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Trail Mix-Up: What a Party!

Trail Mix-Up: What a Party!

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Waaaaay back in 1994, Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida finished its second Roger Rabbit Short, "Trail Mix-Up" (The first, being of course "Roller Coaster Rabbit", and there was one started before "Trail", but never completed, called "Hare in My Soup"). It was my first project with the mouse, and I shall never forget it.

I had moved to the Florida studio too late to work on "Aladdin", but just in time to be invited to the wrap party. And what a party that was. After screening the film at Disney/MGM, we were boated to the dock in EPCOT's World Showcase Lagoon where they had commandeered the Moroccan Pavilion for our celebration. Two riders in black turbans greeted us on black steeds. There was belly-dancing, lamb roasting on a spit, street magicians, the works. I was floored. But it was nothing that compared with what was in store for the Rabbit.

I came to "Trail Mix-Up" from the ranks of animating TV commercials. To join Disney, I had to step down to inbetweening and work my way back into the knighthood of Animator. I was agog at how anal the clean-up artists were, but I quickly found out that's what separated Disney from the rest of the pack. It amazed me that what took Chuck Jones six weeks to do, took us (a larger crew by far) six months! It was a great education being able to clean up the drawings of Barry Temple, Tom Bancroft and Mark Henn (and one or two of Mark Kausler's and Alex Kuperschmidt's). I didn't even mind sitting right next to the tour window (at least for awhile). Phil Noto, now an illustrator and comic book artist (notoart.com), sat right in front of me. He hated sitting on the glass.

Barry Cook was directing. He had just finished a short film, "Off His Rockers", a mix of traditional and CG animation. He had started that film on his own time, and then Disney got interested in it and allowed him to finish it on their dime. It was released with "Honey I Blew Up the Kid" and even on laserdisc.

Since "Trail Mix-Up" was a project totally done in Florida (there was some story boarding and other aspects done in L.A., but not much), it was a big dang deal for us, so Max Howard decided to celebrate in a big way. (Max was then Head of the studio down there. He had come straight from Production of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in England to help open and run the Florida Studio). This wasn't just going to be an ordinary party.

Things got started that Saturday night at Fort Wilderness, where we all checked in and got our cabins. Yes, checked into cabins at Fort Wilderness! It was an overnight party! We teamed up, four to a room. The invites were for you and a guest, but they also opened it up to our kids as well. So many of the cabins were occupied by small families. Couples shared others. It was like a giant slumber party. (We knew this from the invitations and had made plans accordingly). It was the first official over night wrap party in remembrance of Disney Animation, probably the last.

As soon as we were settled, we were all bussed over to the Pleasure Island AMC to screen our little movie. Once inside, we were told that it was an open snack bar for us. Things started to get a little crazy then. Upon hearing "free food", folks piled their arms high with large buckets of popcorn, boxes of Goobers and Junior Mints and large Cokes. We barely all got into the theatre in time to hear the opening speeches. I don't recall what Max said, although I am sure it was genuine and inspiring and made us all feel extremely appreciated. The producer Pam Coats gave her speech, also heartwarming. Then director Barry Cook stood up, looked us over with our armloads of snacks and said, "You know we're gonna feed you later, don't you?" He then expressed much gratitude for all of our work. (I heard later that the concession bill for that night was more than the theatre rental).

The screening itself was 7 minutes of cheers and laughter for every scene that went by. My favorite is still Barry Temple's scene of the bear in mid fall, grabbing Roger and using him to break his looming impact. Classic. We all whooped and hollered during the credits. And then it was over. There we sat with near filled buckets of popcorn that we barely scratched the surface of. Oh, the shame of greed.
Then we were bussed back to Ft. Wilderness where the real festivities began. Childcare was provided in one of the cabins, so parents of the very small could enjoy an evening's frivolities without even worrying about driving home. The rest of the party was around the open fire in the campground area. We had an open BBQ with burgers and hotdogs. They had a table laid out with stacks of Hershey bars, graham crackers and marshmallows for s'mores. (Guess I didn't need to hang onto the three I still had in my pocket from the theatre). And over to the side, there was a screen with "Trail Mix-Up" projected over and over and over. I'm sure there was dancing going on somewhere, too. I think it was on the beach next to the lake. Maybe this party was less elegant than Aladdin's, but it was definitely more bacchanalian.

Our little slumber party went to the wee hours, but that wasn't the end as with most wrap parties. Up until checkout time on Sunday, we had access to all the Ft. Wilderness activities: bikes, boats, fishing, etc. (And there's no telling how many of the babies born during "Lion King" production got their start in life that night.)

It was one incredible celebration, especially for such a short film. It is ironically unfortunate that "Trail Mix-Up", the little film with the big party, went out with the obscure "A Far Off Place". I don't think my Disney debut was seen by many people (besides my parents) until it was released on video years later with the other two Roger Rabbit Shorts, "Tummy Trouble" and the afore mentioned "Roller Coaster Rabbit". But now it has been preserved on DVD, included with the special edition release of "WFRR" in 2003. So go back and watch "Trail Mix-Up" again. But just make a small bag of popcorn.

I am looking forward to reading other folks' memories of that weekend, too!
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