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DTH Omnibus Page 7
Thursday November 30, 1989
Page 6 DTH Omnibus
Thursday November 30, 1989
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animation: the liberator of the
imagination; a world in which
normal rules don't apply.
Anything can happen, and just about
everything does. Personalities can
loom so large that characters take on
more life than a real living actor ever
could. Think of Jaq and Gus,
Cinderella's two mice friends, who
are faced with the monumental task
of carrying a key twice their size up
thousands of steps to Cinderelly so
that she can try on that glass slipper.
All their energy, every single mite of
it, is given to the job.
Think of the seven dwarfs as they
race from their diamond mine to try
and save Snow from the clutches of
the Wicked Queen. Such moments
are as dramatically compelling as
anything seen in live-action films.
And as for humor, what can be more
unashamedly anarchic than a Warner
Alas, all that is in the past. They
just don't make 'em like they used
to. Or, more correctly, they just don't
make 'em at all.
Or do they ? Animation may never
again reach the dizzy heights of its
1940s heyday, but there's an inkling
or a renaissance in the
realm of feature animation,
particularly in the form of
renewed commitment to
the medium from the com
pany that had originally
nimation may be thriving, but
the upsurge isn't reflected at
the Motion Picture Screen
Cartoonists Guild. Business agent
Steve Hulett reports that it has 750
members, compared to 2,800 a dec
"Then we were hit by runaway
production," he said. "Hanna-Bar-berra
moved its ink-and-paint depart
ment and some animation abroad,
and other studios followed."
Production first moved to Japan,
then to South Korea, the Philippines
and elsewhere as countries become
more expensive. Some inking and
painting of The Little Mermaid was
done in China. All Dogs Go to Heaven
was made almost entirely in Ireland.
Despite the flight of jobs, Hulett
still sees hope. "More (animated)
pictures in the marketplace brings
Mu j uJ) lU iy u Vj lfi)i!i lyi u u u IS lUJ till EMiiyi
's major studios keep the magic alive
been the artform's biggest player.
Which, surprising as it may seem,
is quite a turnaround. At the begin
ning of the decade, Disney anima
tion afficianados were justifiably look
ing down in the mouth as the com
pany created fewer animated films
that were not as good to boot. The
artform that made Disney's name was
a mere reflection of its former self.
1985's The Black Cauldron, made at a
cost of $30 million, was the first ani
mation film of Disney's ever to flop
at the box office.
But it wasn't as though the rest of
Disney's output was faring any bet
ter. Far from being the successful
technical innovator of its early years,
Walt Disney Productions was becom
ing little more than a merchant of
nostalgia. It was making more from
its re-releases than from anything new.
The company's attempts to reach
above the children's market and
compete with such trendsetting films
as Star Wars and E.T. produced noth
ing but failure. Mickey and Minnie
had to fight off
Age or flash in the
more production into the market
place," he said. "I like to think that
good wages and good animation can
go hand-in-hand despite producers'
attempts to seek cheaper work
abroad." He estimated foreign ani
mators earn $350 or less a week. The
Hollywood minimum is $900.
A new cost-savins element
computerization. Disney used com
puters for portions of Oliver and Co
But then the fairy godmother ar
rived, in the form of Michael Eisner
and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the produc
tion wizards who were behind such
megahits as Beverly Hills Cop and
Flashdance. With the summary crea
tion of Touchstone Pictures, an
umbrella under which Disney could
successfully enter the adult market, a
box-office bonanza quickly ensued,
with such films as Ruthless People,
Three Men and a Baby and Good Mom'
Success has also come from the
home video market. Released in stores
just two months ago, Bamfci, Disney's
1942 classic, has already sold $10.5
million cassettes at the $26.99 ask
ing price. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
has sold eight million at $22.99 since
its Oct. 12 release.
Much of the money is being poured
back into animation. When Eisner
and Katzenberg arrived at Disney,
they saw the economic importance
of putting the animation division in
.A order. The incredible
cost of animated fea
tures had to be brought
down to a more rea
sonable $10 million
per film, and not only
that, they wanted an
animated film every
year, not every three.
They may not have
i rfh ift lYrmfiYi- r r m iiYrtwhi r 1
and I he Little Mermaid, and is
pected to do more in the future.
"Computers may eliminate the
entire function of ink and paint in
the future," said one Disney anima-
tor. "But the job of animation hasn't
changed; it still has to be done the
same way: by hand, 24 frames a sec
ond. So far no computer has been
able to produce an animated character."
got the budgeting right yet Little
Mermaid cost an estimated $20 mil
lion but the schedule is on track.
Arriving next year is The Rescuers
Down Under (a sequel to the 1977
film), with Beauty and the Beast, An
Arabian. Night and Swan Lake to fol
low. A second Roger Rabbit short
' '' ' - - ,T-Tin i,n,r -t r-vmiri'i in m nnirrrn - r ir.niinnii i --
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (8) $ 134.8
Cinderella (6) $92.1
The Lady and the Tramp (5) $87.6
101 Dalmatians (4) $84.1
The Jungle Book (3) $84.0
In millions of dollars as of summer 1989.
Figures in parentheses indicate number of times released.
Omnibus Graphic Sounre: The Hollywood Reporter
will show with next summer's Dick
Tracy film, and a prequel to Roger
Rabbit itself is in the pipeline.
It is clear that Katzenberg is well
aware of the potential benefits.
"For this company, animation has
a value that is way beyond the spe
cific profits that you measure for a
film itself," Katzenberg said when he
took over as chairman. "We create
new characters, and these characters
will come to life in our theme parks
and in our merchandising, so they
have a longevity and a value to many
other aspects of this corporation that
He's not kidding either. The mar
keting campaign for The Little Mer
maid, Disney's 28th full-length ani
mated feature, is a production in it
self. McDonald's restaurants are giv
ing away Little Mermaid bath toys with
every Happy Meal, or Christmas tree
ornaments with a $5 gift certificate.
Macy's Department store and other
Disney outlets will be chock-ful of
dolls, music boxes, stationery, even
Despite the industry's enthusiasm,
Charles Solomon, author of "En
chanted Drawings," a history of the
art, is skeptical: "It seems to me the
same thing was said last year with
the release of Oliver and Co. and The
Land Before Time."
While Solomon is critical of the
Bluth Studio's storytelling abilities,
he praises the developments at
Disney. "What excites me is that the
new, young animators, who have been
in the shadows of the (so-called) Nine
Old Men who made the Disney clas
sics, are now trying to do their own
thing," he said. "They're beginning
to emerge as artists, developing their
own styles and approaches. They're
not only influenced by Disney, but
by Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and other
Warner Bros, and MGM animators."
sleeping bags and raincoats. And
that's not all.
In fact, there are two campaigns,
one for the kiddies, one for the adults.
Clothing items for the grown-ups
include Andy Warhol-style multiple
image T-shirts. The poster for adults,
currently placed in such magazines
as Rolling Stone, is of the mermaid
silhouetted by the light of the moon
underneath the inscription, "Some
where under the sea and beyond your
imagination is an adventure in fan
tasy." And why shouldn't adults be
drawn to animation? There is a big
nostalgia market out there: If Disney
can produce cartoons as good as the
classics remembered from childhood,
maybe the adults will come. Millions
were drawn to last year's tremendously
successful Roger Rabbit enterprise,
which was by no means kiddie fare.
The studio may be set to cash in on a
bigger audience than ever.
There's no question that anima
tion is on the up and up at Disney.
Last year's Oliver and Co. broke rec
ords by taking $53 million, the most
ever for an animated film on its ini
tial release. The company can afford
to back their old specialty to the hilt.
They're doing it for the money and
for the tradition. And to keep ahead
of the competition,
on Bluth, former Disney animation
f .tWCr) -(Wit',
director, walked out of the
studio on September 13,
TNI Wty, his 41st birthday, and
y J I took a good deal of the de
nartment with him. The
reason? Bluth and his deserters felt
that classical animation had lost its
way with the company. Bluth still
charges that nothing was being done
without the question being asked,
"What would Walt have done?"
"Trying to guess for a dead man
wasn't productive," Bluth said in a
recent interview for the Los Angeles
So he left with the dream of set
ting up a rival studio where he and
his compatriots could do things their
Since then, Bluth has gone bank
rupt (twice) and has seen two of his
productions halted in midstream. But
now, thanks to the aid of financier
Morris Sullivan, who moved the
company to Dublin, Ireland, to take
advantage of lower labor costs, and
the executive help of Steven Spielberg
and Amblin Entertainment, their
dreams have come true. They are now
seen as major pretenders to the Disney
Spielberg executive produced both
of Bluth's most successful films: An
American Tail in 1986, and last year's
dinosaur romp The Land Before Time.
The latter film went head to head
with Disney's Oliver and Co. and was
going buck for buck until the Disney
film pulled away at the last, beating
Bluth by $5 million. Since its release
on home video, The Land Before Time
has sold seven million copies.
This year, for fear of becoming the
animation wing of Amblin, Sullivan
Bluth Studios Ireland Ltd., as they
now call themselves, are going into
the fray alone. All Dogs Go to
Heaven is their fourth feature, made
almost entirely at their studio in
Dublin. They may not have Disney's
vast resources, but Bluth claims that
making the film abroad saved them
an estimated $7 million.
So, as with Disney, the marketing
of the film will be crucial. All Dogs
will be competing with Mermaid at
the burger bars, with figurines being
given away with every Kid's Meal at
Wendy's. The closing credit ballad
"Love Survives," sung by Irene Cara
and Freddie Jackson, is currently in
release, and there will be pet food
offers at participating supermarkets.
It's something the media like to
play up, but there is little real ani
mosity between the Disney and Bluth
companies: they figure that if both
products are good, then both studios
will benefit. But there is a feeling,
understandably, that reputations are
at stake. Disney, with its past record,
cannot be seen to fail. And Bluth
Studios, while currently content with
the runner-up position, have made it
abundantly clear in a short period of
time that their former employers are
not the only company that can play
the animation game.
With such competition, quality and
quantity are key to each studio game
plan. And that, for animation fans of
all ages the world over, can only be a
good thing. Richard Smith
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n s oeuer aown wnere n s
go, what's the verdict? Actu
ally, it's hardly a competition.
In many ways, Disney's The
Little Mermaid is the funniest, most
charming, most captivating film of
the year, and is without doubt is
the best animation feature from the
studio in decades. Like their great
est films, Mermaid is a good story
well told. And it's their first fairy
tale in 30 years (Sleeping Beauty
was the last in 1959). In this re
spect the studio has returned to its
But that's only the half of it.
Rather than take the past as its
cue, the film has its senses in the
here and now. The script has taken
its inspiration from the seven fea
tured songs of Howard Ashman and
Alan Menken (the team behind
Little Shop of Horrors). It may have
all happened a long, long time ago,
but Mermaid has a hip sensibility
that is thoroughly modern.
It's based, loosely as ever, on Hans
Christian Andersen's tale of a mer
maid, Ariel, who is fascinated by
all things human. Her father, Tri
ton, king of the seaworld, thinks
this to be an unhealthy fixation,
and puts his confidante Sebastian
(a crab with a tremendous gift for
calypso) to the task of showing the
young Ariel the error of her ways.
The little crustacean does his best
by delivering the showstopping song ;
"Under the Sea" "the seaweed
is always greener in somebody else's
lake," he bops. "Darlin' it's better
down where it's wetter, take it from
me." But it's not enough: Ariel has
already fallen in love with the hu
man Prince Eric.
Understandably, when Triton
gets wind of this, he's furious and
takes out his considerable wrath
on the mermaid. Which is where
the bad guys come in. Ursula, a
hybrid octopod sea witch, has long
planned to take over Triton's role,
and she sees just the opportunity
she needs in Ariel's situation.
Employing her beloved one-eyed
eels Flotsam and Jetsam to reel in
the downcast mermaid , Ursula
forces Ariel into signing a deal that
will rob her of her beautiful voice
in exchange for three days with
legs: three days in which she must
receive from Eric the kiss of true '
love to stay human, or else return
to the evil Ursula's clutches. And
: since it was Ariel's voice that made
the prince fall in love with her in
the first place, it's not going to be
an easy task.
It's a delicious dilemma, and one
that the Disney craftsmen have
milked for all it's worth. They have
created a marvellous array of per
sonalities to propel the enchanting
narrative along its merry way. It's a
take it from me'
beautifully tight script: every cookie
character has an important role to
play. From Scuttle, the seagull with
a skewed perspective on the human
world (he encourages Ariel to comb
her hair with a fork), to Louis, the
poisson-loving chef, they all have their
parts in the musical comedy-drama.
There are echoes from Disney's
illustrious archives, but echoes are
all they are. Sebastian, the film's
undeniable scene-stealer, takes the
role of a Caribbean Jiminy Cricket.
But the resemblance is minimal: the
The Little Mermaid
with the voices of Jodi Benson,
Buddy Hacket, Samuel E. Wright
directed by John Musker
and Ron Clements
All Dogs Go
: with the voices of Burt Reynolds,
Dom DeLuise, Loni Anderson
directed by Don Bluth
crab's as sharp as a razor (and given
his artistic egoism, probably wouldn't
be seen dead singing "When You
Wish Upon a Star"). Ursula is a vil
lainess in the classic Disney tradi
tion, right up there with the Wicked
Queen and Cruella de Ville. But she's
a thoroughly original, and, modeled
as she is on the late, great Divine, a
thoroughly modern creation. Even
Ariel looks more contemporary than
previous Disney heroines.
No, The Little Mermaid has a fla
vor quite different from the Disney
of the past. This ain't no cutesy, sen
timental stuff strictly for the kids
The Little Mermaid jams. Disney has
never been so hot. Watch especially
for the sequence in which the entire
amphibian world unites in the task
of getting Ariel and Eric to kiss: it's
the funniest single scene of the year.
Go see The Little Mermaid. Twice.
All Dogs Go to Heaven, mean
while, has been described by one critic
as "very much like going to hell."
Now this is wordplay, and partial-.
larly vicious wordplay at that. But
when all is said and done, it's true
that All Dogs just hasn't got it.
Featuring the 'Voice talents" of
Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise,
it's a classic case of the voices doing
all the characterizing, leaving the
animation to look quite dull and
iminspired. Indeed, the characters
seem oddly out of place in relation
to their background: the two never
mesh. All Dogs doesn't have the
lush, naturalistic look of the tradi
tional Disney film, but neither has
it successfully developed its own
more graphic style. And as for Burt
and Dom, it might as well be a
cartoon Cannoniu't Run.
The story hasn't been crafted with
much care. It concerns a sly Ger
man Shepherd who steals time from
heaven in order to return to his
larcenous life on earth and discover
who murdered him and why. He
has a sidekick, by the name of Itchy,
to aid him in his task, which gets
complicated by a horrendously cute
little orphan girl, Anne-Marie.
As with Mermaid, All Dogs is a
musical, but, unlike Disney's, the
songs don't proceed naturally from
the narrative. In All Dogs, every
thing comes to a halt while some
one croons an unmemorable ditty.
In a notably unneccesary moment,
Charlie sings "The More You Give,
the More You're Gonna Get" to
instruct some young pups in shar
ing their' pizza. He probably just
stole it he's that kind of
There are flashes of inspiration.
A cajun crocodile by name of King
Gator emerges at one point, not to
gobble our heroes as expected, but
to lead Charlie off into song. It's a
bizarre twist that . wouldn't have
looked out of place in Yellow Suo
rnarine. But the film has pretty much
lost it by this stage.
Of course, Anne-Marie finally
gets a home and manages to get
Charlie to make something of a
turnaround, but it's never clear
where All Dogs' moral divide is.
Since all dogs go to heaven, even
Carface, the bulldog villain of the
piece, ends up there at the close. Is
this something to teach the kids?
In an early scene, during Charlie's
brief visit to heaven, the Heavenly
Whippet escorts the mutt past doz
ens of clocks hanging in the air:
one is a Mickey Mouse wristwatch.
Homage, or derision from the for
mer Disney employees? Either way,
catching a glimpse of the famous
rodent only serves to emphasize that
All Dogs is second-rate entertain
ment. Uncle Walt'd be chuffed.-