CTN Expo 2023: Looking Back At “Lorenzo”

Have you heard of Lorenzo? Few have, and fewer have seen it, based on the consensus of attendees at this year’s CTN Expo 2023, where a special screening of the Walt Disney Animation Studios short took place. The screening, hosted by author, animator, and Lorenzo effects supervisor Dave Bossert alongside the film’s director, Mike Gabriel.

Dave Bossert (Left) and Mike Gabriel (Right) Reflect On "Lorenzo"

Dave Bossert (Left) and Mike Gabriel (Right) Reflect On "Lorenzo"

Gabriel has a storied history at Walt Disney Animation Studios, contributing to classics like The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, Beauty & The Beast, and helming productions like The Rescuers Down Under. His work got him nabbed by producer Don Hahn, who, alongside Roy E. Disney was covertly working on a third installment of Fantasia, this one based on different music from around the world.

According to Gabriel, Disney Legend Joe Grant would put little sketches on display outside of his office to prompt conversation, and that’s exactly what happened with a sketch that Joe had done of this lazy, spoiled, cat. Gabriel was quick to credit Joe with the origin of the story, and Disney Legend Burny Mattinson with the suggestion that it needs a musical track, perfect for a Fantasia piece.

With the advice of finding the perfect music track, Gabriel shared that he went to a local Tower Records (kids, that used to be a place where one could purchase music on physical media, like CDs). Having been, as he puts it, “unceremoniously removed” from helming an unnamed production at the studio, Gabriel says he spent $346.00 on stacks of CDs with music from around the world. The first track of the first CD (“Bordoneo y 900″, performed by Juan José Mosalini and his Big Tango Orchestra) had a Tango that had stuck out to him, and he thought it would be great to tell the story he wanted to tell. However, he continued to work through his stack of CDs, but would always keep coming back to that first track.

A tango, (which was also suggested by Don Hahn) after all, traditionally covered dark content. They were usually about a relationship where someone was cheating and a knife would inevitably be involved. But how is Lorenzo dark? Well.. aesthetically, yes. Gabriel originally loved the idea of having bright colors on a solid black background, and most of the art was done this way with tempera paint on black paper. In terms of story, however, equally as dark. Lorenzo tells the story of a spoiled cat, Lorenzo, who is on his perch in a cafe looking down at the cats on the street through a window. There, he teases them by eating delicious shrimp and even breathes on the glass, drawing a sad face and adding a tear (a note suggested by future Frozen and Wish director Chris Buck). One particularly evil-looking cat walks by, and is notably missing their tale. Lorenzo makes fun of this, showcasing his own very large and fluffy tail, teasing the cat. The tailless cat casts some kind of magical curse upon Lorenzo and his tail, which now has a mind of its own. While the tango track has been playing this time, now it takes full effect as the tail puts the cat through a malicious hell, all while dancing…you guessed it…a tango.

Throughout the short, the cat tries to rid himself of this spirited tail in very cartoony fashions, including drowning the tail, having it run over by a train, and electrocuting it. Legendary animator Glen Keane also suggested some of these antics, namely the train hitting Lorenzo, because it was a cartoon after all, and didn’t have to be completely realistic. Lorenzo sees the spirited cat once again, this time beckoning him with a knife (there it is!) that he uses to slice his own tail off. Don’t worry, we don’t actually see it. Much like a Fantasia short before it, We see this action in the form of a silhouette and flashes of light, like when Mickey chopped the brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The short, animated traditionally, also uses computer generated elements at times, and in some places, you’d never know it. After all, according to Gabriel and Bossert, footage of Gabriel’s own brush strokes was entered into the production digitally, and maneuvered and manipulated where needed to adjust for camera moves and other digital elements. One sweeping shot that follows Lorenzo and his tail passes around these strokes, and you can still see the paint blobs and all in place, even though it's a digital element.

The short, released theatrically with the film Raising Helen, was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 77th Academy Awards, but was not seen after that until much later. After all, that third Fantasia never saw the light of day.  Lorenzo, alongside other shorts like The Little Matchgirl, eventually appeared on a blu-ray release, Walt Disney Animation Studios Shorts Collection Volume 1.

Dave Bossert (Left) and Mike Gabriel (Right) Share A Toast After CTN Founder Tina Price and Disney Legend Don Hahn Provide Drinks For The Pair

Dave Bossert (Left) and Mike Gabriel (Right) Share A Toast After CTN Founder Tina Price and Disney Legend Don Hahn Provide Drinks For The Pair

Gabriel even mentioned how excited he was to find Lorenzo available on Disney+ when the streaming platform originally launched, but noted that it has since been removed. But why? A cursory search on comments regarding the short film all have the general attitude that a cat maliciously trying to harm itself (and eventually succeeding) is “too dark” for a Disney production. However, animation fans and those who can look beyond a brand love the short once they find it. The short has an aesthetic that is hard to find, thanks to vivid, saturated colors on the solid black backgrounds, as well as the “due diligence” that Gabriel put into the short, making the whole project feel like an authentic Tango.

During the screening, Gabriel even said “I was handed a project by Joe Grant and Don Hahn, How do we mess that up?!” He didn’t. So I suggest you find a copy of that aforementioned Blu-Ray, or officially on its own in other places, like YouTube Movies. Earlier this year, I also mentioned Lorenzo alongside a number of other shorts from Walt Disney Animation Studios that you probably haven’t seen as part of our Disney100 fun, and you can check that out here.

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Tony Betti
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.