Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mouse in the Seventies -- Part 3

And, once again, my recollections of Disney during the presidency of James Earl Carter.

Chapter 3 — The Disney Animation Story Crew

Larry Clemmons had me writing sequence scripts for “The Fox and the Hound,” which turned out to be my assignment for the next six months. Part of the package was attending Woolie Reitherman’s marathon story sessions, which often left me drained and a bit dazed. There were also Woolie’s marathon take-selection meetings, which left me drained and bewildered.

(Woolie was big on high-attendance, open-ended meetings.)

During this time, I had an opportunity to see “Robin Hood” (Disney’s previous release) and “The Rescuers” (still waiting in the wings.) I found “The Rescuers” to be amazingly good, “Robin Hood” decidedly less so. I wondered how that could be, since both movies had the same creative team. I decided it was one of the ongoing mysteries of the film business.

(I also got assigned to look at older features. One day Woolie sent me into a small sweat box to watch “Dumbo,” and a funny thing happened. As I emerged from the screening room, supervising animator Frank Thomas was striding down the hall. He gave me a sunny smile and asked what I’d been looking at. I said, “Dumbo. It’s sure a nice picture.”

Without missing a beat Frank said: “There’s a mistake in every scene.”

I thought this was a peculiar remark, and asked Ward Kimball if he knew why Frank might have said it. Ward replied: “That’s easy. Frank didn’t work on ‘Dumbo.’”

Studio politics is a forever thing. ...)

Find the rest of this chapter here.

What comes back to me, decades after the fact, is how much smaller Disney was then, how the stakes seemed lower, how (in many ways) it seemed like a "Mom and Pop" operation.

Of course it wasn't. The place wasn't the giant conglomerate it is today, but it was lumbering in the "let's get bigger" direction.

But what also strikes me is how the back-biting and manuevering, always a part of studio culture, was there in 1977 and 1978, just as it is today. I've observed it for freaking years as I walk down various studio halls.

And it doesn't change very much. A few years ago, Joe Grant chatted with me in the halls of the Disney hat building and remarked:

The politicking around here? It hasn't changed at all since the Hyperion days. The people are all new, but the politicking? That's the same.

A forever thing.

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