Category Archives: Animators

Meeting The Masters, And A Little Background On A Famous Sea Witch

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Today I had the privilege of meeting a couple of master animators.  The first was the great Tony Bancroft, director of Mulan, and supervising animator of Pumbaa, Kronk, among others.  It was a pleasure meeting him, and he has a great book I bought about Directing for Animation.  Tony is currently directing an animated feature with an idea involving Paul McCartney.  It’ll be interesting to see where that goes.  The other was animation master Dale Baer, who has been with Disney since the 1970’s.  One of my favorite Baer characters is Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove.  I tried to see if I could get a drawing of Yzma Kitty from him, but unfortunately he couldn’t remember how to draw her as a cat!  Oh well.  But the Yzma drawing I got was pretty cool.

The biggest pleasure I had though was meeting one of Disney’s great supervising animators, Ruben Aquino.

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Ruben is most well known for supervising the animation of Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and was also responsible for Adult Simba in The Lion King.  It was great to sit down and talk with him about Ursula, who as a child was one of my most feared Disney Villains.  During my talk with him, I said that for myself as a kid, Ursula was probably second to Stromboli in Pinocchio for being the scariest Disney Villain, to which he replied, “Thank you!  That’s quite a compliment for scariest villain!”  During production of The Little Mermaid, Ruben was the third supervising animator asked to tackle the character, which had been in development by two animators, Glen Keane and Rob Minkoff.  One of the inspirations for Ursula was the drag queen Divine, and the animators watched the featured John Waters film for inspiration of the character.  As for making her fat, Jeffrey Katzenberg originally wanted to make her skinny like Joan Collins, but it was the voices of some of the animators and the backing of Howard Ashman that making her fat also made her a bit funnier.  One of the interesting things about the character is that she’s quite inconsistent when it comes to staying on model.  I told Ruben it was one of the things I loved was getting to see which animators worked on Ursula based on the different styles, but Ruben mentioned that the inconsistency was one of the things that bothered him about the character, and his animation was probably the most on model.  But regardless of that he also mentioned it being the most fun character he ever worked on.

Below you can see some of the inconsistencies in the model based on the different animators that worked on her.  Sometimes she’s on model, sometimes her hair or teeth are too big.  Some animators are more broad and over the top, such as Kathy Zelinski, who animated Ursula casting her spells, as well as the great scene where she’s transformed from Vanessa back to herself and crawls towards the camera on the boat deck.  Great creepy stuff.

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Although Ursula was my childhood terror, I couldn’t help but ask for a sketch of her from him, which he obliged in the drawing below.

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It was a great pleasure getting to talk with these guys.  Hopefully I’ll have more of these events coming up soon, and if I ever get the opportunity, I’d love to do an interview and sit down with one of these guys and talk about their careers.  That would be fun.

Aladdin (1992) Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements

Aladdin1  One of my all time, joyfully favorite animated films is ALADDIN, brought to us during the high point of the Disney Golden Age.  It’s a toss up for me between BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN as to which is my all time favorite.  I suppose I would consider them equally superior films, but ALADDIN I saw at least 5 times when it was out in the theaters.  One of the great things about this film is that it energized the comedy aspect of what Disney films could be, having been influenced by a lot of Warner Bros style humor.  It also contains one of the great Disney Villains, Jafar, who instantly became a classic when this film first came out.  It’s a good story well told, and thankfully this is one of the few films where they didn’t let Robin Williams write the film with his fast talking dialogue as the Genie.  There are some animated films featuring Williams that let him go a little to far with the improvisation, forgetting about the rest of the story.  It takes about 30 minutes before the Genie is actually introduced into the film, but thankfully the energy of the film is high and it keeps its sense of humor at an equal level to Williams performance.

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I have always admired this film for many reasons.  Its one of the few Disney films that really tries to break out of the tired doldrum Disney humor, which often in the past has been considered cute and charming, but not exactly funny.  ALADDIN as a film is a standout among all those films, as the comedy is full charged and well executed.  It’s got a unique style, and is one of the first films in awhile to break away from the 80’s Disney style and allow other styles to influence it.  In this case, it was Al Hirschfeld’s quality line drawing, full of pleasing round shapes that add to the Arabic style.  In an interesting twist, the villain Jafar is played opposite the rest of the cast, full of sharp angles to make him more threatening.

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Jafar has always been one of my favorite villains, and one of the reasons I like him so much is that, while he’s a dangerous threat, he also has an understated sense of humor.  By the end of the film when he goes power crazy, he hilariously starts going into puns.  “Things are unraveling fast now, boy!” (unravels the magic carpet) “Don’t toy with me!” (turns Abu into a Monkey Toy) “I’m just getting warmed up!” (breathes fire) etc. etc.  It’s great that he can be funny as well as equally threatening.  While he brings a serious tone to the film, he’s never too serious that you can’t relate to him.

But of course, one the greatest animation performances in this film is the Genie, masterfully animated by the great Eric Goldberg.  I was watching a documentary on the film, and one of the funny aspects they brought to the character was that the Genie was made Jewish, and the joyful underlying concept of the film is that it’s actually a buddy comedy between a Jew and an Arab.  Animation has never been more manic than with the character of the genie, whose constant transformations are hit with perfect timing.  I remember the first time I saw animation of the Genie in a trailer for Aladdin.  I knew the film was going to be amazing because I had never seen Disney animation go to the level of energy as they did with the Genie.  He’s a great classic character, and an all time great comic performance, both by Williams and Eric Goldberg’s animation team.

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The other thing I want to mention about this film is the music.  Not just the great songs by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, but the great score by Alan Menken, which is one of my favorite of the newer Disney films.  It’s funny how the same score is played as a lighter playful theme for Aladdin, as well as being made ominous for the villain, Jafar.  It’s definitely a classic Disney score.

I imagine the film ALADDIN is probably responsible for a lot of the more comedic animated films we have today, although these later films seem to lack something when it comes to storytelling.  ALADDIN in itself is a blessing in disguise when it comes to how joyously fun it is as a film.  This film did a lot for putting pop culture references, but it does so in a way that makes sense, because the Genie can travel through time.  He can do anything.  So a lot of the jokes he makes, Aladdin kind of shrugs off because he doesn’t get it.  but the rest of the film remains true to itself and it’s comedy and shows it can handle its own even without the aid of Robin Williams.

ALADDIN is a remarkable achievement in animation and story.  Up there with THE EMPERORS NEW GROOVE, it is probably one of the most fun out of the Disney line up of films.  It’s a definite classic and truly one of the great animated films of all time.

Hercules (1997) Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements

Herc1 It’s been awhile since I revisited the animated Disney film HERCULES, and apart from a schlocky looking CGI Hydra (hey, it was impressive for its time), the movie actually holds up pretty well.  Although I don’t love the film as much or find it nearly as funny as I used to.  It has a couple of good chuckles, and James Woods’ Hades pretty much steals the show.  It’s not as good a film as, say, Musker and Clements’ ALADDIN, and it tries to recapture much of what made that film so popular, only sans Robin Williams, who improvised most of the dialogue for the Genie.  So, Hercules isn’t one of my favorites.  But it’s got some beautiful design work (which must of been a pain in the ass to animate all those sharp angles), and some great layout and background work, thanks to layout supervisor Rasoul Azadani.  HERCULES is a beautiful looking film, and for the most part the story works.  It’s just there’s something about it that keeps me from going gaga in love with it.

One of my favorite characters in the film is Phil, animated by the great supervising animator, Eric Goldberg and his team.  Goldberg has a terrific knack for comic timing in his animation, which worked so well when he animated the Genie in ALADDIN.  Another one of my favorite animators is Nik Ranieri, who supervised the animation on Hades.  Hades isn’t one of my favorite villains ever, but he’s funny and effectively comical here.  There are plenty of great gags I enjoy having to do with his flaming temper, especially when he gets fumed to the point of sucking up his cigar.  Then of course there’s characters like Megara, but to be honest I find her a bit stale.  I give points for trying in making the heroine a bit of a bad girl, but it’s this problem with a lot of women characters in animation, that once they fall in love, they lose their power and independent spirit by settling down.  Whose to say that things will actually work out between Herc and Meg at the end?  What if Herc runs off like her previous boyfriend did.  It’s just one of those stale Disney romances I’m not crazy about.

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As for Herc himself, as a hero, he’s just okay.  I’m not crazy about him as a character, but one of the things I do like is that they made him not too bright.  The songs are also one of the better aspects of the film, being light, upbeat, and catchy.  The gospel flavor to a greek story is kind of an interesting twist.

I think one of the problems with Disney animation is something that’s gone back to Walt Disney’s days:  It’s just not that funny.  It’s enjoyable and charming at times.  I know I’m mentioning ALADDIN quite a bit here, but it was the one time the studio took a risk and actually implemented some Warner Brothers style humor into their animation, and it worked big time.  That film has a special tone and flavor all on its own, and it’s just great fun to watch, as well as having Jafar, an absolute classic storybook villain.  There’s a lot to that film that HERCULES just doesn’t have going for it.  HERCULES doesn’t really take enough risks with it’s humor, relying more on pop culture humor for many of its gags.  It has its moments for sure, and its heart is in the right place, but the jokes are working mainly on the surface level, it doesn’t take it to a much deeper emotional place.  It’s basically your average light-hearted Disney comedy.  It doesn’t really let itself be much more than that or go all the way.

In the end, HERCULES is one of the better films of the late 90’s Disney films.  It’s not perfect mind you, but considering some of the pop culture references, it actually holds up okay.  And like I said, some of the animation and design of the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, thanks to the work of some terrific artists who worked on the film.  There are just some things about it I wish could have been a little better.

Turbo (2013) Dir. David Soren

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As I said with my Croods review, I’ve been more and more impressed with the quality of films coming out of Dreamworks for the last few years.  They’re not all hits, but few of them have been downright terrible.  In my mind, they have been doing far superior work than Pixar, which has been a continuous decline in terms of creating engaging characters and storytelling.  Turbo is a cute, charming story, with some great visuals, and an exciting third act race.  It’s not always as hilarious as it could be, but the characters are enjoyable to watch and overall it’s just a really fun time.

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One of the major aspects of the movie that works is the relationship between the pair of brothers in the film, the snails Theo (Turbo) and Chet, and Hispanic human brothers Tito and Angelo.  One of course is a dreamer while the other is a realist, trying to keep the other grounded in the reality of their situation.  One needs to get over their a snail, not a race car, and the other needs to live with the fact that they sell tacos, not enrolling snails in the Indy 500.  Which dreamer has the craziest dream?  Who knows, but it’s clear that Turbo and Tito are made for each other the moment they meet.  Turbo wants to be fast, despite his snail life, and dreams of racing all the time.  He especially admires his racing idol Guy Gang’e, the world champion racer at the Indy 500.  Turbo winds up getting his wish, when stuck on a car in a street race, he gets sucked into the engine, gets nitroed up in a special fluid, and gains the power of super speed.  In some aspects he gets literally turned into a racing car, with headlights (his eyes), backing lights, a car alarm, and blasting radio.  Gotta love it when someone’s not afraid to take some cartoon license.  Tito’s dream is to enter his new snail pal Turbo into the Indy 500, with the help of raising cash from other businesses in their outdoor mall plaza.

If I had any gripes with the film, it’s just one I have about animated films in general, in that  I sometimes wish these movies could be a lot funnier.  Not in a way that abandons kids with the humor, but I sometimes get the feeling that there could be so much more potential from the comedy, as opposed to characters just verbally cracking jokes.  It’s animation after all, and there should be the potential for far more physical comedy, especially for a movie about a speedy snail.  It’s the things we come to expect from animated films today…more talking and less action, and it’s something I hope to one day see change.

I suppose my only other complaint about the film was the need to make Guy Gang’e into a villain.  I’m not surprised they did this because there really isn’t anyone else playing as a main antagonist, but I think it’s worth pointing out that not all animated films need a villain.  In the race in the third act, Gang’e doesn’t really do anything “bad” to get in Turbo’s way…well, with the exception of trying to stomp on him to keep him from winning at the last minute.  But that’s also out of desperation.  The majority of the obstacles come from the race itself as Turbo has to keep from getting run over among other things.  Even though Gang’e is an antagonist because he’s racing against Turbo, it doesn’t mean he has to be a bad guy.  This is similar to the problem I had with “Rise of the Guardians” where the Boogyman was made evil and shown a lack of compassion for his situation by the heroes at the end of the movie.  I sometimes think it would be better and more constructive to show kids that antagonist characters aren’t inherently evil, but that they are people who are hurt or have problems like anyone else.  Making them one sided villains doesn’t give you anything to identify with, and it’s something most American animated films should change, giving us villains that have other sides to them and may not necessarily be bad.

Turbo is an entertaining ride, with some great enjoyable characters.  The visuals and racing sequences are fantastic and entertaining.  It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s a fun enjoyable ride that can be enjoyed by adults and kids of all ages.

Moviecappa One Year Anniversary!!

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Hot damn!  Moviecappa is One year old!  I missed it by two days, it was actually on May 10th, 2012 that I first started this site.  I for one am very grateful that I have kept this site going for that long.  I started this site because I have always had running commentary in my head when I go to the movies as well as when I see what goes on in the industry.  It’s a place for me to talk about why I think the movies are important, and what we can do to see them get better.  It’s also been my vision that this could be a place for filmmakers to come and talk about movies, and discuss the thing we want most out of them:  good storytelling.  This site was created out of passion, and I hope to see more discussion and bigger things to come for this site in the future.  If you have been an ongoing reader of the site, thank you so much for coming back and for your support!  Greater things are yet to come!  So stay tuned!

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A Monster In Paris clip

I may have to check this movie out and see if it’s worth recommending. I watched this clip below, and the animation on the angel singer is just extraordinary. Just incredible, beautifully subtle movements. Whoever animated this section is just a master. Now I’m very interested!