The Wisdom of Bluth. From Film & Video magazine July 1997, animator and producer Don Bluth shared the following thoughts: “When we left Disney in 1979, we made The Secret of NIMH (1982) which wasn’t properly marketed. You can make a great movie with fantastic production values but that doesn’t mean it’ll be seen. You also need a great marketing program. So there we were – an independent studio trying to make movies with no marketing backup and it didn’t work well.
“Then we connected with Universal for An American Tail (1986) and animation was at an all-time low. Disney had just completed The Black Cauldron (1985) which was a failure and many people were saying, ‘Don’t touch animation. It’s a dinosaur that doesn’t work anymore’. But An American Tail went on to gross over $150 million worldwide and suddenly, it looked viable again, especially with all the marketing tie-ins. Animation was suddenly hot at all the studios again which meant tougher competition for us, especially in terms of marketing and distribution.
“We just hope that animation, like any art form, will stay in the hands of the artists. As for what can now be done with all the new digital tools, I think it’s only as limited as our imagination. There’s a tendency when it’s money-driven to just tell the same story over and over again, because it worked, so there’s less risk. That’s why we get all the sequels and remakes. But there are many, many great stories to tell and that will always be the key – finding the right story.”
Changes in Beauty and the Beast. From The Guardian newspaper April 30, 2012, singer Paige O’Hara who played the role of Belle in Disney’s animated feature Beauty and the Beast (1991) said, “Don Hahn and the others wanted it to be perfect. They’d throw away stuff that had taken six months to do because it didn’t work – like the ‘Be Our Guest’ number, which the household objects originally sang to Belle’s father, Maurice, before the team realized the number had to be performed with Belle. There was another change: the Beast’s fight with the wolves in the wood got so violent that he breaks a wolf’s neck. I hated that and so did Don. We convinced the team it had to go.”
The Secret of Hanna-Barbera – 1961. In the U.K. 1961 Picture Show Annual, animation producer William Hanna said, “We think the popularity of our cartoons lies in providing psychological release for all human beings of all ages. No one gets hurt despite clobbering and binding situations. We have tried to give the audience characters which they can identify with themselves and then follow up with wild antics impossible to duplicate in real life. The adults have taken to the satire while the children watch the programs for the face value action packed story.”
Bill and Joe also opened up their studio to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1961 – here is some rare footage from that broadcast:
She Lost Her Sheep. When historian Leonard Maltin was interviewing actress Katharine Hepburn, he asked her if she had seen her caricature in the Disney animated short Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938). She immediately went into an imitation of her cartoon counterpart mimicking “I’ve lost my sheep. Really I have.” Then she told Maltin that Walt had given her an original autographed cel from the short.
Live Action and Animation. In New York Magazine November 3, 1986, producer J.J. Sedelmaier said, “Combining live-action and animation is not a new concept. But what’s different now is that the two genres overlap and sometimes it’s not as clear-cut. You no longer have Tony the Tiger talking to some kid about eating cereal. Now you can have Tony turn into a bowl of cereal. The hard edge that used to be there is gone and the color that used to dull out is vivid.”
Going Pink. The Pink Panther character has appeared in multiple venues over the years but in 1983 he was part of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A costumed Kip Reynolds played the feline who interacted with the clowns in their skits. It was connected with the 1982 twentieth anniversary celebration for the cartoon star. One Pink Panther promotion had New York’s 67th Street turn pink. It was dubbed Pink Panther Street and it was showered with pink paper, pink flowers, pink balloons and pink foam spray along the street and buildings.
Bakshi on Fire and Ice. In a 2012 interview with Devon Ashby, producer and animator Ralph Bakshi talked about his film Fire and Ice (1983): “I don’t like Fire and Ice. I never have. I don’t care for it. It’s lightweight. I mean, I don’t know. After Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, I don’t know. Of course, Fire and Ice wasn’t personal at all. It wasn’t anything to me, it wasn’t anything personal. I liked hanging around with (artist) Frank (Frazetta), and that was personal. But there wasn’t anything I invested in Fire and Ice, as far as ideas go.
“The writers were comic book writers, and I didn’t care what they wrote. I didn’t have that kind of investment emotionally in Fire and Ice. And unless a director is emotionally invested in a film, you can give him a hundred billion dollars, and you know. Films are about ideas, and films are about how you emotionally feel, and that’s what holds a film together. I wouldn’t have done the film except for Frank Frazetta. I wanted to work with Frank. And I was going to leave the business – I left the business after this film. I knew that was my last film, and I didn’t care. And I wanted to work with Frank, who was a very good friend of mine from Brooklyn, and one of the world’s great fantasy artists.”
The Wisdom of Wolf. In the L.A. Times August 21st, 1983, Fred Wolf (who was responsible for the 1967 Oscar winning short The Box) had produced two of the early Strawberry Shortcake specials (1980 The World of Strawberry Shortcake and 1982 Strawberry Shortcake: Pets on Parade). When asked about the films, he said, “I make films for children’s consumption. What the merchandisers do is their business. I won’t do work I can’t respect and I couldn’t respect a film that is one long commercial.” Strawberry Shortcake was the number one doll in the country in 1982 with more than twenty-five million dollars in sales. Retail sales of Strawberry Shortcake merchandise reached $750 million in 1982 and was estimated to reach over a billion dollars in 1983.
Two those specials were written by Romeo Muller, remembered for his work on the Rankin-Bass television specials, who had approached the Kenner toy company and American Greetings card company with the idea of doing specials on the characters. Muller is the one who invented the Peculiar Purple Pieman, after being told that any new character had to be “merchandisable”.