Okay, let’s talk about some recent Disney history this time around. We’re only going back as far as the fall of 1994 when I had just completed my storyboarding chores on Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Glendale was Disney Animation’s home in those days and my move was simply a few blocks down the street. My new assignment would be an animated film entitled, “Mulan.”
The entire team gathered in one of those Glendale industrial warehouses for the latest screening of the movie. I knew nothing about “Mulan” so this was my introduction to the film. After forty five minutes or so, the rough story reel ended and the lights came up. The next few moments were the most terrifying of my life. Pam Coates was the film’s producer so she was the first to speak. Pam turned to me and said, “Well, Floyd. What do you think?”
Usually, when a crew screening comes to a close, the most important person in the room would be the one to speak first. In the old days that would have been the Old Maestro,Walt Disney. In the nineties, the tough notes would come from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider or Roy Edward Disney. But, not this time around. Pam Coates was looking directly at me and I’ll admit I was momentarily speechless.
Dare I say what I thought, I wondered? The movie had been all over the place. It was almost like watching three films instead of one. The ideas weren’t necessarily bad, they simply weren’t focused. The crew needed to decide exactly which movie they were making and what story they were telling. These were the thoughts racing through my head as I sat frozen in my chair. Did I really want to begin my time on the movie by being a harsh critic? I’m embarrassed to say I wimped out because I feared being considered a “know it all.” Luckily, I was saved by an old gentleman who actually had the credentials to speak out. Joe Grant was a legendary story man who had actually worked with Walt. Joe gave his opinion of the movie and he didn’t pull any punches. The team should have heeded Joe’s warning because the next screening for our animation boss, Peter Schneider proved to be a disaster. Peter simply hated the movie and he made his personal opinions quite clear. All of us in the room knew we would be starting over.
Of course, this is all par for the course for any seasoned animation veteran. Meltdowns like this are simply part of the process of making an animated movie. In time, the movie was retooled, rewritten and re-boarded. Kudos to those who made it happen. Great talents such as Joe Grant, directors, Barry Cook and Tony Brancroft and head of story, Chris Sanders. I’m proud to say that “Mulan” is one of the finest Disney animated movies I’ve worked on.