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Toon fans and film historians just don't know what to make
of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Get a Horse!"
There's a real air of mystery surrounding this animated
short. The fact that it's done in black-and-white, features rubber-hose, pie-eyed
versions of classic Disney characters and has Walt himself providing Mickey's
speaking voice suggests that this is something that Disney has dug out of its
vault. And yet still others at the studio are suggesting that "Get A Horse!"
might actually be an entirely different sort of animal. A heartfelt tribute to
those early Mickey Mouse shorts that was secretly put together by some of top
animators working at WDAS today.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
So what actually is the truth here? For now, the Mouse is
keeping its trap shut. Suggesting that those who have to know make their way to
France on June
11th. Which is where "Get A Horse!" will be making its world debut at
the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Where director Lauren
MacMullan, producer Dorothy McKim and animation legend Eric Goldberg are
expected to be on hand.
And why exactly are this trio of animation all-stars headed
to Annecy this year? Will Lauren,
Dorothy and Eric be revealing what really went on with "Get A Horse!"
? Did they actually help out with the
restoration / completion of a Mickey Mouse short that Walt shut down for some
Because -- believe it or not -- there actually were a few of those over the
history of Walt Disney Studios. Take -- for example -- "The Plight of the
Bumblebee" AKA Production 2428. This Mickey Mouse short (which was being
directed by Jack Kinney and featured some terrific animation by Freddy Moore)
was shelved by Walt back in 1951 because the Old Mousetro wasn't happy with the
way its story was shaping up.
So is this what happened with "Get a Horse!" ? Or
this WDAS production a horse of a different color? We'll know more after Annecy
next month. Know this, though: If the rumors are true, "Get a Horse!"
will do a lap of the festival circuit this summer before it then goes into wide
release later this November as the animated short that accompanies Disney
"Frozen" into theaters.
So what do you folks think the real deal is with this Mickey
Mouse short? Is "Get a Horse!" something old? Something new? Or
It looks new. The broken linework on Mickey's shoe and Minnie's flower don't look consistant with Disney animator's earlier works.
That could be just a promo image.
Is this the year 2013 or the 30s????
Disney should really make up their mind if they want to cherish their 2D heritage or excommunicate it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Really? You're going to take a story about a short that no one has even seen yet and then try & make this an indictment of how Walt Disney Studios has supposedly turned its back on hand-drawn animation? That's kind of sad, Jake.I mean, no disrespect to the hundreds of talented artists & animators who used to do hand-drawn animation at Disney Studios. But you know, back in the late 1960s / early 1970s, there were all these guys who worked at Disney making special effects-driven live-action comedies like "Blackbeard's Ghost" and "Now You See Him, Now You Don't." And I don't recall any film fans talking about what a national tragedy it was when Disney stopped making those sorts of movies.Look, the most important word in the phrase "Show Business" is "Business." And one of Hollywood's hard realities is that if a certain type of movie isn't selling as many tickets as it used to, then the studios just stop making those sorts of movies. Look what happened with that string of big movie musicals in the 1960s. Everyone rushed to get into that business after they saw all the money that Disney made off of "Mary Poppins" and 20th Century Fox made off of "The Sound of Music." Now jump ahead 5 years and when Fox almost went under because both "Dr. Dolittle" & "Hello, Dolly!" under-performed at the box office ... Most of the majors avoided making big budget movie musicals for decades after that all because they saw what almost happened to Fox.And (to be blunt) kind of the same thing has been going on with hand-drawn for 15 years or so. I mean, you did notice that -- long before Disney began winding down its hand-drawn operation -- that Fox & DreamWorks Animation had gotten out of the hand-drawn business? All because ticket sales for these sorts of films had begun falling off in a big, big way. Which suggested that audience's tastes were changing That they were now looking for something different when it came to feature-length animated films.
So now -- in this age where Walt Disney Animation Studios is facing increasing competition when it comes to feature-length animated films (what with Pixar & DreamWorks Animation & Blue Sky Studios & Sony Pictures Animation, to name just a few) -- you're really going to insist that Disney continue to make movies like "Princess and the Frog" and "Winnie the Pooh" (which -- if you'll go over to Box Office Mojo and check -- you'll see had pretty underwhelming ticket sales) rather than animated films like "Tangled" and "Wreck-It Ralph" that people actually wanted to go see and are willing to buy tickets for all because of -- what? -- nostalgia? Look, Jake, that's not how Hollywood works. Particularly these days when -- because movies now cost so damned much to make & market -- the Studios want a certain level of security when they then greenlight a project. Which is why you're seeing so many reboots & remakes these days. The suits in the corner offices want assurances that they're actually going to get a return of their Studio's investment. And if they can't get that assurances, Well, then that movie does not get made.And when it comes to hand-drawn animation, all you have to do is look at the declining ticket sales for every hand-drawn feature over the past 15 years. The evidence is right there in black & white, Jake. People just aren't interested in these types of movies the way that they used to be. Which is why the Studios -- whenever they're funding the production of animated features these days -- insist that these productions be done in CG.So instead of condemning Disney for seeming to abandon hand-drawn animated features (which -- from what I hear -- really isn't the case. Lasseter still thinks that there's an audience & an appetite out there for these kinds of films. It's just that -- for today's audiences -- hand-drawn has to be reinvented in such a way that it then looks new & different. Which will hopefully then be enough to excite people into buying tickets for these types of animated films again. Hence WDAS' experiments like last year's "Paperman" short. Which married hand-drawn's linework to CG's ease of use), why aren't we applauding Disney for hanging in there as long as they did? I mean, long after all of the other Studios had abandoned hand-drawn, Disney was still in there swinging. Bucking the trend. Fighting the tide. Making movies like "Brother Bear," "Home on the Range," "Princess and the Frog," "Winnie the Pooh." Plus shorts like "The Ballad of Loch Ness." All in an effort to prove that the audience for hand-drawn animation hadn't actually gone away. When -- in fact -- it had.So how is it Disney's fault that audience's tastes in animated film have now changed? As a publicly held company, isn't it the responsibility of Disney's Board of Directors (More importantly, the BOD's responsibility to to the Company's shareholders) to make the sorts of movies that people today are actually willing to buy tickets for? Things like "Marvel's The Avengers" ? Which -- just in case you didn't notice -- is loaded with animation. Just CG / visual effects type animation.I just wish it were possible to have a non emotional, actual adult conversation about the whole hand-drawn situation these days. But instead, you have things like that faux memorial service that Cartoon Brew is planning on holding at Comic Con where people are supposed to go in and mourn the passing of hand-drawn animation. Which -- I think, anyway -- would be hugely insulting to the tons of people in the animation industry (who -- admittedly -- mostly work in television) who still work in 2D. People don't want to have an in-depth, intelligent conversation about this issue. They just want to be overly dramatic and say things like "Disney is turning its back on that Studio's heritage." When that's really not what's going on here at all.Disney -- in a lot of ways -- is a company that has always kept an eye on the future. Not where the consumer is right now, but -- rather -- where they'll be in a year, two years, five years. I mean, think back to 1953 when Walt Disney signed that TV deal with ABC. At that time, all of the other movie studios in the business viewed television as the enemy. They were going to go down fighting, rolling out things like 3D or Cinemascope or stereophonic sound. Whatever it took to make that little box & its black & white tube look inadequate. Whereas Walt .. Well, he saw TV as the way of the future. Not only because that ABC deal helped him fund the construction of Disneyland. But also because the "Disneyland" TV show could then be used to help make the public aware of his then-under-construction theme park and/or promote then-upcoming releases like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."So if you want to keep looking backwards, Jake, and mourn what the Walt Disney Company used to be ... Well, that's your choice. Me? I'm the kind who likes looking forward. I'm interested in what's just over the horizon. So rather than mourn that WDAS isn't making full-length, hand-drawn animated features anymore, I'm more intrigued to see how they're going to build on the success of CG projects like "Tangled" and "Wreck-It Ralph." Because -- if the rumors coming out of Burbank are true -- "Frozen" is a big fat hit. The (if you'll allow me to make a Second Golden Age of Disney Animation comparison here) "Beauty and the Beast" to "Tangled" 's "Little Mermaid." The movie that's going to get the message across to the movie-going public that Walt Disney Animation Studios is back in a big, big way.I mean, isn't that what you want Walt Disney Animation Studios to be doing these days? Making the sorts of animated films that a huge audience really wants to go see and experience? Rather the sorts of hand-drawn films that only hardcore Disney fans & animation enthusiasts will pay to see?
I never saw Disney as abandoning handdrawn animation altogether (they're still doing shorts, aside from this) and Iger didn't exactly rule out another traditional handdrawn animated feature, even if there currently aren't any plans at the moment. But I wouldn't mind if future "handdrawn" animated films were done in the style of [i]Paperman[/i]. That WAS a great work of art.
Come on, Jim. You're saying that if The Princess and the Frog had been the exact same movie, but in 3-D, it would have taken the box office by storm? I don't know why the movie didn't resonate, but I just can't see any reasonable explanation for why the only difference between it and Tangled is 2-D vs 3-D.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "You're saying that if The Princess and the Frog had been the exact same movie, but in 3D, it would have taken the box office by storm?" Nope. I never said that.If anything, when it comes to "The Princess and the Frog" (and let me preface this by saying that I have nothing but respect & great affection for Ron Clements and John Musker. These guys played a huge part in Disney's Second Golden Age of Animation. More to the point, their "Treasure Planet" is -- I think, anyway -- an under-rated masterpiece) ... But be honest, I have to agree with Peter Schneider's assessment of this 2009 Walt Disney Animation Studios production. This is a quote that I got directly from the former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation when he and I chatted at a press screening for "Waking Sleeping Beauty" : "I called Ron & John after I saw 'Princess and the Frog' and told them that they made a great movie ... for 1989. That movie was far too old fashioned. They played it too safe because the whole African-American Disney Princess thing. As a result, that movie was really out of sync with what audiences actually want today. That's why 'Frog' under-performed at the box office. People had seen it before with 'Mermaid,' 'Beast' and 'Aladdin.' They should have tried something different."So if "Princess and the Frog" had been in CG, maybe it would have done a little more business. Perhaps another $50 million at the box office. But with that story and their overly safe take on the characters (especially Prince Naveen. Who's really kind of a dud of a character), CG wouldn't have made all that much of a difference in regards to that film's success.
That's the key difference (I think, anyway) between "The Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled." "Tangled" was a legitimately fresh take on the whole Disney Princess / animated fairy tale thing. From Flynn Rider to the ruffians at the Snuggly Duckling to Mother Gothel, these were characters that people had never before seen in a Disney animated film. Which is why it was embraced with so much enthusiasm.
As for why Ron & John did what they did / made the story choices that they made on "The Princess and the Frog" ... To be honest, I think that Musker & Clements were so blindsided by what happened right after the Disney Annual Shareholder's Meeting in New Orleans in March of 2007. Which is where John Lasseter first revealed that WDAS was making what was then known as "The Frog Princess" and that this film's title character was called Maddy and worked as a chambermaid for Charlotte. And right after that, there was this huge uproar within the African American community about how Maddy was supposedly a slave name and why is it that Disney's first black princess had to work as a maid.The changes that were made to "Princess and the Frog" in response to this uproar (starting -- obviously -- with that title change) began the death of a thousand cuts on that project. And when Disney began making story changes to this movie not because they were trying to make this film better, but -- rather -- because they didn't want to possibly offend anyone ... "Princess" just got less & less entertaining / more & more watered down.
Now add to this the problems associated with Ron & John's "Frog" follow-up project (i.e. "Mort." Musker & Clements really, really wanted to make this movie. But Disney's lawyers couldn't come to terms with Terry Pratchett' attorneys over the film rights to his "Discworld" books. So all of the great development work that had already been done on "Mort" had to be abandoned) and ... Well, I'd love it if these guys would get one more shot at making a film for WDAS. Something where they're not dealing with weird outside pressures.
Mind you, I did hear a while back that Ron & John were working on "The Name Game," which is supposed to be this "Shrek" -like reinvention of the Rumplestiltsken story where that gold-spinning villain somehow winds up being the hero of this fairy tale ... But it has been a while since I last heard anything about this particular still-in-development project.Does that give you a better idea of where I actually on "The Princess and the Frog" versus "Tangled," Lt. Powers? I hope so.
@Jon Turner They did layoff pretty much their entire hand-drawn staff.
EDITOR'S NOTE: That's just what Walt Disney Animation Studios does these days. They no longer work off of the business model that was used back on the Nine-Old-Men days (i.e. keep a large crew of animators on salary all year 'round). Instead, they've adopted more of a visual effects-based business model. As in: You seriously staff up when your film is actually entering production, hiring all of the animators that you to complete that particular project. And then -- when production is complete -- you lay off all of those artists & animators. Keeping only a core group of developmental executives & story artists to begin prepping the next project. And when that project is then ready to go into production ... Well, you get the idea, right? Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
"This is a quote that I got directly from the former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation when he and I chatted at a press screening for "Waking Sleeping Beauty" : "I called Ron & John after I saw 'Princess and the Frog' and told them that they made a great movie ... for 1989. That movie was far too old fashioned. They played it too safe because the whole African-American Disney Princess thing. As a result, that movie was really out of sync with what audiences actually want today. That's why 'Frog' under-performed at the box office. People had seen it before with 'Mermaid,' 'Beast' and 'Aladdin.' They should have tried something different." "
That is very, very true. I completely agree. "Princess and the Frog" was a nice film, I liked it, but it really was a little too old-fashioned.
It's true, "Tangled" really was a fresh film. I also really enjoyed "Bolt", (personally, I think that "Bolt" is underrated.)
And yes, there is still a lot of great 2D animation on television. For example, every episode of "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" looks beautiful. Some real quality work there.
And if I may, on the NON-Disney side of TV animation, The Hub Network has a lot of great, wonderfully animated 2D (along with Flash, but still using hand-drawing) shows, like their Pound Puppies show, which I feel is underrated.
I also want to highlight another thing;
"People don't want to have an in-depth, intelligent conversation about this issue. They just want to be overly dramatic and say things like "Disney is turning its back on that Studio's heritage." When that's really not what's going on here at all."
Again, I agree. Unfortunately, one will rarely find an intelligent conversation about anything on the Internet. The fact is, people just like to complain, which is the main reason why the Internet tends to be filled with negativity.
Thank you for for these comments Jim. I'm glad to see that you are directly responding to reader's comments. :-)
"That's just what Walt Disney Animation Studios does these days. They no longer work off of the business model that was used back on the Nine-Old-Men days (i.e. keep a large crew of animators on salary all year 'round). Instead, they've adopted more of a visual effects-based business model. As in: You seriously staff up when your film is actually entering production, hiring all of the animators that you to complete that particular project. And then -- when production is complete -- you lay off all of those artists & animators. Keeping only a core group of developmental executives & story artists to begin prepping the next project. And when that project is then ready to go into production ... Well, you get the idea, right? Rinse. Lather. Repeat."
Not everyone from the handdrawn department is gone; there still ARE some handdrawn animators there, just not the veterans, at least as far as I understand.
So why did the media make a big deal about it just now?