*With the rise of DVD’s in the late 1990’s, one feature many promised with the addition of Special Features, were audio commentaries. These would often contain dialogue from the film’s crew, or even film historians. In this category, I’ll discuss some of the audio commentary tracks that I feel are rather compelling, and end up being entertaining, in regards to the information provided, and what is being said.*
When the Walt Disney Studios began to put their films onto the DVD format starting in the late 1990’s, they realized that they had a big chance to show more, AND talk more, about the filmmaking process. The Digital Video Disc format, was a more compact, and less-expensive item for film aficionados, in place of the more costly laserdisc format.
Starting in 2001, the studio announced their Platinum Collection, which would take a number of the studio’s most popular titles, and give these releases the super-deluxe treatment.
Beauty and the Beast was the second Platinum release, and in October of 2002, I eagerly purchased it, and dove into the numerous features it had to offer.
Most notable to me, was the audio commentary track that was included. Sitting down to talk about the film, were co-directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken.
There’s plenty of material that is discussed, and I thought I’d share a few highlights, given the film came out 25 years ago this winter.
Uncertainty over a Song
Throughout the audio commentary, much praise is given to lyricist Howard Ashman, and composer Alan Menken, whose musical work feels like the connective tissue, binding this animated fairy tale together.
Alan was brought in as a ‘special guest’ on the audio commentary, and gives plenty of insight regarding the different songs.
To many of us, the opening to the film seems picture-perfect with the song titled Belle, in which we are introduced to our heroine, and the provincial town she and her father call home. However, there were some trepidations in the beginning:
Alan Menken: When Howard (Ashman) and I began working on Beauty and the Beast, the first song we wrote, Belle-was the first one. And he (Howard) said, “Oh my God, they’re gonna just laugh at it and throw it back at us. I don’t even want to send it out.” I said, “I think it’s great! Let’s send it out!” So we sent it out, and what we got back were “hurrahs” and “yays,” and this was exactly where they wanted to go.
The musical-style opening, had never really been done in this way with a Disney animated feature, and the film moreso played out like a stage musical brought to animated life.
Most interesting, is that for a song that had Ashman worried, it was remembered when awards season arrived in the Winter of 1991. The song Belle was one of three nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The songs Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast were also nominated, with the film’s title song taking home the statuette that evening.
Time is of the Essence
Audio commentaries, are often a great source of information, that is usually not as widely known to the public. Notable in the commentary for the film, is co-director Kirk Wise, discussing the time-frame for making the film:
Kirk Wise: This movie was made in a very short period of time, believe it or not. The actual production of the version of “Beauty and the Beast” that you see before you, was done in two years, as opposed to the typical three or four.
Until I first heard the film’s audio commentary, I had little idea of the first iteration of the film. Beauty was originally meant to be a non-musical feature, and would have been a bit more serious in tone. However, early reviews of that material found few executives willing to go along with it, and the film was then re-imagined into what we know it as today.
Of course, 2 years isn’t the craziest production time for an animated feature. Toy Story 2 was rewritten and animated, 9 months before its November 1999 release (all in a manic attempt to make a film worthy of the PIXAR name).
Finding a New Design for The Beast
When it comes to the story of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast himself has often been a character, who has been re-imagined many times over, in different story illustrations.
For his appearance within the Disney world of characters, his design took a little time to come up with, and becomes an interesting little round-table between the producer and directors of the film:
Don Hahn: The Beast was, a little bit of everything, wasn’t he?
Kirk Wise: Yeah, it was a challenging character design, and Gary (Trousdale) and I looked at some of the early design work that was done on the Beast, and we didn’t care for it, because they all just seemed to be variations of a man, with an animal head. You know, this enchantment didn’t seem to affect the rest of his body, at all. It was either a man with a baboon head, or a man with a monkey head, or whatever.
Don Hahn: It didn’t play into the strength of what animation can do-
Kirk Wise: Right.
Don Hahn: -which is, anything.
Gary Trousdale: We gave the project to Chris Sanders and said, “Could you mess around, you know, and come up with some designs?” And he came up with the weirdest things!
Kirk Wise: Yeah, the avian insectoid-
Gary Trousdale: We had like, stag-beetle and mantis Beasts. We had fish head Beasts, I mean there were everything. And finally, he hit upon one, that is pretty close to what you see on-screen right now. And we saw that and went, “Yes! That’s it!”
Kirk Wise: It was this kind-of, combination of a bull, and a gorilla-
Don Hahn: Bison kind of size.
Kirk Wise: A bison.
Gary Trousdale: And he’s got the hind legs of a wolf, and the forelegs of a bear.
Kirk Wise: It just suggested a lot more interesting animation possibilities.
To me, the Beast has always been a fascinating character, given how the designers and animators, could bring together all these different parts of different animals, and yet make the Beast seem like a real creature.
Notable in the commentary here, is the mention of Chris Sanders. Sanders made a name for himself at Disney, doing not just concept and character art, but also storyboarding a number of major sequences in numerous films in the 1990’s.
Though his biggest claim-to-fame at the studio, was being co-director and creator, of their 2002 animated feature, Lilo & Stitch (not to mention also providing the voice for Stitch).
In the film, Maurice created an automatic wood-chopping device, which had been conceived of by the writers, as a way to get him and Belle out of the basement later on in the film. But after creating this machine, it seemed there was noone around to work it when the proper time came!
One of the best things a really involving story can do, is keep us so invested, that we sometimes let holes in the film’s logic, just fly by. Co-director Gary Trousdale quickly pointed out one of these, that I hadn’t considered until hearing him discuss it:
Gary Trousdale: “Oh, we’ve got that thing, it’s sitting around in the yard, isn’t it? Well who can start it up?” They’re both in the basement. We thought, Well, maybe Chip can, but he doesn’t have any hands!
Don Hahn: He can stow away.
Gary Trousdale: It’s a cartoon! He can talk, can’t he?
Kirk Wise: We cut around the parts where Chip-
Gary Trousdale: Where he’s shoveling coal and lighting the tinder and flint and-
Kirk Wise: He’s a smart little cup.
Those little observations make the commentary quite eye-opening. The filmmakers also bring our attention to some strange goings-on with Gaston’s chair, and a bearskin rug during the reprise of the song, Gaston. I won’t go into detail, as it’s funnier listening to them tell it, than it is for me to recap it.
What’s in a name?
Another revealing thing that I never questioned, comes near the end of the film, when Belle reunites with the Beast.
Gary Trousdale: Yeah this scene here was a little bit of a, we didn’t realize until we actually got to it, but when Belle comes out and calls to the Beast, we said, “He doesn’t have a name. We just call him ‘Beast.'” It’s like, “I don’t know what his name is!”
Don Hahn: Tyrone, or-
Gary Trousdale: Bob!
Don Hahn: Steve!
It wasn’t until I found myself among some West Coast Disney fans almost 5 years ago, that I became aware of what I consider a Disney urban legend, regarding the Beast. When I joked about the commentary’s mentioning about how he didn’t have a name, several told me that the Beast actually DID, and that it was Adam.
This was due to a CD-ROM game licensed by Disney, called The D Show,which gave the Beast this name in a trivia category. However, a number of staff (including the Beast’s supervising animator, Glen Keane), have denied the Beast was ever given a name during production.
Maybe a sign that some legends never die, was seeing that someone had included the title of Prince Adam on the IMDB credit for the Beast in the upcoming live-action film from Disney, but it’s hard to tell if this is official naming, or some fan-submission that may get amended later on.
Even after 25 years, Beauty and the Beast is still one of the best films the studio made during the 1990’s. I can put it in all these years later, and still be entertained by the story, and remember many of the scenes that slowly made me think that animation might be a career path I’d like to pursue.
It also blazed a new trail for animation at the time, when it won for Best Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, and was one of the Oscars’ 5 Best Picture nominees, a feat that had never before been achieved!
Next year will see the animated feature, adapted into the realms of live-action. While many are excited for this new adaptation (with Emma Watson as Belle), it stands to be seen if the filmmakers can make the live-action film as memorable, as the animated film that was released 25 years ago.
I think most of the people who know me, consider me one of the biggest Disney fanatics they know. I can tell you obscure Disney Trivia, and I have been asked a few times about my opinion when Disney or Pixar release a new movie. I also do voices and impersonations if requested (I can do a pretty spot-on Walt, Roy E Disney, or even John Lasseter – it’s a curse from watching too many making-of documentaries).
One place I have been reluctant to tread, was the D23 fan club. One would assume I would have been one of the first to sign up, but even with the exclusive material and social events, living in the Midwest had made me wary, along with the $30+ membership fee tiers to join (the lower “Silver” tier gives you one complimentary issue of D23‘s magazine, but you will need to go for the “Gold” to get a full year of the magazine).
D23 touts events in major cities across the country, but I’ve only counted the equivalent of once-a-year events in Chicago, IL. It seems unless you live in California or New York, expect to travel if you want to find Disney fan events. One event I found out about too late, was one held at Chicago’s Museum of Comteporary Art. In honor of the 70th anniversary of Bambi’s release, Bambi’s voice actor Donnie Dunagan, and Disney animator Andreas Deja were in town.
This year, I grew curious when D23 announced a special event to take place on The Disneyland Hotel grounds. The event was Destination D: 75 years of animation. I almost passed this up, but my love of Disney Animation soon steered me to the event (plus, attendees could get discounted park admission, and I was itching to set foot in Cars Land, which will be part of an upcoming 3-part posting).
After deciding to attend, I chose the standard $225 admission ticket, which was a steal next to the $1000 Diamond level admission. Diamond level admission included a special tour of the Walt Disney Studios and Archives on Monday, August 13th, as well as private access to meet with several of the show’s panelists.
I went to an early sign-in on Friday, August 10th, and also was one of the first to be there when exclusive merchandise went on sale. There wasn’t much that caught my eye, except this:
There were some intriguing pieces, including a recreation of Walt Disney’s Disneyland pin that he wore around the park, and pins based on the storybook covers that opened the classic fairy tale films like Snow White, Cinderella, & Sleeping Beauty.
I was informed that members who attended the Destination D event would get all sorts of freebies. By the end of Sunday, these included:
But, enough with the swag…on with the show!!
DAY 1: Saturday, August 11, 2012
I took my seat Saturday, wondering what to expect. I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary event, when the announcer kept making little Disney references in his spiel (at one point, he said that one of the messages was sponsored by Tony’s Restaurant – aka the place Tramp takes Lady for dinner).
Another surprise was that once the event began, over 3 dozen or so fans jumped from their seats, and flash mobbed us by dancing to different songs from Disney’s history. What was the highlight, you may ask? The dancers dancing to the Kanine Krunchies song from the commercial in 101 Dalmatians! I don’t think any of us expected that, and it definitely made me feel that this was going to be a different experience than I was planning to expect.
After we were showered with hidden confetti cannons, the dancers took their seats, and we were then treated to an introduction by John Lasseter…via a recorded message. John told of his love for Disney’s animated feature films, before closing his speech with a Happy Birthday to Snow White (her film is 75 years old this year).
And with that, Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features got underway.
Walt and The First Golden Age of Disney Animation
Becky Cline (director of the Walt Disney Archives) hosted a chat that included studio legend Burny Mattinson, layout artist and film producer Joe Hale, and Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas, and director of the documentary Frank and Ollie. Burny and Joe soon regaled us with tales about their time at the studios.
– Joe recounted how being from a small Midwestern town, he was unaccustomed to the studio’s elevator systems. One day, as the doors were closing, he heard someone yelling to hold the elevator. Looking out through the doors, he saw Walt Disney running to catch the elevator. Joe was unsure how to keep the doors open, and found himself in the panicked position of shutting the doors on the head of the studio! Unsure what to do, Joe could only yell through the door to Walt how he felt: “Sorry!”
-When talk switched to the studio’s famed ‘Nine Old Men’ of animation, each of the animators was analyzed, though more was known about the more famous of the nine. Joe recounted how he knew plenty of stories about animator Ward Kimball, but was unsure if he should tell. Becky insisted, and Joe then recounted how he came in one morning to work, and found Ward asleep on a couch in his animation room. Ward then recounted why he was sleeping at the studio, and…well, let’s just say the reason he was there, was that he was ‘late for a very important date.’
– Burny recounted his time working his way up from the mail room, his meeting with Walt, and even working with the Nine Old Men. One of the strangest moments, was when Woolie Rietherman tasked him with creating the Devil’s Eye diamond in The Rescuers. The diamond was just 5-7 layers of paper with different facets of the diamond done with magic markers…yet Woolie said it was great, and that’s how the diamond ended up being depicted in the final film!
(FYI: If you love podcasts, I recommend Clay Kaytis’ “Animation Podcast,” which contains a great 4-parter from Burny. It shows that Burny really does know how to tell stories well)
Roy E Disney and the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation
Disney Historian Tim O’Day hosted this segment, which helped praise and show how integral Roy was in preserving the legacy of his Uncle Walt, and father Roy O Disney. Panel guests include producer Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements (directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Dave Bossert (head of special projects at the Walt Disney Animation Studios), and Roy Patrick Disney, Roy E’s son, who was also a former Disney Imagineer.
Each of the men recounted the dark days during the early 1980’s, and noted that of all the company’s divisions, animation was slated as the one that was most likely to be axed. Even though Roy didn’t have any animation knowledge, he still fought for it, claiming that it was animation that built the studio’s legacy.
We also got to know a little about Roy’s work on the True Life Adventures series, and how far Roy went when what should have been a humorous collision of ducks on ice, seemed to disappear…and what eventually was done to rectify the situation.
We also got to see some pictures of Roy Patrick and the family, including them posing outside the family’s private plane. Though it looked glamorous, Roy P said that at the time, if you wanted to go from California to Florida in the plane, it took 13 hours, and 2 stopovers just to get there.
At the end of the presentation, Roy P was presented with a Mickey Mouse statue called a “Mouseker,” which was similar to one Walt had been given many years ago. Roy was thanked for his service, as well as that of his father to the company.
Inside Walt Disney Studios Today
Disney animator Darrin Butters then hosted one of the segments I was very excited about, which was going to give us a sneak peek at what the studio was working on.
After opening with a showing of Tangled Ever After (it’s definitely funnier in a room full of Disney fans), Darrin then showed us concept art for the company’s 2013 release, Frozen. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, this film version appears to be like Tangled, in that it takes the basic premise, but turns it towards someplace new. I was hoping to see some rough animation, but the art still has me intrigued.
The music for Frozen is being composed by the husband/wife songwriting duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They did an incredible job on 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and if the song we were previewed (titled Let It Go) is any indication, the rest of the songs may be just as memorable. Let It Go played as a declaration, but also as a lament in a way, both touching and heartbreaking at the same time. Sad that I’ll just have the song stuck in my head until I see the film next year.
Next up, was the first non-industry showing of the animated short, Paperman (which will play before Wreck-It Ralph this fall). I’d heard alot of praise for this hand-drawn/computer hybrid, and the short just blew me away! Emotionally charged, creative, and heartfelt, this is the animated short I wish I had created in college (it reminded me of my youthful sensibilities then as well).
Finally, we were treated to clips from Wreck-It Ralph, which just helped make us even more excited to see the final film. Judging from the word out of Comic-Con, I believe we just saw a lot of the same footage as they did.
The Greatest Disney Animation You Never Saw
Don Hahn and Dave Bossert then treated us to some little-seen Disney commercials and shorts. Some highlights included:
– A pre-show from the old Feature Animation Studios in Florida, in which Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite explain how an animated film is made (Don said they had to clear alot of legal hurdles with The Cronkite Estate just to show the footage to us)
– The original pre-show to the now defunct EPCOT attraction, Cranium Command (having never been to Disney World, this was neat to see).
– Storyboards for an unmade film about Hiawatha. One of the inspirations when Disney began work on Pocahontas, were concept art and storyboards from the film, and we were treated to a portion of them, with more to be shown as a special feature on the upcoming Pocahontas Blu-Ray release.
– An early storyboarded sequence for the Pomp & Circumstance song for Fantasia 2000. In it, every Disney character cameos as our favorite princes and princesses prepare to receive their respective babies (even Don and Bill felt odd talking about that). I had read about this early version in my Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope coffee table book, but this was the first imagery I had ever seen of that odd concept.
– A clip from Song of the South, with Uncle Remus singing the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah song. I think many of us would have loved it if we could have seen a full screening of the film, but the clip was fine.
Animating the Disney Parks
Becky Cline and Tim O’Day then sat down to speak with Walt Disney Imagineering members Tony Baxter, Tom Morriz, and Eddie Sotto about many of the old guard who came from the animation division, and translated their work into the parks’ many style works. They discussed about enhancing the look of some areas of the parks, as well as making the designs work in other countries (for example: there aren’t any Main Streets in France like there are in the United States…so how do you make that concept work in Disneyland Paris?).
An Evening with Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix
This was an incredibly fun way to end the evening. The group was originally formed when Mike Mendyke met Dick in a coffee shop, and both explained how they loved to sing barbershop quartet. It just so happened that Dick had just put an ad in the paper at the time and was looking to start up a group, but noone had responded to his ad.
“Noone responded to the ad?” Asked Mike, incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t put my NAME in the ad,” replied Dick, who apparently wanted to start the group based on talent and drive, not on his name.
The foursome entertained us with songs from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Jeffersons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, and even went into the Disney catalogue of songs. One of the funniest moments, was when Dick recreated his role as Mr Dawes, Sr from Mary Poppins, adopting the scatter-brained speech pattern and stooping posture, as the group sang the song Fidelity Feduciary Bank. An image of Dick and the group singing the song is right below:
There was also a Director’s Cut screening of the documentary Walt & El Grupo (which chronicled Walt’s trip to South American during the early years of WWII), but the whole day had been so tiring, that I felt it best to make my way back to the hotel room to gear up for the second day’s event.
DAY 2: Sunday, August 12, 2012
While Saturday’s presentations had been exciting, it was Sunday’s that definitely had some stellar moments. Let’s start the rundown:
Wacky and Wild Disney Animation
Bill Tanek hosted a talk with Animator Eric Goldberg & Animation Historian Jerry Beck about the wackier side of Disney Animation. We even got to see some censored scenes from earlier Disney cartoons, and we’re treated to some of Goldberg’s early test footage of Aladdin’s Genie, which utilized some of Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy routines (sadly, we only saw one clip due to a technical glitch in the program).
Eric made note that when a lot of people think of wacky animation, they are normally inclined to consider the Looney Tunes shorts first. However, the examples shown to us definitely point out that there were plenty of wacky pieces in Disney’s portfolio. One that I had never seen, was a strangely mind-blowing sequence from The Three Caballeros, which makes me think I need to sit down and watch that film one of these days.
Drawing With Personality
This was my most anticipated panel, with animator Andreas Deja taking the stage! But Andreas didn’t just sit down and talk. He brought with him some great examples of classic animation, even showing how the studio’s artistry had grown from pipe-cleaner limbs in 1927, to being able to make Snow White only a decade later!
Andreas brought along examples of classic work, including this image of Grumpy.
He even drew for us, the demented Mickey from the animated short, Runaway Brain. Andreas mentioned that he worked on the short at the old Paris studio, and the crew had shirts made of the demented Mickey. Andreas wore his shirt to Disneyland Paris one day, and was decried and criticized by a cast member there who thought he was wearing “bootleg merchandise.”
Andreas then closed by drawing some of the characters he designed, such as Jafar, and Scar (as seen above).
Andreas even gave those of us with sketchpads a little assignment while he was drawing Jafar: draw Jafar as a little kid. My final image came out as more of a teenage Jafar, and I quickly started developing a backstory around his appearance. You can see my image of a young Jafar below:
Tinker Bell: The Evolution of a Disney Character
Disney Historian Mindy Johnson hosted this panel, which served as a lead-in to talk about her upcoming book, Tinker Bell: An Evolution. Mindy gave us a pretty thorough history lesson on Tink’s creation (including where her name came from), before diving into her evolution over many decades at the Disney Studios (at one point, her character designs suggested she would have red hair!).
We also learned that at the time, Tinkerbell’s final look was shaped by three women: Kathryn Beaumont, Margaret Kerry, and Ginni Mack. Ginni (a former Ink-and-Paint girl at the studios) was recently discovered to be the head model for Tinker Bell, while Kathryn and Margaret were inspirations for her figure (animator Marc Davis designed Tink to have a girlish upper body, and a womanly figure for her lower body). We also learned that in the scene where Tinker Bell sees herself in a mirror in the film Peter Pan, it was not meant to show her to be ‘preening,’ but was the first time she had actually seen herself in a mirror.
Ginni and Margaret were on hand to discuss their roles at the studio and Tink’s creation, with the panel ending with animation director Peggy Holmes and Mae Whitman (who voices Tinker Bell in her current computer-generated form), talking about the upcoming direct-to-video film, Tinkerbell: The Secret of the Wings.
Hearing Voices: A Salute to Disney Voice Actors
Tim O’Day next came out, to speak with several people who had provided voices for different characters over the years. These included:
Chris Sanders – the voice of Stitch in Lilo & Stitch
Lisa Davis – the voice of Anita in 101 Dalmatians
Bruce Reitherman – the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh & The Honey Tree, and Mowgli in The Jungle Book
Kathryn Beaumont – the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy in Peter Pan
David Frankhan – the voice of Sergeant Tibbs in 101 Dalmatians
Bill Farmer – the voice of Goofy
Several of them like Chris Sanders and Bill Farmer, demonstrated their vocal talents to us, as well as how they came to their chosen voices.
Of all the panelists, Lisa Davis left a big impression on me. With her gracious voice, she explained how Walt Disney originally wanted her to voice the role of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Walt read the character lines for Anita to her, but as they went along, Lisa just didn’t feel she was right for the part. She then asked Walt if maybe she could read for Anita. Fearing he would get mad at him questioning his decision, she was surprised when he obliged.
Dickie Jones who had originally voiced Pinocchio couldn’t make the panel, but we were treated to a clip from Pinocchio, demonstrating his vocal talents.
Snow White: Still the Fairest of them all
With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the release of Snow White, Destination D would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature.
Tim O’Day started out the presentation, talking to musicologist and historian Alex Rannie. We were treated to excerpts from the musical history and evolution of the film, including original music pages, and deleted audio of Snow White singing her own verse from the film’s Silly Song sequence.
The live-action model for Snow White also made a rare west-coast appearance. Marge Champion explained to us about her family’s dance studio (at one point, they even gave Shirley Temple some lessons!), and how she ended up working on the production. Marge even explained that when she was given the dress to wear, she noted that it looked like it had been originally made for someone else, but as to whom they may have chosen before her, no notes exist.
The panel closed with Gabriella Calicchio, CEO of The Walt Disney Family Museum, who explained about the museum’s upcoming exhibit regarding Snow White, and their plans to enhance the museum to help people explore their own creativity.
An Evening with Alan Menken
For many of us, the evening’s big event was An Evening with Alan Menken. Many of us eagerly got in line early to wait the 3+ hours until we’d be allowed back into the main convention hall.
All of us have been touched by Alan’s music in some way (for me, you need look no further than my review on the mid 90’s boxset, The Music Behind The Magic). Alan never gives private concerts, so the chance to see this was a moment that many will probably never forget.
Alan’s musical repertory was so vast, that much of his performance was small medleys from various films. Even so, Alan shared with us songs from the highs and lows of his career. We even got to hear a song he made for the cancelled Roger Rabbit prequel that was being worked on in the late 90’s (the song was titled “This Only Happens In The Movies”).
During the course of the performance, Alan also shared with us some little moments of his career:
– When both he and Howard Ashman were nominated for the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” from the film version of Little Shop of Horrors, Alan realized as they were sitting in the Oscar Ceremony audience, that he didn’t have an acceptance speech penned in case they won. When he told this to Howard, Howard replied, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to win.” And, Howard was right.
– Alan also told about a meeting he had with Jeffrey Katzenberg after Newsies came out, and it’s opening weekend gross was only $5 million. Alan pleaded with Jeffrey that if they just spent more money on advertising, they could bring in more people. “Alan,” said Jeffrey,”It’s over. I could take $10 million, throw it out on the street right now, and the film would still not do any better.”
Alan also got emotional as he talked about his former music partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, and took time to play for us a song that he did not compose. The song was made by both Howard and Marvin Hamlisch, who created an off-broadway production called Smile, based off of the film about several girls entering a California beauty contest. The song Alan played (which seemed appropriate for where we were) was titled “Disneyland.” In the production, one of the contestants (played by Jodi Benson!), sang about her desire to one day live in Disneyland. Even though Alan didn’t have a hand in the creation of the song, it was definitely a wonderful sign of how much he missed and cared for one of his early musical partners.
For those of us who couldn’t afford the $1000 Diamond level admission, it was a rare treat to see some of the day’s guests in person. I got to meet up with Don Hahn for the second time in 2 years (I got the chance to meet him in February of 2010 when he and Peter Schneider brought Waking Sleeping Beauty to Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center), and Don seemed to appreciate the love I had for his documentary about the Disney Studios.
Many of us animation fans were on the lookout for the likes of Chris Sanders and Andreas Deja, but were pleasantly surprised when Eric Goldberg sat in on the remaining panels, and greeted fans for the remainder of the Sunday presentations. Eric kindly fielded my questions, and even signed my Making of Aladdin book, personalizing it with a little profile image of the Genie!
One of the most surprising appearances late Sunday evening, was Richard Sherman (part of the songwriting duo who brought us the songs of Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and The Jungle Book). As soon as word spread that he was in the audience, he was quickly mobbed by many fans and well-wishers. It seemed that he was there for the Evening With Alan Menken event, and politely waved when Alan pointed him out to the rest of the audience.
This was one thing that I felt would have been great for those of us who came to see many of these people we had seen on television or in interviews: interactivity. I’m sure many of us would love to have asked Andreas Deja questions, or many other panelists.
Destination D also served as a surprise, as I got to say hello to Mr Jim Hill, the owner of JimHillMedia.com. I had written several articles and covered the world premier of the film Cars for Jim in the mid 2000’s, and it was great to finally meet him in person!
Another highlight was getting to meet and chat with other Disney fanatics. It feels so great when you can talk to people about this stuff, and they actually know what you’re talking about! After the first day, I joined in a little group with a guy named Jason, and two sisters named Kelly & Lisa. I also talked with an artist from San Diego who taught autistic children, and a couple young persons who (of course) wanted to one day work for Disney (one had dreams of being an Imagineer, and the other was considering animation schools to attend once she graduated from high school).
Before we parted ways on that amazing Sunday evening, Jason, Kelly, Lisa & I posed for the following picture. We each got an autograph by Eric Goldberg, but he drew each of us a different character he supervised:
And that, was my experience with my first D23 event. While it didn’t totally blow my socks off, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the event was handled, and how it definitely felt tapered to the fans in the audience. After awhile, I wasn’t worrying about the $225 price tag, and got swept up in the excitement (kind of like how being at Disneyland cancels out the thought of ticket prices for me!).
My one hope is that D23 will try to hold more fan events around the country, for those of us not near some of the major entertainment hubs.
I had a couple people ask me if I was going to attend the D23 Expo next August. D23 holds the expos every 2 years at the Anaheim Convention Center (a few blocks from the Disneyland Resort), and it usually serves as a beacon for all things Disney (theme parks, live-action films, animation, apparel, etc). At this point, I’m still mulling over whether to return to Anaheim so soon, but given the atmosphere and experiences at Destination D, it might very well be a possibility next year.
To most of our modern media, Disney‘s second ‘Golden Age’ of animation seemed to end with Tarzan in 1999. Almost every article I’ve read that mentions Disney animation in some form or another seems to assume that nothing good came from Disney‘s feature animation division until almost a decade later. Pity that they often gloss over a film that seemed to do pretty well in the summer of 2002 (then again, the media tends to focus on how much money you make, not the integrity of your character).
Conceived of by story artist Chris Sanders, the original concept for Lilo & Stitch was that of a strange alien creature lost in a forest. After more story work, the lost alien creature soon became a fugitive alien experiment (codenamed “Experiment 626”).
There was a feel of rude-n-crude humor to Stitch, but what managed to keep the film from falling into just being mediocre, was the story of Lilo (Daveigh Chase), a little girl whose imagination makes it hard for her to fit in, as well as get along well with her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere).
In a way, both Lilo and Stitch’s abrasive tendencies allowed them to learn from each other, and provided one of the most unconventional films to come from Walt Disney Feature Animation in quite some time.
Production-wise, making the film was different in a number of ways:
1) It was only the second film to be produced entirely at Walt Disney Feature Animation in Orlando, FL (the only other animated film to be made there was Mulan).
2) Aside from an orchestrated score composed by Alan Silvestri (composer of Back to the Future), the majority of the music used were songs that were sung by Elvis Presley.
3) Background art for the production was painted entirely in watercolors.
Much like Atlantis: The Lost Empire had relied on artistic inspiration from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Sanders’ unique stylings would be all over his production. Straight lines in the production were largely done away with, and almost everything was given an expanded or rounded look to it (which definitely contrasted with the very angular designs of Atlantis as well).
The idea behind the production of the film, was making something on a smaller budget, but still retaining the heart of the piece. For inspiration, the filmmakers would often look to Dumbo, which was a simple little story that was also made on a much smaller budget than other films the studio had produced at the time.
This feeling to make a film in the spirit of the first Golden Age of animated features (1938-1942) also carried over into a small scene in the film. One of the first things that Stitch becomes interested in is a book showing the story of The Ugly Duckling. This was one of the last Silly Symphonies that The Walt Disney Studios produced in the late 1930’s, and I often cite it for its ability to be very emotional. There’s one scene that I recall seeing in the theaters, that noone ever really noticed as an ‘homage’ to that animated short.
To direct our attention to the film’s upcoming release, the marketing department soon attempted a campaign that was unlike anything we had seen before. Instead of giving us outright clips of the film, 3/4 of the movie trailers consisted of the alien Stitch invading some of the most heartfelt moments we recalled from the Disney classics of the early 1990’s.
Marketing made Stitch out to be the black sheep of the Disney character stable. He was the rebel, the anti-Mickey if you will. Even though he was engineered to destroy, a lot of people loved Stitch’s round, cuddly shape. It could tie into how we respond to various shapes. One study I remember reading said that babies tended to seem more comfortable with rounded, natural shapes than angular ones. This could also explain why so many people love Mickey Mouse: he’s largely made up of circles.
In the end, Stitch didn’t make gobs of money, but it was one of the most well-received animated feature from Disney, and it commanded a decent $145 million gross in the US alone. What I remember most about the film’s opening weekend, was a sight I’ve never witnessed since regarding a Disney theatrical release. At the time, I was working at a movie theater, and was surprised to see that the 10pm showing for the film was sold out! I snuck in to check out the crowd, and it wasn’t families…it was teenagers and 20-somethings that made up a good 90% of the audience!! Such a thing would become commonplace with many of Pixar’s films, but this was a rare occurrence.
Unknown to alot of people, a couple major changes were made to the story during its final year in production.
One of them was made after a test audience’s reaction to the scene where Jumba chases Stitch into Lilo and Nani’s home, and proceeds to fight him inside.
The original piece was a lot more violent, and at one point, the chainsaw Stitch finds gets out of his hands, and chases Lilo around the kitchen. At the end, the destruction of the home was more intentional as Stitch and Jumba’s fighting escalates. Stitch pulls out the stove, and turns up the gas, which soon turns into a ‘do you have the guts to do it’ moment between the two, resulting in Jumba pulling the trigger and destroying the home. This definitely was a bit more menacing than the final product, which became a comical game of ‘hot potato,’ with a jammed blaster.
Another change was the slamming on the brakes of an action set-piece in the wake of the events of 9/11. Originally, to get Lilo back from Captain Gantu, Jumba, Pleakley, Stitch, and Nani hijack an airplane, including flying it through a commercial district on the island.
This was a key sequence in the film, and much of the scene had already been animated and finalized.
The solution? Restructure the 747 so that it looked like an alien spaceship (after all, Jumba and Pleakley had to get to Earth somehow!), and change the commercial district to a mountainous canyon area.
The eventual DVD release of the film before Christmas satiated the public’s need to have a little piece of the adventure in their own homes, but many animation fans and myself were a little upset. Why? Well, the American release was a single-disc that gave us very little…whereas foreign releases to some countries contained everything from audio commentary, a documentary on the making of the film, and even numerous deleted scenes (such as the original house attack and the rescue by 747).
Eventually, our patience paid off as in the Spring of 2009, the 2-disc edition finally made it to our shelves, and I was sure to get it. If you love the film but don’t have the 2-disc set yet, get it! Or, maybe hold off as I’m sure some time in the next few years, we’ll get it on Blu-Ray.
Lilo & Stitch is one of those films that many of us recall before the resurgence of the dark times at Walt Disney Studios. That fall, Treasure Planet’s low-grosses in the wake of its exorbitant price tag would begin the eventual demise of hand-drawn animation at the studio, and leading to the eventual closure of numerous satellite studios the company had around the world (including the Feature Animation branch in Orlando). Chris Sanders stayed with Disney through the dark times, but when his concepts for the production American Dog (which later became Bolt) were not met favorably, he exited the studio and headed to Dreamworks. What did he do there? Oh, just a little film called How to Train Your Dragon (along with his Stitch co-director Dean DeBlois).
Aside from films made by Pixar Animation Studios, almost nothing that came out after Stitch quite captured the charm and emotions that permeated from that film. Lilo was not your conventional princess or ordinary little girl (she had issues, and at one point even lashed out at a girl who made fun of her), and doing things a little different is a way to make people remember you. Stitch could have just been an E.T. rip-off, but he was a weapon that soon learned there could be more to who you are…that you can change, and find a way to belong.
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the television series, or the direct-to-video releases. Well, I’m one of those people that cuts off where the main creator(s) walked away. I’m the guy who will acknowledge Terminators 1 & 2, but nothing that came afterwards.
Lilo & Stitch also makes me fondly recall the summer of 2002, when I was entering my final year of studying animation, with our Team Animation class looming on the horizon, and my eager young attitude anticipating what was to come down the road, both in life, and in animation.