Suspended Animation #310
Eric Goldberg is a talented animator, voice actor and director. While his work as the lead animator on the Genie in Disney’s animated feature Aladdin (1992) definitely stands out, he has contributed memorable animation to Louis the jazz playing alligator in The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Maui’s tattoos in Moana (2016) among many, many other characters.
However, there hasn’t been a lot of work for talented Disney animators like Goldberg which is why Disney has also used him on Disney parks projects like supplying animation for Mickey Mouse on Nighttime Spectaculars including Disney Gifts of Christmas And Celebrate! for Tokyo Disneyland and the We Love Mickey projection show in Hong Kong Disneyland.
In 2019, Goldberg was responsible for creating a new character for a night time Halloween season overlay of Disney’s California Adventure World of Color fireworks and water projection show called Villainous!
Goldberg created “Shelley Marie” (a play on the name “Mary Shelley” the author of Frankenstein) who is a nine-year-old girl who’s trying to decide whether to be a princess or a villain for Halloween and in the process interacts with some of the classic Disney animated villains.
Goldberg said he was inspired by the characters of Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family and Lydia in Beetlejuice. While Shelley Marie is done in CGI, the other characters who are villains like Maleficient were done in hand-drawn animation.
“She has the vulnerabilities of a little girl, but she’s got this side to her,” Goldberg says, alluding to her feeling alienated and having an interest in the darker, weirder aspects of culture. “I think characters like that are very interesting. It puts me in the mind of Lilo from Lilo & Stich. She’s an adorable character but can’t help herself from acting out. Shelley is like that. She doesn’t do anything wantonly evil, but she has this thing pulsing in her DNA.”
However, for me, the most impressive animation Goldberg has done for the Disney parks is bringing back the fabled Three Caballeros.
The leisurely boat ride in the Mexican pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase was titled El Rio del Tiempo (“The River of Time”) that took visitors through the history and culture of Mexico from Mayan high priests to modern merchants.
That often ignored attraction was transformed in April 2007 into the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros.
The new storyline was that guests would still enjoy a boat tour experiencing the arts, culture and history of Mexico, as well as some of the famous modern day resorts and locales. However, the tour hits a snag when Panchito and Jose Carioca discover their amigo, Donald Duck, has gone sightseeing in Mexico on the very day the famous Three Caballeros are to perform a reunion concert in Mexico City.
In charge of this new theme park attraction reuniting the Three Cabelleros from the beloved animated feature film of the same name was director George Scribner (who was also director of Mickey’s PhilharMagic) and animation director Eric Goldberg.
“We always thought the Three Caballeros would be perfect for the Mexico pavilion,” said Goldberg, who directed the new animation. “And it’s a great way to introduce the Disney characters to the Epcot pavilions and keep them within the context of the travel and tourism story of the World Showcase.”
The new film elements are a combination of traditional character animation, overlaid onto film clips of live background footage newly filmed in Mexico that are projected onto a series of screens framed by dimensional walls, arches and rockwork to set the scenes.
The Theme Park Productions team spent six weeks in Acapulco, Chitchen Itza and Mexico City to get the footage for the new film, and they cast local talent for some of the smaller roles where Donald interacts with actors.
Goldberg is proud that he was able to utilize the same color palettes, model sheets, stylistic design and graphic elements as in the original theatrical feature when he chronicled Donald’s escapades through Mexico including encounters with a baby octopus and beautiful live-action women.
“Drawing these characters is a joy. They’ve got the best animated design I’ve ever worked on. They almost leapt off the page,” Goldberg told famed Disney musicologist Greg Ehrbar, a writer for this site.” “My lead animator, Bert Klein, and I were just trying to channel Ward (Kimball) and Freddy (Moore) who created some of the most beautiful, fluid and funny Disney animation ever.”
When Donald tries to climb the Mayan pyramid and it turns into an escalator, that sequence was animation done personally by Goldberg, as well as the sequence where Donald dives off the cliff in Acapulco and bounces around like in a pinball machine.
“There are alternate gags, too,” Goldberg said. “You might not always see the same show twice. You might see two gags as Donald is going up the escalator in Chitchen Itza: in the restaurant scene and the cliff dive scene.”
The reason the color is so vivid is that Goldberg’s wife, Susan, as animation art director worked hard to capture the distinct Technicolor look, while Scott Johnson created special lighting for the characters. When Chris Biggs processed the live action with the animation, he used a special technique to get that really bright color.
Musical director for the project was John Dennis who brought in music arranger Richard Bellis to create an homage to the original song. The music was recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood, California where Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland recorded. It helped recreate the unique sound of the time period.
The new attraction officially opened April 7, 2007 at 11 a.m. to good reviews from the guests. The attraction is reminiscent of the old “C” Ticket attractions at the original Fantasyland in Disneyland where the entire family could experience the ride together.
Rob Paulsen, perhaps best known for his voice work as Pinky in Pinky and the Brain (although he has done voice work for Disney as well including Pete’s son P.J. Pete), supplies the voices for Jose Carioca and Panchito. Tony Anselmo is Donald.
There are some wonderful scenic touches to the attraction including plenty of papel picado (traditional clipped tissue paper flags), some representing Donald, Jose and Panchito.
Some purists complain that in the new animation, Jose does not smoke his cigar and Panchito does not fire off his pistols as they do in their original film, but I feel that is a minor concession to political correctness in order to see these animated characters together again.