The Simpsons Concept. From The Comics Journal April 1991, The Simpsons‘ Matt Groening said, “We always called The Simpsons an adult show that happens to appeal to children as well. Being the first prime-time animation series that anyone remembers since The Jetsons was considered a gamble. I can’t believe it was considered a far-out idea but it was. At the very beginning of the show we had a lot of network notes on the scripts because people who were in charge of looking out for bad language and content couldn’t get it through their heads that this was not a children’s cartoon. We responded that if they thought what we were doing was kiddie fare then they were mistaken.”
Peter Rabbit. In 1990, Susan Elliott, the Beatrix Potter expert at publishers Frederick Warne & Co. who control the copyright for Potter’s Peter Rabbit said, “We have been innudated with offers from film companies but we held off because we were terribly anxious to avoid inaccurate and poor representations. Disney has always been interested but we saw their Winnie the Pooh and it is an absolute travesty. All the characters speak with American accents and there was no chance of us allowing that to happen with Peter Rabbit.”
They did allow TVC London to produce nine animated episodes of The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (1992-1995) for the BBC. They were allowed to do so because the scripts adherred closely to the original story and watercolor drawings. Basically, it was the same people involved in the production of The Snowman (1982) and in particular writer, animator and director Dianne Jackson.
Elliot said, “The copyright runs out in the mid-1990s and after that anybody could make a film of the books and heaven only knows what they would do.”
Death of Howard Ashman. From Premiere magazine November 1991, Howard Ashman didn’t tell his composing partner Alan Menken that he was dying of AIDS until after the two had collected Oscars for The Little Mermaid in March 1990. It was several more months before Ashman broke the news to Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“My first thought after I cried was ‘What is this experience going to be like?’ I had images of Howard on his deathbed trying to get things done. And that turned out to be the truth,” said Menken. “Howard Ashman was a wonderful guy – not that he couldn’t be a tyrant. Not that he couldn’t be hateful, which he could, occasionally. But he was essentially the most intelligent, wise, loving person.”
The team working on Beauty and the Beast (1991) had to camp out in a hotel in Fishkill, New York to work with Ashman during his final days. Some of the animators thought it was because Ashman was spoiled and being a diva because they didn’t know. Katzenberg recalled, “I simply said, ‘Howard has his life. He’s an artist. He’s a genius. He’s a star and that’s the way it is’.”
Eventually, they had recording sessions where Ashman was confined to his bed and could barely talk. Menken added, “Eventually, he couldn’t speak at all and I was singing parts that he normally would sing. He was racked with pain but he was incredibly brave. Obviously, it infused the picture. As he was getting more frail and sick, he was becoming much gentler and sweeter and more vulnerable. It’s a love story. Howard’s soul rests forever in Beauty and the Beast.”
For more about Howard Ashman – see Don Hahn’s wonderful documentary Howard, coming to a theatre near you soon.
Inspector Gadget. In L.A. Life for September 2, 1998, actor Matthew Broderick talked about being Inspector Gadget in the 1999 Disney live action film: “Stan Wilson made molds of my face and body for three solid days (for the secnes where his head and body parts appear to pop off). They photograph all of you, even the hairs on your hands, for this process. They molded my hands, arms, torso, head. They have six copies of my head with different expressions. I still don’t like walking by them.
“People asked me, ‘Do you want one of these when you leave?’ No, really didn’t. The film was a fun challenge, the kind of Disney movie I remember from when I was a kid. Dick Van Dyke would have been great in the part.”
Lorenzo Music. In the New York Times October 22,1998, Lorenzo Music who did the voice for Garfield the Cat said, “Doing voice work can be lucrative. They’re coming into the business by the busloads with doctorates in voice acting. I think people figured the money thing out. Of all the people who are calling themselves voice actors and doing voice acting, not all are making a living at doing it. Most people supplement other income with voice acting.
“Making a commercial in a studio takes maybe a half hour. That includes schmoozing and donuts. Actual on-mike time takes maybe ten to fifteen minutes. You can tape one thing and it can play for ten years. Starting as the voice of Carlton the Doorman on the Rhoda televsion show, an agent told me I could make money with just my throat. I made the transition from being a big-time Hollywood mogul to being a voice actor.”
Antz Animation. In the Dallas Morning News in October 3, 1998, Eric Darnell, co-director of Dreamworks Antz (1998) said, “Nothing is for free in computer animation. Everything has to be designed, constructed, put in the environment, given a surface. You have to decide how a surface responds to light, what kind of lights you’re going to use. In live action, you can say, ‘Get me a black coat’ and that’s it. In computer animation, nothing is simple.
“Before we created a single frame on the computer, we shot our storyboard sketches, cut them together then threw temp music that we stole from other movies and used temp voices from secretaries and whoever you could pull out of the hallways and then we went to a movie theater and projected it and watched how it all worked. Fortunately, we had a well defined story and really clear themes throughout. Jeffrey (Katzenberg) offered occasional suggestions about he movie but never interferred with the story’s premise.”
Great Pumpkin. In L.A. Life October 30, 1991, producer Lee Mendelson stated, “The thing about (It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown 1966) is the colors are rich, the music is rich, the story is good and it was the first major work about Halloween which is one of the more popular holidays.
“When we finished A Charlie Brown Christmas we were all watching it and one man – I don’t remember who – stood up and said, ‘This is going to run for thirty years. And we all said, ‘Yeah, sure’. We thought it was a one-shot deal.”