It's the question that every animation fan has been dying to ask for weeks now.
Ever since John Lasseter was named as the Chief Creative Officer of Disney Feature Animation. More importantly, ever since John reportedly began telling friends in the industry that " ... I can't wait 'til I can get Disney back in the traditional animation business again."
"So when exactly is this revival of Disney traditional animation supposed to begin?," you ask. "Well, that's kind of a trick question. Given that -- unofficially -- this revival is already underway.
Don't believe me? Okay. Do you recall those stories that I did back in November of last year about "Enchanted"? You know, that live action / animated romantic comic-fantasy that Kevin Lima is set to direct? The film that starts out like virtually every other Disney animated fairy tale. Where a handsome young prince (Voiced by "X-Men" star James Marsden) suddenly falls in love with Giselle, a beautiful princess-in-waiting (Voiced by screen newcomer Amy Adams).
Unfortunately, Prince Charming's mother -- the evil queen Narissa (voiced by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon) -- does not take a liking to Giselle. She believes that this princess-in-waiting isn't nearly good enough for her handsome son.
So -- using black magic -- Narissa banishes Giselle from the cartoon land of Andalasia. The evil queen literally hurls this princess-in-waiting out of her fairy tale realm (Where good always triumphs over evil and true love always wins out in the end) into the real world. To be specific, the one place in the universe where it's virtually impossible for true love to exist: Modern day Manhattan.
Now -- in order for the live action portion of Bill Kelly's romantic comic-fantasy to be properly set up -- the first 15 minutes of "Enchanted" has to look exactly like a classic Disney fairy tale. You know, like "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty & the Beast"? Which is why Lima decided to recruit master animator James Baxter to supervise this portion of the picture.
Now, given that Disney Feature Animation had recently become an all-CG operation and given that Baxter's most recent gigs as a supervising animator had been on Dreamwork's "Shrek II" and "Madagascar" ... The assumption in the industry was that the animated portions of "Enchanted" would be done in CG.
Well, you know what they say about assumptions. The fact of the matter is that Kevin actually hired James for this particular gig because of all the amazing work that Baxter had done back when he was Belle's supervising animator on "Beauty & the Beast." You see, Lima wants something similar done with Princess Giselle ...
"But ... But ... But ...," you sputter. "If Kevin wants Giselle to sort of look like Belle, then that would mean that the animated portions of 'Enchanted' would have to be ... "
Yep. Traditionally animated.
I'm told that the traditionally animated test sequence for this film has already been done. And those who have seen this particular piece of rough animation say that it is " ... simply stunning. A wonderful throwback to the sort of films that Disney used to make."
"But why hasn't word about this particular aspect of the project leaked out before now?," you continue. "I mean, if Disney had actually begun work on a new traditionally animated film, you think that people would be shouting this news from the rooftops in Burbank."
Well, this particular silence is relatively easy to explain. You see, work on the traditionally animated portions of "Enchanted" isn't actually being done on the Disney lot. But -- rather -- it's being done at James Baxter's brand new studio in Pasadena, CA. Baxter has hired a very tiny crew to work on this part of the picture. And all of the artists who are working on this film have been sworn to secrecy. Which is why word about the traditionally animated aspect of "Enchanted" hadn't leaked out ... 'til now.
Okay. I know. This is really great news. Particularly for all you traditional animation fans out there. Just so you know, though: You really shouldn't expect to see "Enchanted" popping up at a multiplex near you anytime soon.
To explain: The live action portion of this movie hasn't even begun shooting yet. That's finally expected to get underway in Manhattan in April. After Patrick Dempsey wraps production of the second season of "Grey's Anatomy," so that he's then available to play Princess Giselle's live-action love interest (I.E. A divorced dad with a young daughter).
Then -- when you factor in all of the special effects that are needed to complete this film as well as the traditionally animated portions of this picture ... Well, it's easy to understand why this Kevin Lima movie won't make it into theaters 'til early 2007.
But -- that said -- you can expect that, in the coming months, the traditionally animated parts of "Enchanted" will be screened repeatedly on the Disney lot. As John Lasseter and Ed Catmull try to sell Bob Iger on the idea of actually reviving this particular form of film-making at the Mouse Factory.
Mind you, based on what I've been hearing ... If traditional animation does come back at Walt Disney Studios ( And right now -- in spite of Lasseter's obvious enthusiasm for this form -- that's still a very big "If"), it won't ever be like it was before. With some 2000 artists & technicians laboring in studios in Burbank, Orlando, Paris and Australia to deliver a new top quality traditional animated feature every six months to a year.
The way I hear it, if traditional animation does come back at Walt Disney Studios, we're talking about a much more modest operation. With only 150 - 200 people working together to turn out a single new traditionally animated film every 3 1/2 to 4 years.
Of course, then the big question is ... Who exactly is going to be employed by this unit? Who will Lasseter, Catmull and interim WDFA head Don Hahn select to be part of the traditional animation revival team at Walt Disney Studios? Will this unit be made up of old WDFA vets, young artists from Pixar anxious to tackle a new challenge and/or some sort of mixing of these two talent pools?
To be honest, I don't know what to tell you folks. Other than we shouldn't expect to see traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios to suddenly be revived virtually overnight.
No, from what I've been hearing, Lasseter, Catmull & Hahn plan to take a very deliberate approach toward the revival of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios. Making lots of slow, carefully thought-out moves that are designed to gradually make Iger comfortable with the idea of spending hundreds of million of dollars to revive a type of film-making that WDFA's previous management team had officially declared dead over two years ago.
Which is where "Enchanted" comes in. Every time Bob starts to get nervous about the expense involved with reviving traditional animation at Disney, John, Ed and Don are going to screen the footage that James Baxter and his talented team of artists have done so far. And then they're going to tell Iger: "Doesn't that look terrific? People are really going to eat this picture up. They've been waiting for Disney to do a new film that features traditional animation. Which is why this movie is going to do HUGE box office next year."Which is why -- when "Enchanted" finally does make it into theaters next year -- it'll be up to all us animation fans to actually go out to our local multiplex and buy tickets to this Walt Disney Pictures release. So that Mouse House management does believe that there's actually an audience out there for new traditionally animated Disney films.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here, folks. We too have to take the slow-but-steady approach to the revival of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios. Just as John Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Don Hahn are doing with Kevin Lima and James Baxter's "Enchanted."