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Well, whaddaya know? Michelle actually got one right?!

Do you recall that Thomas-Schumacher-has-been-fired rumor that we ran here last week? Well, how about how Jim Hill tried to do some damage control on that very same story late last Friday? Now – FINALLY – the whole story can be told …

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Okay. Where were we?

1) Michelle was right. 2) Michelle was right. 3) Michelle was right. 4) Michelle was right.

Oh, yeah. NOW I remember … You may recall last week that our fearless editor, Michelle Smith, took JimHillMedia.com out on a very long limb last week by running this story which reported the rumor that Thomas Schumacher, the head of Disney Feature Animation, had been fired and/or was being forced out of the Mouse House.

5) Michelle was right. 6) Michelle was right. 7) Michelle was right. 8) Michelle was right.

Which – because I was already asleep back here in the East when this particular item was posted – I didn’t find out about this rumor ’til early the next morning. When various LA media outlets began calling me, looking for confirmation of the story that Michelle had put up on the site. (Just in case you’re wondering: Giving a reporter an answer like “Huh? What? What story are you talking about?” doesn’t exactly earn you lots of credibility points. Anyway …)

9) Michelle was right. 10) Michelle was right. 11) Michelle was right. 12) Michelle was right.

Which is why I ended up spending most of last Wednesday and Thursday on the phone, trying to find someone – ANYONE – inside the Walt Disney Company who could confirm this rumor.

13) Michelle was right. 14) Michelle was right. 15) Michelle was right. 16) Michelle was right.

You see, I come from the Woodward / Bernstein school when it comes to reporting rumors, kids. I like to have at least three different sources to corroborate a piece of info before I finally decide to run with it. Why for? Well, the Walt Disney Company has an awfully big legal department full of extremely aggressive attorneys. And I honestly wouldn’t want to do anything that would upset all of those pit bulls-with-briefcases.

17) Michelle was right. 18) Michelle was right. 19) Michelle was right. 20) Michelle was right.

Of course, even when you triple source a story like this, you can still manage to tick of an awful lot of people. I mean, look at what happened week before last when I ran those stories about “Finding Nemo”? I managed to piss off both Pixar as well as Disney Feature Animation. All because I dared to report that the test scores from “Nemo” test scores allegedly hadn’t been as high as studios execs had hoped they would be. More to the point, that someone inside the Team Disney Burbank building had supposedly deliberately been leaking info about how “Finding Nemo” was going to be Pixar’s first flop.

21) Michelle was right. 22) Michelle was right. 23) Michelle was right. 24) Michelle was right.

I spent over a week working on that “Nemo” story, folks. Making numerous calls, trying to track down additional info about that screening as well as learn as much as I could about the Disney exec who supposedly dishing dirt on Pixar. Yet I still got people over on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards like Yookeroo saying things like “Shouldn’t Jim be above this sort of rumor mongering?” and RallyMonkey saying that that story was “all hearsay and speculation.” Sigh I guess you just can’t please everyone …

25) Michelle was right. 26) Michelle was right. 27) Michelle was right. 28) Michelle was right.

Anyway … I now wake up on Tuesday and find out that – after sending a single e-mail to a friend of ours who works at Walt Disney Feature Animation in her attempt to confirm this rumor (This guy’s response was reportedly: “Yeah, I’ve heard lots of rumors to this effect at work lately. But is it true? I dunno.”) – Michelle had gone ahead and posted this incredibly explosive piece of info up on JimHillMedia.com. Talk about your Maalox moments.

29) Michelle was right. 30) Michelle was right. 31) Michelle was right. 32) Michelle was right.

In Michelle’s defense, I should point out that – at the very top of this article – she did include a header that read: “This information is unconfirmed, and should be treated as a rumor until confirmed by the Walt Disney Company.” The only problem is that – due to the way that pages are laid out here at JimHillMedia.com – that this disclaimer actually appeared in a box above the story, rather than being attached to the story itself. Which is why (apparently) very few readers (and reporters, for that matter) saw it.

33) Michelle was right. 34) Michelle was right. 35) Michelle was right. 36) Michelle was right.

So – as you can imagine – given that I’m the guy whose name is all over this website, I had to quick-like-a-bunny get into reporter mode and get to the bottom of this rumor. Cover my (and Michelle’s) ass, if you will, and chase down any additional info and/or documentation that I could find about what was really going on with Thomas Schumacher.

37) Michelle was right. 38) Michelle was right. 39) Michelle was right. 40) Michelle was right.

So I began calling everyone I knew in Burbank. And … well … here’s where it gets REALLY interesting, folks. You see, all I could ever get out of the folks that I talked with at Disney was what I like to call non-denial denials. By that I mean, people would say things like “To the best of my knowledge, Tom Schumacher is still with the company” and/or “I’m not personally aware that Thomas Schumacher has been asked to step down.”

41) Michelle was right. 42) Michelle was right. 43) Michelle was right. 44) Michelle was right.

The language that these people were using was so cautious, yet so precise that I knew that something HAD to be up. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was actually going on.

45) Michelle was right. 46) Michelle was right. 47) Michelle was right. 48) Michelle was right.

But then I finally caught a break. Late Thursday afternoon, someone very high up in Disney Feature Animation finally returned my call. Who exactly are we talking about here? Sorry, but that would be telling, kids. For now, let’s just call this guy “Mortimer,” a Mouse House exec who I’d have to say is very much in the loop.

49) Michelle was right. 50) Michelle was right. 51) Michelle was right. 52) Michelle was right.

Anyway … after a little bit of chitchat, Mortimer lets loose with a bombshell: The rumor that Michelle had posted on JimHillMedia.com WAS true. Sort of. By that I mean: Schumacher’s days at Walt Disney Feature Animation really were numbered. But that – because of all of the negative publicity that Michael Eisner had gotten on the heels of Paul Pressler’s recent unexpected departure – Disney’s embattled CEO really couldn’t afford any more bad press right about now. Particularly the sorts of stories that would result if yet another top tier executive opted to walk out of Burbank’s front gate.

53) Michelle was right. 54) Michelle was right. 55) Michelle was right. 56) Michelle was right.

Which is why Eisner and Schumacher reportedly cut this very unique deal. If Thomas agreed to stay on at WDFA until late next spring (well after “Treasure Planet,” “Jungle Book II,” and “Piglet’s Big Movie” had been released to theaters), then Michael would agree to give Thomas the Peter Schneider treatment (I.E. Set Schumacher up with his own very production company. So that Thomas could potentially produce new stage plays and musicals for Disney Theatrical to present).

57) Michelle was right. 58) Michelle was right. 59) Michelle was right. 60) Michelle was right.

The only condition to this exit deal was that Eisner wanted as much distance as possible between the time when Pressler exited the company and when Schumacher “chose” to move on. Otherwise, Disney’s CEO was sure to get hammered with another round of “Michael Eisner must be impossible to work for. Otherwise, why would all of his top executives keep bailing on him?” stories. By keeping Schumacher’s upcoming exit under wraps for a few more months, Eisner could hopefully limit the amount of damage that the announcement of Schumacher’s departure would do to his tattered reputation.

61) Michelle was right. 62) Michelle was right. 63) Michelle was right. 64) Michelle was right.

The way Mortimer explained it to me: “By posting that rumor, Michelle’s really let the genie out of the bottle, Jim. Now I don’t know if Eisner will dare to allow Schumacher’s exit deal to go through. After all, Michael’s reputation with the investment community is already in the sh*tter. If news that yet another top Disney executive was getting ready to bail out of the company were to get picked up by the mainstream press … It may be all over for Eisner. I’m certain that (Disney Board of Directors member) Stanley Gold will try to use the news of Schumacher’s exit as definitive proof that Michael has finally lost control of the Walt Disney Company. Which might finally be enough for Stanley & Roy (Disney) to convince Disney’s board of directors that it really is time to let Eisner go.”

65) Michelle was right. 66) Michelle was right. 67) Michelle was right. 68) Michelle was right.

Mortimer continued: “Michael may have no choice now but to ask Schumacher to stay on a lot longer than he originally planned on. All in an effort to shore up the illusion that the Walt Disney Company actually has a stable management team in place. So – by running that story – Michelle may actually have done a great dis-service to all us poor slobs at Disney Feature Animation. I mean, we’re the ones who’ll probably get stuck working with that &%%*$#@ Schumacher for months longer than we originally were going to have to. All because you guys posted that story.”

69) Michelle was right. 70) Michelle was right. 71) Michelle was right. 72) Michelle was right.

Which was why Mortimer asked a favor of me. As in: Could I try to put the genie back in the bottle by issuing a semi-pseudo-sort-of retraction to the rumor that Michelle had posted last Tuesday? Which (hopefully) would take some of the heat off of Eisner and Schumacher. Maybe even throw some of the other reporters who were also pursuing this story off the scent.

73) Michelle was right. 74) Michelle was right. 75) Michelle was right. 76) Michelle was right.

I told Mortimer that – while I really did want to help him out – I wasn’t going to lie to JimHillMedia.com readers. Mortimer’s response was: “You wouldn’t have to lie, Jim. Just do what Disney does. Issue a non-denial denial in response to the rumor.”

Which explains that rather odd addendum some of you may have read at the end of last Friday’s “Why For” column. Where (in an effort to help out the poor slobs at WDFA) I attempted to cobble together a semi-coherent explanation/apology in response to Michelle’s Schumacher rumor story.

77) Michelle was right. 78) Michelle was right. 79) Michelle was right. 80) Michelle was right.

Sadly, I lack the gift of being able to talk convincingly out of both sides of my mouth (Which – I’m guessing – means that my chances of ever landing a job with Disney’s PR department pretty much amount to nil now). Even so, I still tried to work a few non-denial denials into that column. (EX: Please note the deliberately misleading “Thomas Schumacher hadn’t actually been fired,” rather than a much more precise explanation like “My understanding is that the deal that Schumacher cut with Eisner will actually allow him to hang on ’til the middle of 2003. Which will allow Thomas to stage his own somewhat graceful exit – where Schumacher will probably say something like he’s leaving Disney of his volition to ‘to pursue other opportunities.'”)

81) Michelle was right. 82) Michelle was right. 83) Michelle was right. 84) Michelle was right.

But – since my heart really wasn’t in this charade – it came as no surprise that my ploy didn’t work. That smallish story at the end of last week’s “Why For” column didn’t throw anyone off the scent. Particularly not LA Times reporters Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m not honestly sure if it was Michelle’s story that actually clued Eller & Verrier in on what was going on at WDFA. After all, Claudia and Richard are both pretty sharp reporters in their own right. So I’m pretty sure that these two already had sources of their own that were letting them know that Schumacher’s days at the Mouse House were numbered.)

85) Michelle was right. 86) Michelle was right. 87) Michelle was right. 88) Michelle was right.

Whatever the reason … Claudia and Richard decided to pursue this story. And they were the ones who were able to get the folks over at Disney to do something I couldn’t: Which was go on record and admit that WDFA head Thomas Schumacher HADN’T actually been fired … but WOULD still be leaving the Walt Disney Company under his own power by next June (Just about the same time that Pixar’s next flick, “Finding Nemo,” finishes up its first week in release). So those two (as well as Michelle) are the ones who really deserve the credit for finally forcing this much-talked-about-behind-closed-doors story out into the open.

89) Michelle was right. 90) Michelle was right. 91) Michelle was right. 92) Michelle was right.

Of course, Disney being Disney, they still tried to do everything that they could to control this highly damaging story. As C.W. Orberleitner pointed out to me earlier today: “Look when they finally decided to release this info to the Times, Jim. Late Friday night. Long after the stock market had closed for the week. All with the hope that this story would end up buried inside Saturday’s business section where no one would read it.”

93) Michelle was right. 94) Michelle was right. 95) Michelle was right. 96) Michelle was right.

The big question now is – now that the cat’s out of the bag – will Schumacher actually stay with WDFA ’til June 2003? Or will the waves of sure-to-be-negative press that will leap up in the wake of this story breaking (Don’t you just feel sorry for Disney’s PR flaks? Those poor folks who are right in the middle of trying to launch a huge, upbeat promotional campaign for “Treasure Planet”? Now these marketing mavens are going have to become master of spin control – all in an effort to keep reporters focused on writing about the studio’s newest feature length animated release, rather than going on and on about what a surprise it is that the head of WDFA will soon be leaving the company) force Thomas to bail out of the Mouse House a lot sooner than next June?

97) Michelle was right. 98) Michelle was right. 99) Michelle was right. 100) Michelle was right.

Either way … It was fun to be a part of a big breaking story like this. Even if my “Trying to Put the Genie Back in the Bottle” ploy didn’t exactly work out. (Sorry about that, Mortimer. I honestly gave it my best shot.)

Beyond that … did I mention that Michelle was actually right (sort of) about this Thomas Schumacher rumor?

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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General

Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District

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Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building


Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
Square
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).


Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created
.


Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.


Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.


Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …


Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.


Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.


Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these
bronzes?"

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American
Gothic."


Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues

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Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las
Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.


Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
Pets
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
Entertainment
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.


Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.


Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.


Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.


Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.


Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.


Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
Pictures
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.


Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.


Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.


Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.


Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."


Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."


Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  


Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse

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You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
Park
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights
reserved

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
Park
's "World of Color:
Celebrate!
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity
3.0.

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.


Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity
3.0.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?


Copyright Lucasfilm / Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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