The Lyin’ King. In a July 13, 1994 Los Angeles Times article by Robert Welkos, Takayuki Matsutanti, president of Tezuka Productions in Tokyo stated that while there were some apparent similarities between Disney’s recently released feature The Lion King (1994) and Osamu Tezuka’s much earlier TV series Kimba, The White Lion (1965) that “quite a few staff of our company saw a preview of The Lion King, discussed this subject and came to the conclusion that you cannot avoid having these similarities as long as you use animals as characters and try to draw image out of them.
“If the Disney Company had gotten a hint from The Jungle Emperor, Osamu Tezuka, a founder of our company would have been pleased. And we feel the same way, rather than making a claim. Therefore, our company’s general opinion is The Lion King is a totally different piece from The Jungle Emperor and is an original work completed by the Disney productions long-lasting excellent production technique.”
The same article had co-director Rob Minkoff (who claimed only to have learned of the controversy on a recent trip to Japan to promote the Disney film) saying, “Frankly, I’m not familiar with the TV series. I know for a fact that (Kimba) has never been discussed as long as I’ve been on the project (April 1992). In my experience, if Disney becomes aware of anything like that, they say you will not do it. People are claiming copyright infringement all the time.”
By the way, Tezuka met Walt Disney at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and Walt was familiar, and apparently complimentary, about Tezuka’s Astro Boy. In a 1986 entry in his personal diary, Tezuka stated that Disney wanted to hire him for a potential science fiction project.
Yogi Bear Whoremonger. In February 1993, Bill Hanna who was then 82 years old was interviewed in USA Today by Jefferson Graham and Hanna did not care for all the updating of classic Hanna-Barbera characters. In reference to NBC’s 1991 Saturday morning animated series Yo, Yogi!, Hanna didn’t hesitate to say, “They screwed it up by re-designing him. They made him look like a whoremonger. If you have something that works, don’t screw it up!”
Cel Out. In TV Guide for January 9, 1993, when informed that at a recent Christie’s auction a cel of Ren and Stimpy sold for $3,850, creator John Kricfalusi said, “Cels are just not worth thousands of dollars. They’re not that hard to make. It takes about five minutes to paint one. I can’t even afford to buy a Ren and Stimpy cel.”
The Itchy and Scratchy That Never Was. According to Inside Media magazine March 2, 1993, Twentieth Century Fox wanted desperately to produce a series of Itchy and Scartchy short theatrical cartoons to run before Fox feature films. “We talked about it,” said creator Matt Groening, “but it would be hard to sustain for seven minutes.”
Turner on Roger Rabbit. From Los Angeles Times June 23, 1988, actress Kathleen Turner who did the voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit said she did the uncredited role “largely out of friendship and fun. Bob (Zemeckis who directed her in Romancing the Stone) proposed this to me as a neat thing to do in a new kind of film and I said, ‘Swell’. And I really kind of wanted it to be like that just for that reason.”
Fleischer on Roger Rabbit. From the Los Angeles Times June 23, 1988, Charles Fleischer who did the voice of Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit said, “I would be happy to do Roger Rabbit for the rest of my life. I love Roger. I think he’s the greatest cartoon character of all time. There’s never been a cartoon character with Roger’s depth. As great as I think Mickey Mouse is, I don’t think he could sustain a feature.”
Dissecting the Dead Frog. In Variety for September 20, 1992 it was revealed that Hollywood Road Film Productions had laid off all its remaining staff. The company was the producer of the then recently released animated feature Freddie as F.R.O.7 (1992), a spoof of spy films with a prince who is turned into a six foot tall frog who later becomes a top agent in the French secret service.
He journeys to England to find out what happened to missing buildings like the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. The film was billed as “the most ambitious animation project ever made in Britain and will out-Disney Disney”.
Hollywood Road Film Productions had also suspended production on the announced sequel Freddie Goes to Washington which had been budgeted at twenty-two million dollars and had twelve minutes of footage already completed. The company’s backers were believed to have lost about twenty-five million dollars on the poorly received movie.
The film had cost eighteen million dollars to produce with an additional five million dollars toward U.S. distribution costs and one-and-a-half million dollars for the U.K. release. In its initial release, the film earned roughly one million dollars and was labelled a “cartoon catastrophe”.
Motion Pictures Investments president Sherman Baldwin stated, “We keep hearing there is a need for family entertainment, and we would assume that critics would take that into consideration in their reviews but they don’t. You hope that you can get full runs everywhere but we didn’t. That’s just the reality of the marketplace.
“We’re big boys and sometimes these things don’t work out. We’re just happy that this wasn’t a hundred million dollar picture that we put fifty million into. We’ll move on to the next picture.”
Hurting the film was the absence from the publicity campaign tour of actor Ben Kingsley who voiced the role of Freddie but had conflicting commitments.
“We were supposed to have him to promote the picture for at least two weeks,” stated Miramax’s Gerry Rich. “We had a lot of things lined up and we would have had him on every major TV show that made sense. Having him endorse the movie would have really legitimized the film. Unless you have an Amblin release or a Disney release, it’s difficult.
“We were trying to keep every print working as much as possible (The film opend on about 1,250 screens.) but full bookings were impossible. Investors knew that. That was made clear at the very beginning. There were no surprises on opening day.”