CTN Expo 2023: Legendary Disney Director John Musker Shows Off Caricature-Filled New Short “I’m Hip”

Attendees at the CTN Expo this year were treated to a new short from the legendary director, John Musker, that is a fun and quirky story that is packed with caricatures of Musker’s family, friends, and fellow animators with I’m Hip.

Screened for a packed house of CTN Expo attendees (and could very well be the most full I’ve seen the theater all expo), I’m Hip follows the story of a hip cat, quite literally, that makes his way through jazz club after jazz club and making his way through various venues singing about how hip he is. Digitally hand-drawn, the short is brilliantly animated by Musker and his team and is very much in a classic toon style, full of classic techniques like squash-and-stretch.

Musker, a Cal Arts alum, said that after he retired from Disney he wanted to get back to his animation roots. Fans may recall that Musker once provided animation on the Walt Disney Animation Studios film, The Fox and the Hound before, as he put it, “Disney decided that I would be a better director,” joking that he wasn’t as good as the other animators at the studio at the time. Musker is widely known for his direction alongside Ron Clements on iconic films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. He retired from Disney after 40 years in 2018. He laughed at the screening saying that as Disney celebrates 100 years, it’s strange for him to think that he was there for 40 of them.

Now, out on his own, he selected the song “I’m Hip” for his new short, a piece originally written by Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough as a comic set piece for Blossom Dearie, a unique and stylish cabaret performer who played piano and sang in a feathery voice. Musker explained that he always thought that Frishberg’s comic delivery of his witty lyrics, which make fun of people so desperate to be thought of as “hip,” would make for an entertaining animated short.

Written, Directed, and animated by Musker, who is quick to credit and grateful to thank his small team he worked with, I’m Hip is a four minute gag-filled short that originally premiered at the Annecy festival in June. If the tale of the self-absorbed cat trying to convince you he is cool isn’t capturing your attention, perhaps it’s the dozens and dozens of caricatures peppered through nearly every frame of the short that will keep you enthralled.

Musker went through his short scene-by-scene, in some cases frame-by-frame, showing off his caricature handiwork through the film. After all, he was widely known for his caricatures back in his Disney days. Throughout the short, he has thrown-in animated send-ups of his family, his co-workers, and his friends. Some of which appear for no more than three frames.

In the shot below, you’ll be able to see caricatures of Taika Waititi and Lin-Manuel Miranda (lower right), both of whom worked with Musker on Moana. Musker himself and his wife appear under the “live jazz” marquee, and the city is populated with other folks who contributed to the film.

Animation fans have mere seconds to spot the send ups of The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, The Brave Little Toaster director Jerry Rees, and The Incredibles director Brad Bird in the shot below.

Throughout the page, I have included other shots from the short, in which you can find animation legend Floyd Norman, Treasure Planet producer Roy Conli, and another legendary animator, Glen Keane. See if you can spot them for yourself. Personally, my favorite caricatures were showcased during Musker’s talk, where he explained his short doesn’t have a traditional villain, but rather a moment where the cat is bullied. What better people to caricature for his bullies than a former boss, and fans (and other animators in the audience) howled at about 18 frames featuring these guys:

Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, and Peter Schneider.

Eric Larson, Musker's Mentor

Eric Larson, Musker's Mentor

Currently, I’m Hip is making its way through various festivals so be on the lookout. Perhaps in time, Musker’s short will make its way to a home release or streaming service. If you find it, make it a point to see it. It’s four minutes of fun and wit and classic animation, and a feast for those whose eyes dart back and forth looking for fun hidden things.

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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.