW

I think that’s a legitimate theory. You see it all over the industry and not just in animation. We’re too concerned with trying to figure out how to repeat it rather than let the work continue its natural evolution and speak for itself. ATLANTIS and BROTHER BEAR and…

JM

EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE.

RW

Groove, yes, and certainly TREASURE PLANET are all films that legitimately belong in the Disney canon. They are a logical extension of this work. There is and should be a diversity to the kinds of stories told just as there is diversity in the audiences. You can’t keep repeating yourself and expect to grow or reach new heights – or develop new audiences.

JM

Well that’s the irony, yeah. In fact we’ve been rapped both ways. Some people say we’ve forgotten how to make them and other people rap you for being too formulaic, and yet then when you do try to stretch or do something that is taking it in a slightly new direction you’re charged with both ways…so you get it coming and going for whatever reason.

RW

Well...a studio can also create that problem for itself, too, by not knowing or being prepared to market anything in a new and creative way and failing to get their minds around something that doesn’t look exactly like the last thing out of the shoot.

Another thing that I’ve been not-so subtly campaigning for through editorials is the notion that the industry has become far too dependent on screen writers rather than nurturing and developing story writers to become good animation screen writers. I know that in an upcoming article where I talk to John Sanford and Will Finn about this, we talked about some of the problems that can be encountered when live action screenwriters - who are not familiar with animation - come to the process. What has been your experience?

JM

As the studios evolve they’re getting further and further away from the origins of Disney storytelling, which is visual storytelling, and now on the film we’re working on they’re saying ‘We don’t even want to see visual until we see a script that we approve’ and I think that’s not true to the origins of the medium. I think the best films have had their origins in that kind of visual exploration.

 

 

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