For most animation fans, the big news in 1993 is the summer re-issue of Disney’s first full-length cartoon, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
But the year will also bring new animated movies from producers Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg, from animator Don Bluth, and from the Hanna-Barbera and Film Roman studios.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) will be shown in its original format and projected in full frame with an aspect ratio of 1:33 to 1. In the past, the film has been panned and scanned to fit wide screens. The original soundtrack has also been re-mixed for Dolby stereo.
Tim Burton is executive producer of “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” a stop-motion project, which Disney will release in late fall. Henry Selick directs the story of a Halloween ghoul named Jack Skellington who becomes fed up with his own holiday and decides to displace Santa Claus at Christmas time.
Burton created the story when he was working as an animator at the Disney studios a decade ago, says Cathleen Gavin, who is producing the picture with Denise DiNovi and Tim Robinson.
“If you hold onto a project for 10 years, it’s obviously something you feel very passionately about,” Gavin says. “It’s something Tim has wanted to do for a long time. He actually wanted Disney to sell it to him so he could take it elsewhere, but they had all his original artwork and his treatment in the archives. They said they’d love to do it.”
Disney was delighted to have Burton back. “He left the studio back in the ’80 s because he didn’t feel there was enough creative freedom,” says Peter Schneider, president of animation. “I’m pleased he came back because he felt that we were willing to tackle new and different territories.”
Danny Elfman has written the songs and the score for “Nightmare,” and will sing the role of Skellington. Other voice talent has not been decided.
“It’s really almost an operetta,” Gavin says. “The stories are told through the songs. The design has Tim’s style and while the stop-motion is the same kind of puppet animation technique used since ‘King Kong,’ it’s at a level that hasn’t been done before.”
Disney executives go further. “I think you will see us take another step forward as we did with ‘Roger Rabbit,”‘ says Schneider, “in terms of producing a movie that is breathtaking in its technique as well as its storytelling.”
Adds Roy E. Disney, VP, animation: “What I’ve seen of it so far, it’s a very interesting film. It’s classic Tim Burton.”
Steven Spielberg’s latest animated feature, “We’re Back,” is adapted from a Hudson Talbot book of the same title about a group of dinosaurs who are transported to the present and evolve so they can speak.
“We’re Back” was made at Amblin Entertainment’s London studios, Amblimation, and directed by Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink (who did “An American Tail II: Fievel Goes West”) and Ralph and Dick Zondag.
Dinosaurs seem to be dominating Spielberg’s life this year, with “Jurassic Park” coming up. Bonnie Radford, VP of animation at Amblin, says it’s a coincidence.
“There’s no connection,” she says. “Originally we were going to release ‘We’re Back’ last year. The release date was changed but there’s no relationship with “Jurassic Park.’ ”
Turner Entertainment’s first animated feature, “Tom and Jerry: The Movie,” produced and directed by Phil Roman, opened successfully in France and Germany at Christmas. Turner elected to hold back domestic release until this summer.
“We had a problem in the distribution end,” says Roger Mayer, head of Turner Entertainment and an executive producer of the film. “But there was another reason we didn’t go at Christmas: ‘Aladdin.’ ”
“Tom and Jerry” was launched before Turner bought the Hanna-Barbera studio and the project was handed to Film Roman, whose credits include “Garfield and Friends,””The Lord of the Rings.” Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse wrote the songs.
Mayer says its the first of several projects planned to exploit the MGM library that Turner acquired. “We were looking for ways to use the library materials for sequels and remakes,” Mayer says. “‘Tom and Jerry’ have worked for 50 years and we have a new TV series. It seemed like a good place to start.”
Hanna-Barbera itself has “Once Upon a Forest” due in the summer. Based on a short story by Welsh writer Ray Lambert, it’s a bucolic coming-of-age saga involving a group of young animals being taught the ways of the world by an old badger named Cornelius (the voice of Michael Crawford).
“It’s not a comedy. It’s a touching, moving story,” says David Kirschner, head of Hanna-Barbera and a producer on the film. “It’s a film that we’re very proud of that we were able to do for under $ 14 million. We tried to create a film with heart and emotion as well as the amount of fear that’s necessary. It’s tested very strong for kids.”
Don Bluth, at his Phoenix House studio in Dublin, has risen from the ashes of his financial troubles last year and expects to soon announce release dates for two animated features this year, “Thumbelina,” based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, and “A Troll in Central Park,” using the popular raggedy-haired dolls.
Bluth says he’s still trying to piece together what went wrong with his old company. “I think that what happened is that the management was just not sound enough,” he says. “The new investors (Hong Kong-based Media Assets) were quite wise in the way they handled their investment. I’m quite confident that things will go well now.”
Also this summer, Streamline Pictures is distributing “The Speed Racer Movie Show,” a compilation of original episodes of TV’s “Speed Racer,” from the ’60s. The film will go into the 1,000-odd repertory art-movie theaters around the country.
Looking ahead, Don Bluth will have “The Pebble and the Penguin” ready for 1994, he says.
Composer Alan Menken is working on Disney’s “Pocahontas” for Christmas 1994 and “Beauty and the Beast” producer Don Hahn is preparing “The Lion’s Den” for the summer 1994. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, it’s a loose adaptation of “Hamlet,” set amongst lions in Africa with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice.
“We have the same kind of collaborative nature with them as we had with Alan Menken and Howard Ashman in the past,” says Hahn. “The music is spectacular.”
Disney’s animated films have usually been based on well-known characters but Roy E. Disney says the studio has no qualms about going with an unknown story.
“It’s nice when you have a pre-sold character, but that isn’t really a criterion,” Disney says. “Nobody had ever heard of ‘Bambi’ or ‘Pinocchio,’ either. It’s really the story that attracts everybody.
“We’re looking for underlying themes and messages that hopefully will be subtle enough where we’re not standing on a soap box but have a clear, clean kind of morality to them,” he says.
Also set for 1994 is “The Pagemaster,” from David Kirschner Prods. Written and produced by Kirschner, it will star Macauley Culkin as a neurotic, fearful child who enters a world of animation. Christopher Lloyd, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart are also featured.
The boy is neurotic about accident statistics and when he seeksrefuge from a storm in his local library, a strange adventure begins. “It starts in live-action,” Kirschner says. “As the boy moves deeper into the library, he comes across a painting that slowly begins to bleed its colors down the wall.”
Kirschner is using computer-generated images and “morphing” to transmogrify all the live-action into the painted backdrop.
“An animated wave chases the boy through the library as he runs around the stacks, trying to escape,” says Kirschner. “It finally catches up with him and knocks him down. When he stands up, he and everything around him are animated.”
Out from the shadows steps the Pagemaster, with the voice ofChristopher Lloyd , who sends the boy on a journey through the library’s fiction department. There , he encounters char acters named Adventure, Fantasy and Horror.
“Horror is called ‘Hunch-book,’ ” says Kirschner. “He feels he’s been mis-shelved all his life. His father was an encyclopedia, but his mother was a paperback.” Each character has its own background, which Kirschner says vary from the dark and brooding forced perspectives of Horror to the fairy-tale colors of Fantasy to the strong horizons and golden colors of Adventure.
“Basically, the boy gains the confidence and courage to face life,” Kirschner says, “from the world of animation.”