December 14, 2018 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #393

Poster Problems. The poster for The Great Mouse Detective (1986) was roughed out by the Disney publicity department and sent to the animation department. There, several artists spent a few days putting all the characters on model and proper size. When they sent it back to publicity, they were told that artists at publicity had already gone ahead and just had the rough cleaned-up and used it as it was.

Anastasia Score. From The Hollywood Reporter November 6, 1997, David Newman who composed scored for animated features including Brave Little Toaster and Rover Dangerfield, talked about doing the score for Anastasia (1997): “Scoring an animated feature is different from scoring a TV cartoon. You treat it as you would any feature film. You’re not as picky about hitting each body movement as in the Stalling style.

“This is a very big looking movie, incredibly rich and lush in its detail. Its strength is in the characters and it’s always interesting to write music for emotions as well as for eye blinks. You try to take the melodies from the songs and develop them, use them in the underscore to weave in and out of the songs and make it seamless.

“I always admired my father’s work (Alfred Newman who worked on films like Carousel and The King and I) in that respect and I tried to use that approach with a 90s feel.

“In Anastasia, you almost forget that’s it’s animated. All the facial expressions and movements of the body are so well done. They delineate the purpose of the story. It still needs music but it can be subtle. When something is not fully animated and developed, you really have to make an effort to get across what’s going on. When everything’s working, your music sounds great. And when it’s not, everything suffers. It’s the nature of the beast.”

Cats That Never Was. Cats was the 1982 popular Broadway stage musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and one of the longest running stage shows of all time. Universal Pictures, Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Lloyd Webber announced June 25th, 1990 they were making an animated feature film based on the musical.

Universal had purchased the screen rights for a reported ten millions dollars. After other attempts, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow who had co-written the screenplay for Toy Story (1995) were eventually hired to write the feature and their second draft was finally completed in October 1996. However, Webber kept having issues with the script which added more narrative detail than the original show.

In addition, management at MCA had changed since the purchase and were no longer as interested in the project as both animated features and Lloyd Webber’s career were in a slump. When Spielberg’s Amblimation studio closed up shop in 1997 that was the final nail in the coffin for the production.

Ron Clements. From the Daily News November 18, 1997, co-director of The Little Mermaid (1989) Ron Clements said, “For a long time, we felt there was a stigma about Disney films – that they were only for kids. I pitched The Little Mermaid at the “Gong Show” (the system Disney set up for new projects to be proposed) and their first reaction was a gong because they thought it was too close to Splash. But after Eisner read our treatment he changed his mind and gave us a ‘go’.

“It was a test in a certain way. It was the first fairy tale for Disney in 30 years (since Sleeping Beauty 1959) and none of us had worked on a fairy tale before. We knew it would be compared with those classic Disney movies and we didn’t want it to be compared unfavorably.

“We work on these movies in a vacuum. Mermaid took almost four years to make and we had lost all objectivity. We felt there was a lot of potential but we didn’t know.

“Disney has a vested interest in Disney animation being on top. When it comes to the animators, no one here is rooting for other animated movies not to do well. Successful animated films just create more opportunities and make the business healthier. If Anastasia (1997) does well, that’s good for the people at Disney and at Fox.”

Thumbelina. From Los Angeles Times June 1, 1997: “Far from Los Angeles, Warner Bros. held two test screenings of Thumbelina (1994) showing clips from its animated movie to gauge audience interest. The first time around, audience reaction was flat. For the next test, according to people familiar with the experiment, Warners stripped off its company logo – and slapped Disney’s name on the exact same Thumbelina footage. The test scores scored.”

Roth on Fox Cartoons. From the Orange County Register March 15, 1998, Peter Roth, the president of Fox Entertainment Group said, “I submit King of the Hill and The Simpsons would be just as successful if they were live-action shows. People don’t watch form; they watch content.

“Jim Brooks (executive producer of The Simpsons) has said that this little yellow family called the Simpsons is as real and three-dimensional as most domestic families in comedies today. As a viewer, you now have over 50 choices in any hour of television. If you offer fare that is not distinctive or different or daring, you are almost certainly doomed to failure.”

The Children Sour. In Broadcasting magazine January 3, 1966, it announced that MGM’s Animation/Visual Arts division started in 1963 created titles for feature films and made animated commercials for the Gillette Company and Atlantic Refining Company. It had a staff of 33 creative people operating on an annual budget of about one million dollars.

Supposedly, they were making pilots for CBS including Goldie Lox and the Three Yaanhs directed by Chuck Jones about “the first 14 year old villain on television. We visualize her as Humphrey Bogart playing Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936). The yaanhs are masses of fur in tennis shoes.”

Malcolm Pouter would be “a satire on the super characters such as the Batman. Malcolm is a mean boy who can’t stand people more evil than he is, such as Ben Turbine, who has a turbine for a head and coils of wires for his hands.” Both of these series would be six and a half minue cartoons for an overall show to be called The Children Sour.


  • It’s a shame that not only Amblimation’s Cats never saw the light of day, but Amblimation itself didn’t last longer than it should have. Compared to the upcoming live-action Cats film that’s slated to come out next year, I would have loved seeing their approach to adapting Cats.

    As much as I love Chuck Jones’s many animated works for Warner Bros., I love his work for MGM in the 1960s as well, particularly How the Grinch Stole Christmas and his Tom and Jerry cartoon shorts. It’s no wonder he won the Oscar for The Dot and the Line in 1965.

    I think I now know why the first test screening for Don Bluth’s Thumbelina wasn’t successful. Given that the second test screening was successful because of WB putting Disney’s logo at the start of the film, people back then thought it was a Disney movie. Plus, the film itself, like many of Bluth’s other movies from the early 1990s suffered executive meddling during production and that’s probably the real reason why it bombed by the time it was released in 1994.

  • So that’s why the poster art for The Great Mouse Detective is so off-model. Really bizarre that this actually happened for the release of a theatrical Disney feature.

  • I think you meant to say “The test scores soared [for Thumbelina].” Interesting social experiment!

    • I wonder what would happen if they tried the reverse and Disney tested one of their own movies without the Disney name on it. Would the opposite effect happen?

  • Anastasia is still one of the great animated movie soundtracks ever: Liz Callaway released “Journey to the Past” and”Once Upon a December” (got them on iTunes) on her own “essential” album.

    TGMD has the worst poster ever for a Disney film cause Toby’s eyes are creepy.

    Stefan Ellison (AKA Mr. Coat) actually referenced the Disney switch on Thumbelina on his Don Bluth vid.

  • I, too, would have loved to see an animated “CATS” since the most obvious vehicle for anthropomorphic creatures is animation. I wonder what other intruding plot points were added; all they really needed to add is spectacle and the “cats” in question could look more animal than human in costume. The anecdote about Warner Brothers slyly tacking on the Disney logo to their own animation proves my point–that it is unfortunate that some folks assume that all things animated come from the Walt Disney company! This travesty has occurred even during the golden age, when folks assumed that even the LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES came from Disney.

    Such misconceptions are why we need more animation festivals seen regularly in multi-plex theaters around the country. It would not only bring toon fans to theaters; it might start a more serious fan base and further talk about cartoons desired for viewing on the big screen. Also, I feel I must say, yet again, that, while some folks have sought to create their own home theater in houses around the country and world, no home is that equipped to recreate the ultimate movie theater. You’d always find situations where the speaker systems are all set up wrong or there is too much echo or some such minor touch that intrudes on the ultimate theater-going experience. Leave it to the professionals, and listen to the fans when it comes to deep diving into classic studios’ animation vaults.

    I always thought that the Thalia Theater here in New York did such a terrific job at creating very good cartoon shows. There would be repeats from year to year, but you’d always find a terrific sleeper entry within the usual lineup. Hey, especially when it comes to Warner Brothers cartoons, one never runs out of ideas for titles that don’t get seen that often. It’s all history, and it is all worth seeing. It also starts whole new dialogues online about the history of the art form, often ending up with new and terrific DVD’s or blu-ray disks of the amazing stuff for our home libraries. It can only fail if no one in power cares to act upon it!

  • “The anecdote about Warner Brothers slyly tacking on the Disney logo to their own animation proves my point–that it is unfortunate that some folks assume that all things animated come from the Walt Disney company!”

    It’s a very unfortunate assumption indeed, but I don’t know if this strategy was “sly” on the part of Warner Bros. as much as it was proving a pre-conceived notion that I imagine some executives in the company held — that it was impossible to really make a mark in theatrical animation unless the name of your company was Disney. Once I experienced a friend telling me about Anastasia and describing it as a “Disney movie”. I explained to him that it was actually produced by a wholly different company, and he replied that even so, as long as it had a “Disney” mood, “Disney”-ish songs and “Disney”-ish animation (which it definitely did in his eyes), then it was a “Disney movie”. In other words, he treated the term “Disney movie” as an adjective.

    • Patronizing idiots embarrass themselves assuming every new animated movie is made by Disney just because it has some of the same essential elements of one.

      But I know better, since the ugly truth is tens of miles from the fantasy.

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