At first glance, the poor little match girl and Boog the grizzly bear don't really seem to have a whole lot in common ...
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises & Sony Pictures Animation
But both of these characters have recently began entertaining animation fans. Thanks (in large part) to the story-telling talents of Roger Allers.
Photo courtesy of Google Images
For over 25 years now, Roger has been toiling in the toon trade. His very first feature was 1980's "Animalympics" ...
Copyright 1998 United American Video
... a production that was originally supposed to capitalize on the popularity of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, once the United States decided to boycott the XXII Olympiad in order to protest the Soviet Union's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan ... Well, that geopolitical move pretty much destroyed "Animalympics" chance of ever going for the box office gold.
Which -- obviously -- was a disappointment. But still, Allers had enjoyed working with "Animalympics" producer Steve Lisberger enough that he was willing to work with Steve on his very next project. Which was a ground-breaking film for Walt Disney Productions. One that skillfully combined live action footage and computer animation. Maybe you've heard of this movie?
Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions
Anyway ... After "Tron," Roger bounced around the animation industry for a bit. Working on features like "Rock & Rule" and "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland" before returning to the Mouse House to begin working in the studio's story department. After doing exemplary work on projects like 1988's "Oliver & Company" and 1990's "The Prince and the Pauper" ...
Copyright 1988 & 1990 The Walt Disney Company
... Allers quickly found himself becoming one of Disney's top story guys. Hailed by the heads of the studio for his significant contributions to that trio of musical blockbusters, 1989's "The Little Mermaid," 1991's "Beauty & the Beast" and 1992's "Aladdin."
Copyright 1989, 1990 & 1991 The Walt Disney Company
In fact, when George Scribner's "King of the Jungle" seemed to be going seriously off-track, then-Disney-studio-head Jeffrey Katzenberg recruited Roger to come rescue this project. Which eventually -- with the help of co-director Rob Minkoff -- became the highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, "The Lion King."
Copyright 1994 Disney Enterprises
Unfortunately, studio execs eventually lost confidence in Aller's vision for his "TLK" follow-up project, "Kingdom of the Sun" ...
Copyright 1997 Disney Enterprises
... Which is why Roger ultimately turned that production over to director Mark Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer. Who transformed Aller's ambitious animated adventure into a breezy cartoon comedy, 2000's The Emperor's New Groove."
After "Sun" flamed out, Allers kept busy by tackling odd jobs around the studio. Serving as a story consultant on 2002's "Return to Never Land" and creating additional material for 2004's "The Lion King 1 1/2"
Copyright 2002 & 2004 Disney Enterprises
But the project that Roger really poured his passion into was "The Little Match Girl" ...
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises
... a short film that was based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. A touching tale that Allers had regularly read to his own children back when they were young.
"Originally, this short was supposed to have been part of a new full-length feature that Roy E. Disney wanted to do, " Roger explained. "A sort of follow-up to 'Fantasia 2000.' Only this time around, instead of being set to classical music, the sequences were supposed to have been built around international music."
The only problem with "The Little Match Girl" was that Allers wanted to remain true to the story's original downbeat ending. Where the girl -- though temporarily warmed by the matches that she strikes, which reveal happy memories from her past ...
Roger Allers drawing courtesy of Google Images
... still succumbs to the cold.
"We wound up animating four different endings for this film," Roger continued. "With the hope that the executives and I might eventually come to some sort of creative compromise. An ending that we both could live with."
In the end, Allers got what he wanted. The final version of "The Little Match Girl" did stick with Andersen's original ending. Where the little girl -- after dreaming that she re-unites with her long-dead grandmother ...
... -- freezes to death in the snow. The downside is ... Because Roy's "Fantasia" follow-up wound up being cancelled after he resigned from the Walt Disney Company back in November of 2003, Roger's version of "The Little Match Girl" never really got a theatrical release. Only this week has the general public finally gotten the chance to see this beautiful little short as a bonus feature on the new Platinum Edition DVD of "The Little Mermaid."
Which makes Allers kind of sad. "I really wish that people had gotten the chance to see 'Match Girl' on the big screen," he said. "The backgrounds for this film were all done as watercolors. And you can't appreciate that sort of detail when you're seeing this short on the small screen."
Given that the Mouse Factory seemed to be breaking down as the new millenium was getting underway, Roger decided to decamp from Disney. Seeking the greener pastures over at Sony Pictures Animation. And he was over at that studio, working on his own new feature, when Allers got invited to take part in a story conference for "Open Season."
Coyright 2006 Sony Pictures Animation
"The film had been in development for at least a year at that point," Roger explained. "Steve Moore -- the creator of the "In the Bleachers" comic strip -- had come up with the initial concept of the film. Which was about this bear and this deer who live in a mountain resort town, dining out of dumpsters, mooching off of humanity."
Pixar vet Jill Culton -- who's credited with creating the original story for "Monsters, Inc." -- was the first director hired onto the project. Working with ILM FX wizard Anthony Stacchi, these two had nailed down the basic shape of the story. How Boog the now-800-pound grizzly bear had been raised by humans ...
Copyright 2006 Sony Pictures Animation
... How a chance encounter with a dim-bulb mule deer named Eliot ....
... had resulted in Boog being sent back to the wild. Where he then had to deal with threats that were as varied as hordes of vicious squirrels ...
... not to mention rifle-packing hunters ...
But even though Culton & Stacchi were veterans when it came to working with CG, they still hadn't quite broken the back of "Open Season" 's story problems. As Allers observed when he first sat in on that film's story conference:
"There were too many action sequences that seemed very similar. A car chase along a raging river followed by a runaway mine train. I just thought that they needed to mix things up a bit. Adjust the story a bit."
Evidently, Sony execs must have liked what Roger had to say. For the next thing he knew, Allers had been invited to become "Open Season" 's third director. And he helped helm the film during its final year of production.
"Things moved pretty quickly through our production pipeline," Roger admitted. "Still I'm pleased with the way 'Open Season' ultimately turned out. It now has a nice balance. The movie has these great comic moments ...
... along with some incredible action sequences ...
... But -- at the same time -- there are these quiet moments where Boog & Eliot interact. Where the audience really gets to know these two characters, what makes them tick. Those are the sorts of scenes that I just love to put in movies."
Clearly, audiences must have found a lot to love about "Open Season" too. For this Sony Pictures Animation production was Number No. 1 at the box office this past weekend, taking in an estimated $23 million. And given that "The Little Mermaid" is almost certain to be this week's best selling DVD ... Well, you'd think that having his name associated with two such high profile (and highly profitable) projects would give Allers the right to have a slightly swelled head right about now.
But Roger's been in the animation business for too long to make an amateur mistake like that. Which is why -- rather than focusing on today's successes -- Allers is already looking ahead to new challenges. Which (hopefully) will include a new animated feature for Sony Pictures as well as a musical play.
"I mean, it's nice to have 'Open Season' be a hit and have 'The Little Match Girl' hitting store shelves all in the same week," Roger concluded. "But after I finish doing publicity for this film and then take a little break, it's back to work for me."
Here's hoping that -- once Allers gets back from that break -- that Roger gets the chance to have more of his "Match" -less movies "Open" in theaters for many years yet to come.