Cast * Earlier Version * Interesting Facts * Genie's Impressions * Interview with the directors* Robin Williams vs. Disney
by: Ron Clements & John Musker
Written by: Roger Allers & John Musker
Music by: Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, Tim Rice
Released on: November 11, 1992
Running Time: 90 minutes
Budget: $28 million
Box-Office: $217 million in the U.S., $497.7 million worldwide
Aladdin... Scott Weinger (acting) & Brad Kane (singing)
Genie... Robin Williams
Jasmine... Linda Larkin (acting) & Lea Salonga (singing)
Jafar... Jonathan Freeman
Abu... Frank Welker
Iago... Gilbert Gottfried
The Sultan... Val Hettin
Razoul... Jim Cummings
In the original story board for Aladdin, there were two genies: the genie of the lamp and the genie of the ring.
Originally, Aladdin also had three brothers: Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Howard Ashman & Alan Menken started to compose a song entitled "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim" where the four of them sang like a barbershop quartet.
Early scripts included Aladdin's mother, who sang a song called "Proud of Your Boy", and another song for Jafar called "Humiliate the Boy": Jafar's song was cut, as it was considered too cruel for Disney.
In the early stages of Aladdin, the hero looked much younger, like Mowgli from the Jungle Book. However, since Jasmine was 16, it didn't make sense that she could be romantically interested in a child, and it was decided to make him older looking. Most of the animated footage the had to be redone: The "Friend Like Me" song, however, would have been too expensive to completely re-draw, so some shots of the younger-looking Aladdin were kept -and can be seen- in this sequence!
Menken explained in January 2002 that "Aladdin,
we had written the entire score, and then found out after Howard died that
half of it was no longer useful because [Aladdin's] mother and the sidekicks
had been cut [from the film]. So Tim Rice stepped in, and therefore I wrote
it. That was a project in which I had to take over and be Howard. I had
to be taskmaster with Tim. I had to say, 'This is the style of the song.
This is the template. We've got to match Howard's style here,' and I really
learned how to take a much more active role on that project. "
Ron Clements recalls that "when we finished Mermaid, we didn't know what we were going to do next. Jeffrey [Katzenberg] offered us three projects. One was Swan Lake. Another was King of the Jungle [which later became The Lion King]. The third was Aladdin. Swan Lake seemed too much like Mermaid, which we had just finished, so it was between King of the Jungle and Aladdin. Aladdin seemed like the most fun."
Aladdin was at first modeled after Michael J. Fox, but was later changed to look more like Tom Cruise. Jasmine resembles Jennifer Connelly.
Eric Goldberg, who supervised animation of the Genie, sought inspiration from Al Hirschfeld's drawings. "I look on Hirschfeld's work as a pinnacle of boiling a subject down to its essence, so that you get a clear, defined statement of a personality." The film's supervising animator, Andreas Deja, added that Hirschfeld's work "teaches you fluidity, appeal and simplicity." Hirschfeld, invited to the Disney Studios to observe the animators, demurred, saying that, although he was flattered, he "didn't invent the line: that simplification that communicates to a viewer goes back to the cave drawings at Altamira." (The reference is to prehistoric drawings in a cave in Spain.)
Writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker had come up with what they thought was a great gag to add to that film, according to Jim Hill: when Prince Achmed, yet another suitor for Princess Jasmine, rides into Agrabah, the citizens of the city look him over. Toward the front of the crowd, two peasants--who look exactly like Siskel and Ebert--check Achmed out. Not liking what they see, these two peasants quickly give the Prince the "Thumbs Down" sign. While the two Chicago film critics were flattered, they turned down Ron and John's offer. Instead, you can catch the directors as Aladdin and Abu stand at the mouth of the alley watching the parade go by. One peasant, with a full beard, wearing a red fez, says: "On his way to the palace, I suppose" (That's Ron Clements). The other, with a gray mustache, wearing a white turban, replies: "Another suitor for the princess" (That's John Musker).
When character voices were being recorded, Disney let Robin Williams ad-lib in a recording booth. He ad-libbed for almost three hours staight! Out of those three hours, only 10% of what he said could be used in the movie. All the rest was politically incorrect. As an example, in the original script, Genie said, "Hey, you're a lot younger than my last master. Are you shaving yet?" Robin latter changed it to, "Hey, you're a lot smaller than my last master. Either that or I'm getting bigger. Look at me from the side. Do I look different to you?"
With only ten weeks left until the deadline, Disney still had half of Aladdin to animate!
After three months of grueling auditions, Linda Larkin finally won the role of Jasmine in January 1991. Thinking she was home free, Linda happily threw herself into working on this animated feature. But six months later, she learned that Disney was once again holding auditions for the voice of Princess Jasmine since Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg just wasn't liking what he was hearing coming out of Larkin's recording sessions. He didn't think Linda sounded forceful enough or regal enough, to portray a princess, according to Jim Hill. Clements and Musker, who loved Larkin's work, fought hard to keep her on the film. With the help of Aladdin co-producer Don Ernest they finally convinced Katzenberg to give Linda another chance. They then coached Larkin through a carefully staged recording session which was deliberately done to win Jeffrey over. That was the session that finally convinced Katzenberg that Linda was the right person to play Princess Jasmine, by having her speak lower and slower, which, to Katzenberg's way of thinking, was how princesses sounded. He then backed off, leaving Musker and Clements to do the movie the way they wanted.
The stack of blocks that Jasmine's father plays with is sitting on a toy of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Sebastian from The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio (1940) can also be spotted.
The lyrics of the opening song, "Arabian Nights," were changed for the video release due to pressure from groups who were offended by the original lyrics. "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face. It's barbaric, but hey it's home." was changed to: "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense, it's barbaric, but hey it's home."
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman completed three songs for Aladdin prior to Ashman's death from AIDS complications in 1991. "Friend Like Me" that they wrote together was Oscar-nominated, but it's "A Whole New World" written by Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice (who finished Howard Ashman's writing work after his death) that won for Best Song.
The Genie in the Finnish version is somewhat different from the one played by Robin Williams. A famous Finnish comedian, Vesa-Matti Loiri was casted for the role, and it was generally agreed that a comedian copying another would not be as funny as one doing his own stuff. A permit was asked from Disney to localize the dialogue. So, Loiri never heard the Williams version before having finished the part. He worked with the translators with only mute animation and a general idea what the original gags were about. The final dubbed version contains a lot of impessions of Finnish celebrities and voices belonging to some of Loiri's most memorable characters. Disney later gave the Finnish version the award for best dubbed "Aladdin".
Don Hahn stated in an August 2003 interview that "with Aladdin there
was some really great stuff we should include" on the 2004 DVD. "Howard
Ashman and Alan Menken wrote all these songs that weren't in the movie
but are the most beautiful songs you've ever heard."
Capitalizing on the success of Aladdin, Disney subsequently turned the movie into a TV series, an ice show, and released 2 direct-to-video sequels: 1994's The Return of Jafar, starring Jason Alexander as Abis Mal and Dan Castellaneta as the Genie (his official voice in the TV series, as well as Homer Simpson's); and 1996's critically acclaimed, two times Annie winner, and commercial success Aladdin and the King of Thieves, with Robin Williams returning as the Genie. This second video was originally to be released in 1995 with Dan Castanella reprising the voice of the Genie,and was announced officially via a flyer in The Lion King video. However, when Disney got Robin Williams convinced to do the voice (with a fat paycheck of nearly $1 million!), the project's release date was pushed back and title revised to Aladdin and the King of Thieves, starring Robin Williams. The end song to this sequel was originally written for the first Aladdin movie, but was kicked out by a kiss, a gotcha from the Genie, and a reprise of "A Whole New World". The master had already been made for the first movie and was not changed for the third.
World Resort announced on September 29, 2000 plans for an attraction and
merchandise area based on the hit animated feature film Aladdin.
"The Magic Carpets of Aladdin" will take Orlando's Magic Kingdom guests
on a magic carpet ride in the Adventureland area of the park beginning
in early summer 2001. Sixteen 4-passenger "carpets" circle around a giant
Genie's bottle, moving up and down and pitching forward or backward at
the "command" of riders while whimsical, water-spewing camels "spit" at
the airborne guests. The development also will include a new, open-air
marketplace -Agrabah Bazaar.
Robert De Niro
Ed Sullivan (I)
William F. Buckley
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTORS JOHN MUSKER & RON CLEMENTS
John Musker and Ron Clements have been a directorial, writing, and producing team on The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin for the Walt Disney Studio. Their unique blend of witty comedy, appealing heroines and heroes, and clever art direction is helping to redefine the Studio's style--and breaking box-office records. Here they discuss their background and training, and give some idea of how they work together.
Interview conducted by Nancy Beiman on January 12, 1993.
Q: I guess we could start by asking you how you got interested in animation, and what your early training was.
RON CLEMENTS: One of the first movies I saw was Cinderella. I think I was 2-and that didn't make a real big impression on me. But, a few years later, when I saw Pinocchio, that had a profound impact. I went back and saw the movie about two more times, made drawings from the movie. That movie, and Sleeping Beauty, were the two Disney pictures that had a big influence on me. I thought animation was so exciting--something to go into. I sort of fantasized--l played that I was an animator.
Q: How did you do that? By flipping drawings?
JOHN MUSKER: By drinking....
RON CLEMENTS: I drew the characters, but I really didn't know how to animate . I didn't know how to flip, but I drew them running around. I would imagine that I was making an animated film, even though I knew I couldn't since I didn't have a movie camera. A few years later I came across the Bob Thomas book, "The Art of Animation". It made animation sound like the most exciting thing you could possibly get into. When I was about fifteen I got a movie camera that had still-frame capacity. I made some little super-8 films Then, started working as a TV artist while I was in high school. I was doing graphics for the TV station in Sioux City, Iowa, which is where I'm from. I brought some of these little super-8 films down to the TV station and told them "We can do commercials!", so we built a kind of crude animation setup and made little commercials for the local market. Then, using the station's equipment, I did a 15- film about Sherlock Holmes (that was sort of my own project, done in my spare time.)
When I got out of high school, I wasn't sure what to do. I knew I was interested in animation, but didn't have any idea of how to approach it. I wrote to a lot of art schools and got a lo' of brochures, but it seemed like a lot of classes weren't geared toward working in the (animation) industry. Someone from Los Angeles visited the TV station (in Iowa), and they saw my film. They knew someone at Hanna-Barbera, so they suggested I come out here. The TV station paid my way out here, and I worked at Hanna-Barbera for about 3 or 4 months doing in-betweens. Then I was laid off, since it was seasonal work. I was taking classes at Art Center in the evening, ( a commercial art school in Pasadena, California) and it was there that I found out about the training program at Disney.
Q: Did you go to Chouinard Art Institute, or Cal Arts?
RON CLEMENTS: I went straight to the Studio. I had high school training, and the Art Center classes, and that was it.
Q: John, I know that you were in the first class at Cal Arts' Character Animation Program, but was animation your first interest?
JOHN MUSKER: Yes. I saw Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio at the same time Ron did, and 101 Dalmatians. Those three films had a big effect on me. They seemed more vivid, somehow, than live action films. Because of their visual storytelling, I believe they struck a very deep chord in m, young mind. I also watched Rocky and Bullwinkle and Warner Brothers cartoons on IV, and read the Bob Thomas book. I was interested in being an animator, ( which was a rat her odd vocational inn' rest for an eight-year-old), but ' sort of drifted away from it ! got interested in editorial cartooning, read MAD magazine. I was interested in caricature), and comic books. I hadn't had any art instruction in my Catholic high school. (We studied Greek and Chinese instead of learning how to draw,) It seemed like drawing was sort of self-taught anyway. I had it drilled into my head by the Jesuits not to use college as a vocational school--it was for my personal enrichment. (That was back in the ancient days of the 60's when they'd say things like that, and people would listen to them.) So I went to Northwestern University and was an English major. This would force me to read all the books I really wanted thread but had kept putting off, and I would teach myself drawing on the side. When I got done with my schooling there, and had to cast about for a way to make a living, my interest in animation was reawakened by a few things that happened at that time. Christopher Finch's book on The Art of Walt Disney came out in the early '70's. It mentioned actual animators by name and said that this guy did that particular character The idea that these films were made by talented people who could collaborate on a collective artistic enterprise appealed to me. It reminded me of some experiences I had with a church theater group which had a fun, collegial collaborative atmosphere. I had heard Richard Williams speak at the Chicago Film Festival, and he made animation sound like a wonderful field to go into. Then Chuck Jones spoke at Northwestern, and he made it sound really appealing. It seemed like a career in which you could continually be learning and growing. I wrote to the Disney studio and asked, "Do you have this training program? I read about it in Finch's book." They sent me some information, so I figured I'd try to get in there. I put together a portfolio and sent one off to Disney. At the same time, l sent one to Marvel Comics. ! can't remember in what order I got the rejections back. The studio basically said You don't draw well enough--get lost.. Likewise, Marvel Comics said, "Thanks for the offer, but you really don't draw well enough--so thanks for the offer, but don't ever darken our door again..." My well-laid plans had completely blown up in my face. Now what do I do? One week later, Disney sent me ANOTHER note which said, "Maybe you actually meant to send this portfolio to Cal Arts, the art school." I had never even heard of Cal Arts, but I wrote to the school and asked what was going on... They wrote back, and I thought that if I am interested in animation, this might be worth exploring; but I'm only going there two years, no longer, since I already had an undergraduate's degree, and swore I would not become a 'professional student.'
Q: So you had no art training before you went to Cal Arts?
JOHN MUSKER: I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for a summer once, and I did continue drawing on my own. Cartoons for the school paper, that sort of thing. When I went to Northwestern, I did take one figure-drawing class.
Q: Do you think that your degree in English has helped you when writing screenplays?
JOHN MUSKER: I think I'm a better speller because of it. I do think that having a broad-based liberal-arts background has helped me. Even though Ron didn't go to college, he's pretty well-read, and that's helped him. He has a natural inclination towards 'story'.
Q: You seem to personify 'opposite' ways of getting into animation: Ron, the more traditional way where you learn on the job. and John as one of the first people specifically trained to work in the field.
JOHN MUSKER: One of the differences is, that even though we're the same age, Ron started at Disney about three years or so before I did. There was no Character Animation program at that time.
RON CLEMENTS: At about that time, the Studio got a lot of people from Art Center (for the trainee program.) Even though I had only taken a couple of evening classes there, the words "Art Center" were sort of a cods word. They wanted to see my portfolio. At that time the trainee program at Disney's was only about three or tour years old. There were five or six people there ahead of me. They'd only bring in a couple of people per year. They were looking for people who were, so to speak, "untainted". It you'd worked in the industry in other studios, that was kind of a strike against you; they, wanted to train you from scratch and they felt that if you learned a different sort of process, they would have to "untrain" you. It was good that I came in fresh from Iowa.
JOHN MUSKER: In between my first and second years at Cal Arts, I spent a summer (in the Disney trainee program) working with Eric Larson. He was really a terrific teacher. I think that animation is best learned at the right hand of someone who animates. Spending that six weeks with Eric helped me when I went back into the trainee program full time--l got to work with him again. He and Cliff Nordberg, the veteran Disney animator who was particularly adept at broad comedy and a very gracious teacher, were my mentors.
Q: How did you two happen to team up--was it chemistry, or were you assigned to work with each other?
JOHN MUSKER: I think it was physics. We knew each other before we worked together.
RON CLEMENTS: We both were animators on The Fox And The Hound.
JOHN MUSKER: It was mainly on The Black Cauldron that we worked together. I was appointed to work on that picture I did story work along with Ron.
RON CLEMENTS: I had been an animator for about five years I worked with Frank Thomas and became a character animator on The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon. I was a supervising animator on The Fox And The Hound, but started to become more interested in story. I'd always been interested in writing--even on the other films , I was writing down (ideas) and sending them to Frank Thomas and Woolie Reitherman (the director.) It was very hard to get into story., especially if you were an animator at that time. I think they valued animators more than they did story people. I'd expressed interest in getting into story early on in Fox And The Hound, but spent a few more years in animation until they agreed to let me try out in Story., for Black Cauldron. There was a slight factionalism in terms of the ideas on how the movie should go between the directors (Art Stevens, Ted Berman, and Rich Rich), and the story group (Pete Young, Doug Lefler, Steve Hulett, John and 1.) John and I had a somewhat similar viewpoint that wasn't shared by everyone on the film.
JOHN MUSKER: Management knew that a tot of people were unhappy. Don Bluth had left the studio back in '79, and though this was after that, there were still some problems because of the(differing) attitudes of animators and directors. They said, "We should get an alternate project going to keep these malcontents from Black Cauldron happy--a smaller unit." Ron had suggested Basil of Baker Street as a possible property. They liked it, so they started up a unit working on that. I was then taken off Cauldron and put to work on it.
RON CLEMENTS: The Black Cauldron was in production for a very long period of time-- animation took nearly four years--and Basil was kind of puttering around during most of that time. There wasn't a lot of pressure on it while Cauldron was in production; there were only a few people on it. It was right around the time that we were gearing up for production that the Studio went through major upheavals. There was a takeover threat from Saul Steinberg, and the possibility that the whole Studio would be dismantled end sold off. Basil, which later became The Great Mouse Detective, was pretty far along story-wise when the new regime came in.
JOHN MUSKER: BASIL was the first picture that the new regime (Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Disney) had much to do with.
RON CLEMENTS: We were thinking that The Great Mouse Detective would take around two years to animate. They told us we had to do it in ONE year. We were about it a third of the budget of The Black Cauldron
Suddenly there was this intense pressure, after this long gestation period. "You've gotta make it fast." That was also the point at which we moved from the Burbank lot to a warehouse in Glendale, which was a little disconcerting for everybody. That was the beginning of a whole new phase for Disney.
Q: Could you tell me whether you break up assignments because one or the other of you specializes in a particular type of material, or whether it just happens by serendipity?
JOHN MUSKER: We came from a system where they had sequence directors. We like that system--some of the other directorial teams at Disney's don't do that-they somehow both direct the entire film. We do actually divide the film up into sequences-we did that on all the films we've been involved with. Once Aladdin's script had been written and it had been broken down into sequences, we each went off on our own with our own list, and in a 'secret ballot' said who we thought should direct what.
Q: Do you vote for yourselves, or for each other?
JOHN MUSKER: We divide up the whole film. This is what I would be doing, this is what he would be doing..and in fact, it turned out fairly serendipitously because of the way in which the reels are constructed. The movie is on 10 reels. It would be easier if we were working in continuity, whereby I'd have a reel, and Ron'd have a reel. That's the way it worked out, roughly: --I did the odd numbers, he did the even.
RON CLEMENTS: We didn't get into huge arguments about it. There were some things we negotiated on--in particular, dividing up the songs.
JOHN MUSKER: We both like doing the song sequences, so we divided them in half. Sometimes we both wanted to do the same song, so we'd say "Okay, I'll give you that one but I want that one." At one point I said, "I'm not doing much with the villain, I'd like to do more with him", and we'd rearrange the assignments for something like that. I tended to do a few more of the action sequences: and I'd say, Ron (because he's so genuinely sentimental and warmhearted), has done the 'sincere' sequences. As I've said before, "If you want sincerity, get Ron. If you want insincerity, you get me!.
Q: But you would obviously have to touch base with one another to keep the characters consistent.
JOHN MUSKER: We've co-written the script and gone back and forth quite a bit on that as a team. We've gone through all the developmental steps for the movie, in terms of character design, voice casting, and storyboards, working at all these together. Also, we attended layout meetings together, where the actual staging and cutting was resolved.
Q: And you do have supervising animators keeping characters on model.
JOHN MUSKER: That's really the supervising animator's responsibility, and they work with both of us.
RON CLEMENTS: We usually work together on the entire pre-production process. It isn't until we get into animation that we start splitting things up. When you're into animation, it's pretty hectic and pretty busy.
Q: Do you have any problem pacing the film while using this system?
JOHN MUSKER: In theory, if you've orchestrated the script and the boards, you're thinking from sequence to sequence--this one should be slower, this one faster. The other director can help troubleshoot, give a slightly more objective viewpoint, if some element has gotten off the track, could be clarified, made funnier, et cetera.
RON CLEMENTS: One good thing about this process is that you've always got the other person, with a fresh eye. Certainly, when we divide up the sequences, you'd tend to focus on your own more than the other person's, but then you'd show it to the other person to get their viewpoint. You've gotten too close to it. You can step back a bit and get a fresh opinion.
Q: Regarding the casting of voices--You had a brilliant performance from Robin Williams as the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, and Eric Goldberg as the animator. I had heard that there were other interpretations of the character suggested. Did you actually write that part for Robin Williams, and would you have had to rewrite it if you had not gotten him to do the voice?
JOHN MUSKER: We would have had to rewrite. We did write that part for Robin Williams, not knowing whether he would do the voice or not. In fact, we were in the middle of the first draft when we heard that he was going to record a voice for Ferngully. We thought he wouldn't want to do two voices in relative proximity to each other. So we were concerned about that. But ultimately we got a set of tapes while Ferngully was in production, and we thought it wasn't quite the same approach. We thought we could still use Robin. At one point early on, even though we'd already recorded with Robin, there was some sort of contractual problem which might have meant we might not have Robin at all. We were asked by management to draw up a list of alternate choices for the Genie. We did so reluctantly. We came up with a list of six or eight other people, all of them very talented comedians and actors, but it wasn't quite the same. Having worked with Robin, we saw how liberating his approach was. We were very relieved when they resolved the contractual problems and Robin was back 'on' again.
RON CLEMENTS: It's a dangerous situation to get into, basing a whole conception of character around a voice talent. You don't want to do this often, but there was something extremely unique about Robin that was tailor-made for what we wanted to do in this movie. We never could picture it working with any other actor.
Q: I'd like to ask you about the incorporation of the Hirschfeld designs into ALADDIN. Is this something that might be used in future films--using the work of designers from outside the Studio, rather than doing everything in-house?
JOHN MUSKER:I think so, based on the success of this film. The push for Hirschfeid came from Eric Goldberg. When we hired Eric we wanted him to work on the Genie, which he also wanted to work on (which was good.) Some of his early designs looked quite a bit like Robin--sort of skinny, human-proportioned guy. We felt we didn't want it to look so much like Robin. We wanted sort of a barrel-cheated Genie, so he went back to his drawing board and did some new designs. He still kept some sort of underlay of Robin-ism in the features. Eric pushed for the Hirschfeldian approach because he likes that drawing style, and felt it complimented the production design. In particular, he felt that the Genie, who was this wisp of smoke, would be complementary to the arabesques and curvilinear calligraphic shapes of the backgrounds. We liked it, but were a little tentative at first.
RON CLEMENTS: Bill Perkins was the art director. Richard VanderWende was production designer. Richard had set a style in the backgrounds that also had some curvy; influence s from Persian miniatures and Arabian calligraphies. What Eric was doing seemed to tie in with what Richard was doing. We weren't sure at first how far to go with the style--we wanted to make sure that the Genie had a solid dimensional fell to him and that everything didn't get too flat. Eric quickly demonstrated how well that worked with the Genie, and the next step was to see how far to carry that with the other characters. There's some of that aspect in all of them, though generally the more realistic the character, the less there is of the Hirschfeld influence.
Q: Do you consider the computer an aid in making the films, or an expensive gimmick?
JOHN MUSKER We consider them an expensive sec..
Q: I noticed you tend to integrate the computer animation into the film better than some other productions have done.
JOHN MUSKER: I think it's a really wonderful tool. You're able to do things that you couldn't do any other way. The best way to use them is to expand the boundaries of what's possible, while still trying to integrate the system into the film. You want to make it work so it doesn't look like it was generated on a computer. True students of the medium can tell at once when we go into computer land, but you hope to disguise it as much as possible, particularly for the layman. In Aladdin, rather than lighting the animation in the computer, there was an attempt to integrate the painted texture maps that were drawn by the background painters for the other backgrounds in the film, so it wouldn't seem as apparent when we went from one world to another. With the Magic Carpet, we thought we had an ideal opportunity to do texture-mapping (by Tine Price) on a conventionally-animated character (by Randy Cartwright.) There's this hyped-up rendering on what is essentially traditional character animation.
RON CLEMENTS: We had a few reservations about computers to begin with, but we have become more and more impressed with the technology. It's still in its infancy; it's one aspect of the medium that is still relatively untapped. It seems that in each new film you can do things that you couldn't do before.
Q: You had made the first film in which the characters worked Id with computer animation -THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE.
JOHN MUSKER: We had to sell it to management at that time, since it was so time consuming. We COULD have done it traditionally, although it wouldn't have looked as good. That particular sequence (a chase on the cogs of Big Ben) lent itself to it because there were so many geometric shapes. Mike Peraza, Phil Nibbelink, and Tad Gielow (layout man, animator and computer animator) really pushed to make it work.
RON CLEMENTS: It was perfect for clockwork. Mermaid was tougher, though we did use computer animation for some of the ships, and even for some schools of fish.
Q: Do you have any comments on how animation has developed in the past 20 years, and where it is going?
JOHN MUSKER: The Baby Boom generation, of which we are a part, grew up watching animation on TV. They don't seem to have a stigma about animation. Now they have their own children, with whom they enjoy seeing well crafted animation. Also, the huge success of Disney animation on video tape (because of both the video and baby booms has expanded the audience for quality animation.
RON CLEMENTS: When we started at Disney, we were really, really con
scious of a stigma towards Disney animation. It was considered to be something
that appealed to parents and their children, and that was pretty much it.
An adult wouldn't consider going to one of these films without a kid. Teenagers,
college students--you could forget about them completely. We've never thought
that we were making them specifically for just one audience. We really
wanted to break that stigma, so that these films would be thought of as
something for everybody. It seems like that's happened, and that is very
gratifying,to know that the audience for animated film has expanded.
ROBIN WILLIAMS' TENSE RELATIONSHIP WITH DISNEY
The article below, "Be Careful
What You Wish For", was published in April 2000 by Jim
Spring 1991: Robin Williams was suited up in green tights and hanging from a wire when he got the call.
It was then Disney Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg on the line. Realizing that Robin is busy filming Steven Spielberg's big budget Peter Pan update, Jeffrey apologized for the intrusion. But the Mouse had a real problem with an animated film they then had in the works. So Katzenberg was wondering if Williams -- who was well known in the industry as a big-time toon buff -- might drop by Burbank and offer his opinion of the project.
Given that "Hook" was already running weeks behind schedule, Robin should have said "No." But Williams had a soft spot when it came to the Mouse.
After all, Robin pretty much owed his film career in the 1990s to Disney. After starring in a string of cinematic stinkers like "Club Paradise" and "The Survivors," Williams virtually couldn't get arrested in Hollywood by the mid 1980s. Then there was the very public collapse of his first marriage as well as rumors of drug and alcohol addiction. Things were looking pretty bleak for the comic back then
But -- in 1987 -- Disney decided to take a chance on Robin. Figuring that the failures of his earlier films were due mainly to a poor marriage of performer and material, Disney sought to create a movie that would be a showcase for William's gift for comic improvisation.
Katzenberg & Co. spent weeks looking for just the right piece of material for Robin. Finally -- when Disney learned that Paramount Pictures had just put into turnaround a script about an Armed Forces Network disc jockey and his adventures during the early days of the Vietnam War -- Jeffrey knew that they had found the perfect vehicle for Williams. So the studio quickly snatched up the rights to "Good Morning, Vietnam."
Williams -- who was grateful for any opportunity to work at this point in his career -- jumped at the chance to appear in this film. He even agreed to Disney's less-than-generous financial terms, getting half of his usual $2 million paycheck to portray DJ Adrian Cronauer.
In the end, Disney's gamble on Williams paid off handsomely. "Good Morning, Vietnam" proved to be a huge hit at the box office in the Winter of 1988. Both critics and audiences loved Robin's performance. The role even earned him his first ever Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Disney decided to build on Williams' success in "Good Morning, Vietnam" by starring the comic in another film for the studio, 1989's "The Dead Poets Society." Directed by noted Australian film-maker Peter Weir, this coming-of-age drama was also proved to be a huge hit with the movie-going public. Williams' performance as devoted teacher John Keating earned Robin his second Oscar nomination as well as established him as a gifted dramatic actor.
Thanks to these two films, Robin Williams' movie-making career came roaring back to life. All because Jeffrey Katzenberg had decided to take a chance on a semi-washed up comedian.
Which is why Robin Williams thought he would be forever grateful to the Mouse...
Or so he thought.
Anyhow, due to this sense of personal and professional obligation, Robin agreed to drop by Disney Studios on his very next day off from "Hook." Less than a week later, Williams found himself in a meeting with Katzenberg as well as Disney animators John Musker, Ron Clements and Eric Goldberg.
Jeffrey thanked Robin for dropping by, then explained Disney's dilemma: Feature Animation had just had one of its latest projects, a new musical version of "Aladdin," spin into the dirt. The film's screenwriter and lyricist Howard Ashman had tragically died from AIDS a month or so earlier. The "Aladdin" script Ashman had left behind had a lot of interesting things in it. But -- structurally and story-wise -- it was a mess.
Katzenberg then explained to Williams that the studio was thinking of junking Ashman's screenplay. They'd hang on to most of Howard's wonderful lyrics. But -- beyond that -- Disney was thinking of taking this animated musical in a whole new direction.
That said, Jeffrey directed Robin's attention to a nearby TV monitor. There on the screen was an animated Robin Williams -- doing a routine from his 1979 "Reality ... What a Concept" album. The cartoon Williams announced that "Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about schizophrenia." The toony Robin then grew a second head, which quickly told the first head to "Shut up! No he doesn't!"
Williams was thoroughly charmed by the footage. Animator Goldberg -- who had personally put together the test animation -- had done a masterful job of transforming Robin's comic genius into toon form. Turning back to Jeffrey, Williams then asked what it was that the Mouse wanted him to do now.
Katzenberg laid it on the line: We'd like you to join the cast of "Aladdin" as the voice of the Genie.
Williams hesitated for a moment. After all, the coming year was going to be one of his busiest ever, professionally. Once Robin finished playing Peter Pan in "Hook," he'd leap right into work on "Toys." This whimsical military satire set behind-the-scenes at a toy factory was a project that Williams was really looking forward to -- for it would re-unite him with his "Good Morning, Vietnam" director, Barry Levinson. Between all the work he'd have to do to complete these two special effects-laden films, there just didn't seem to be enough time to squeeze in an animated film for Disney.
But Jeffrey persisted. "Think of your son, Zachary," Katzenberg said, "Or your daughter, Zelda. Wouldn't they love to see their dad starring in a Disney animated film?"
That was the argument that finally won Williams over to doing "Aladdin." Since so many of his earlier films had been rated R or PG, Robin's children had yet to really see their daddy perform on the big screen. But here now was a movie that Williams could proudly take his kids to see on its opening day.
That was enough to win Robin over to the idea of doing the voice of the genie. However, this is not to say that Williams didn't have a few conditions he wanted Disney to agree to before formally signing up to work on "Aladdin." Chief among these was Robin's insistence that Disney Studio could not use his name or image in any theatrical posters, print ads, movie trailers or TV commercials to promote "Aladdin.
What was the deal here? Was Robin pulling some sort of silly star trip on the Mouse?
No, not at all. It was just that Williams' next live action film, "Toys," and the animated "Aladdin" were due to be released within weeks of one another. "Aladdin" would roll into theaters over the 1992 Thanksgiving weekend, while "Toys" would be released in December.
Robin had agreed to do "Toys" first, so Williams felt that his primary loyalties had to lie with Levinson and his movie. Disney was free to promote "Aladdin" any way that they saw fit. Just so long as they didn't create the impression that their animated film starred Robin Williams.
After all, the Genie was just a supporting role in "Aladdin." So Robin asked that all ads for Disney's film reflect that reality, and not give the false impression that the animated film somehow starred Williams' character.
Jeffrey smiled and assured Robin that Disney Studios would be happy to meet his conditions. However, the Mouse also had a few conditions of its own.
As much as Disney wanted Williams to play the voice of the Genie, the studio just wasn't willing to pick up Robin's now standard $8 million-per-picture paycheck. Since Disney would only be using Williams' voice -- which the Mouse could record in just a few quick studio sessions -- in the movie, would Robin be willing to work for a significantly smaller fee?
Like -- say, maybe -- scale? Screen Actor Guild minimum. $485 a day.
Williams' agent -- the then all-powerful head of Creative Artist Associates (CAA) Michael Ovitz -- thought the deal Disney was offering Robin was absurd. If the Mouse wasn't willing to pay for Williams' services up front, Ovitz insisted that the very least they could do was offer Robin a piece of the movie's back end.
Williams told Ovitz to butt out. After all, he wasn't making "Aladdin" to make money. Robin was making this movie so that Zachary and Zelda could see their daddy in a Disney movie.
"Besides," Williams continued, "This is animated. How much money could the movie make, anyway?"
From our position -- here in 2000, where a "Lion King" can earn a billion dollars at the box office plus a billion more off of toys, games, videos, etc. -- Williams' statement seems awfully naive. But please remember that Robin was talking to Ovitz back in the Spring of 1991. Disney's latest animated film, 1990's "The Rescuers Down Under," had just under-performed at the box office. And while it was true that 1988's "The Little Mermaid" had earned $80 million domestically, that film's performance seemed more like a fluke than the start of a trend.
Williams had no idea that Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" was lying out there in the bushes, getting ready to change forever the way people viewed animation. When that film hit theaters in November 1991, it racked up great reviews and huge box office numbers. By the spring of 1992, that movie would gross over $140 million as well as earn the first ever "Best Picture" nomination for a feature length animated film.
$140 million seemed like an extraordinary amount for an animated film to make. But "Aladdin" -- with its $217 million gross -- did better than "Beauty and the Beast." And 1994's "The Lion King" -- with its $350 million -- did even better than that.
But Williams had no idea that any of this was going to happen. He had no clue that animation was about to become really big money for the film industry. Robin just wanted to make a movie that he could take his kids to see.
But -- more importantly -- Williams wanted to pay Katzenberg & Co. back for all the kindness Disney had showed him in the mid-1980s. If the Mouse hadn't taken a chance on him and "Good Morning, Vietnam," Robin's film career might still be on the skids. So, if the Walt Disney Company wanted to keep costs down on "Aladdin" by only paying him scale for his recording sessions, that was okay by Robin.
So Williams agreed to Katzenberg's proposal -- working for scale -- provided, of course, that the studio honored Robin's request to keep his names out of all the "Aladdin" ads.
Robin kept his end of the bargain. Over the next 18 months, while working on "Hook" and "Toys," Williams would slip away for a day or two every month for recording sessions on "Aladdin." At each of these session, he'd start off with just straight readings of the scenes he was given from Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot's screenplay. But -- once those sequences were recorded -- Robin would begin to ad-lib additional dialogue for each of these scenes.
Musker and Clements loved the material Williams was inventing for the Genie. So much so that they began reworking "Aladdin" so that the Genie went from a minor supporting role in the film to a part that was almost as big as the title character's.
This is where things started to get difficult for Katzenberg. All the test screenings Disney Studio held for their still-in-production animated film showed that "Aladdin" was going to be a huge hit. Maybe even bigger than "Beauty and the Beast."
But -- when they polled the audience after each test screening as to who their favorite character in the film was -- Disney found that the audience just loved the Genie. The very character that Jeffrey had promised Williams that the studio would do nothing to promote.
Now here was Katzenberg's dilemma: How could he honor his agreement with Williams and not mention his name in any of the film's ad, yet still somehow clue people in to the comic's incredible vocal performance in the movie?
A last minute re-negotiation of Disney's deal with Williams made Katzenberg's job somewhat easier. Jeffrey convinced Robin that -- since the Genie was featured prominently in 25% of "Aladdin"'s running length -- the character should be featured in 25% of every movie trailer, print ad, TV commercial and lobby poster for the film. After getting Katzenberg's assurance that all this revamped advertising would not give the audience the false impression that Williams' character was the star of the movie, Robin okayed the change.
But -- as soon as Williams got his first glance of the original theatrical poster for "Aladdin" -- he immediately regretted changing the terms of his deal with Katzenberg. Sure, the Genie was only featured on 25% of the poster. But his big blue face was the largest image on the thing. His smiling mug towered over the film's title, while infinitely smaller images of Aladdin and Jasmine riding their magic carpet appeared toward the bottom of the poster. While Williams' name was nowhere to be found on the poster, it was clear to Robin that Disney was trying to get across the message that his character was the biggest thing in "Aladdin."
Williams complained loudly to Katzenberg's office about the imagery used in the "Aladdin" movie theater poster. Jeffrey apologized, but pointed out that he had honored the exact conditions of their deal. Robin's name WAS nowhere to be seen on the poster. More importantly, the Genie's image did only took up 25% of the surface space of the poster. Katzenberg had honored the language of their agreement, even if the poster's imagery totally violated the spirit of their deal.
Fearing that featuring his character so prominently in the movie's posters and ads would sink "Toys" chances at the box office, Williams asked that all the original "Aladdin" advertising material be recalled and new posters be issued. Katzenberg again said he was sorry, but there was no way that was going to happen. Disney had already spent millions launching "Aladdin." Any changes in advertising imagery would just have to wait till the film's secondary release, when the studio would create new ads and posters ... maybe.
Robin was furious at the way he felt Jeffrey had mislead him in regard to the way Disney was advertising "Aladdin." And this would not be the last time Williams and Katzenberg would clash over the way the studio chose to hype the the film.
Just after "Aladdin" opened, Williams was driving through downtown Los Angeles and was shocked to see that many of the city's bus shelters featured huge blue posters of the Genie. No other characters from "Aladdin" were featured in these enormous public advertisements. Just the Genie.
When Williams called Katzenberg to complain about the bus shelter posters, Jeffrey apologized profusely. "Obviously, there must have been some sort of mix-up," the then-Disney Studio head said. "I'll have them removed immediately."
So all 300 of the LA area "Aladdin" bus shelter posters were recalled and destroyed. It was only later that Williams learned that thousands of these huge blue Genie posters had been created and had been installed in bus shelters all over the country, where they remained up for the entire time "Aladdin" was in theaters. Only the big blue Genie bus shelter posters that were in areas where Williams was likely to see them had been removed.
This was typical of Katzenberg's abuse of his "Aladdin" advertising agreement with Williams. Time and again, Jeffrey would pay lip service to Robin -- saying that he was doing everything he could to make sure that Disney's marketing department honored their deal concerning all aspects of the advertising on "Aladdin." But, once that phone call was over, Katzenberg would then turn around and tell the studio's marketing guys that they could do whatever they wanted to help promote the film.
Just as Williams had feared, the Thanksgiving release of "Aladdin" totally over-shadowed the December release of "Toys." Sure, this Barry Levinson film's chances for success at the box office were hobbled by the vicious reviews this limp comedy received. But -- had it been the only Robin Williams film in the marketplace that holiday season -- "Toys" might have still done some business.
Unfortunately, for Christmas 1992, movie-goers had two Robin Williams films to chose from. 99.999% of the holiday audience opted to go see "Aladdin." So "Toys" sank like a stone, barely taking in $23 million (which was less than half of the film's production costs).
As "Toys" sank and "Aladdin" soared, Williams just didn't know what to think. On one hand, Robin was thrilled at "Aladdin"'s amazing success. Week after week, it was number 1 at the box office. On the other hand, Robin felt incredibly guilty, thinking that Disney's relentless advertising of "Aladdin" had snuffed out "Toys" (a film his friend Levinson had labored for 15 years to get made) only chances of ever finding an audience.
Then there was the performer's ambivalence toward all the praise Williams was receiving for his work in "Aladdin." Time and again, people would come up to Robin and tell him his performance in the animated film was his best thing he'd ever done. Initially, Williams enjoyed these compliments -- until he realized that people were saying that his very best work was in a cartoon, a medium that only made use of an actor's voice, not his face. This is the sort of thing that can really start to bug a guy who studied at Juilliard.
Williams' ambivalence toward "Aladdin" became public knowledge in February 1993, when he received a certificate of special achievement for his work in the film at the Golden Globes. As he went up on the stage, the clearly uncomfortable Robin didn't know what to say about this alleged honor. He jokingly asked the celebrities and foreign film critics assembled for the ceremony, "Is this like a coupon I can turn in to get a real award?"
Oddly enough, it was Disney's attempt to capitalize on Williams' win at the Golden Globes that proved to be the final breaking point between the Mouse and Mork. Katzenberg okayed a brand new series of print and TV ads for "Aladdin." Each of these clearly mentioned Williams' name, prominently playing up the award the Foreign Film Critics Association had honored the comic with.
As the then-head of Disney Studio, Jeffrey thought that he was just doing his job by okaying these ads. After all, the Golden Globes are considered by many in the film industry as a prelude to the Academy Awards. If Williams' work as the Genie in "Aladdin" had been honored by the Foreign Film Critics Association, maybe the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences could also see their way clear to honoring Robin. Maybe they could even give him a special Oscar for the best vocal performance in an animated film. Hey, stranger things have happened.
However, when Williams saw these new ads, he finally blew his top. This was the last straw as far as the comic was concerned. Robin had deliberately asked Katzenberg to keep his name out of any "Aladdin" advertising. Now here was his name prominently displayed in ads throughout the trades as part of Disney's Oscar campaign for the film.
Robin phoned Katzenberg and told the studio chief that he had repeatedly broken his word to the performer. As a result, Williams felt that he could no longer trust any executives associated with the Mouse Works. Robin then vowed that he would never again make another film for Walt Disney Studios.
Jeffrey -- who was in the middle of orchestrating a million dollar ad campaign that would hopefully help "Aladdin" win a few Oscars -- was horrified by what he called "Mork's melt-down." Sure, maybe Katzenberg had gone back on his word a few times concerning the film's advertising. But couldn't Robin see that Jeffrey had only done this because he had the movie's best interests at heart? With a domestic gross of $217 million, "Aladdin" was then the highest grossing picture in the history of Walt Disney Studios. Wasn't Williams thrilled to just to be a part of that enormous success?
Williams was not. In fact, Williams was beginning to feel like a really big schmuck for having agreed to work for scale on "Aladdin." In addition, many of Robin's friends in the industry began bad-mouthing the Mouse for not belatedly cutting Williams in on a chunk of the animated film's enormous success. A very popular joke in Hollywood at the time went something like this:
Q: Why won't the Mouse write Robin Williams a check for his work in "Aladdin"?
A: You try holding a pen with only four fingers.
Katzenberg tried to make amends with Williams by sending him a Picasso. Jeffrey made sure that word got out that Disney had spent over $5 million to purchase this belated "Thank You" gift for Robin. Imagine Katzenberg's embarrassment when it later became common knowledge among industry insiders that the studio had picked up the painting at an estate sale for less than $750,000.
In spite of the lavish gift, Robin still refused to have anything to do with the Mouse. For years, he wouldn't look at the scripts the studio sent him. He returned all invitations to the company's premieres and/or theme park events. Things looked pretty hopeless...
Until Joe Roth replaced Jeffrey Katzenberg as the head of Disney Studios.
Just like he used to have for Katzenberg & Co, Williams had a soft spot in his heart for Joe Roth. Why for? Because -- before going over to Disney in early 1992 to start up Caravan Pictures -- Roth had been in charge of film production at 20th Century Fox. One of Joe's last official acts as head of that studio was greenlighting production of Williams' Christmas 1992 hit, "Mrs. Doubtfire."
Why would this make Williams feel grateful toward Roth? Because "Mrs. Doubtfire" was the first film produced by Marcia Garces Williams -- Robin's wife. Marcia had long been the butt of many cruel jokes in Hollywood, given the unusual way her relationship with Robin began. (Garces had originally been hired by Robin's first wife, Valerie, to act as a nanny to their son, Zachary. Williams and Garces had an affair that eventually led to the end of Robin's marriage to Valerie. Garces then became Williams' personal assistant before finally marrying the comic in 1989.) But "Mrs. Doubtfire" finally dispelled all those rumors about Marcia being Yoko to Robin's John Lennon.
That film's big box office gave Marcia huge credibility in Hollywood. All the cruel jokes ended -- all because Joe Roth had greenlighted production of "Mrs. Doubtfire."
Once Joe Roth took over production at Disney Studios, he learned that Francis Ford Coppola was readying a film, "Jack," that would be perfect for Robin Williams to star in. So Joe had the script messengered to Williams' home in Sonoma Valley.
Williams quickly returned the script, along with a note that explained that -- while he would love to do a film with Coppola -- he was no longer willing to work for the Mouse.
Joe then personally called Robin and asked why he didn't want to work for Disney anymore. Williams went into a long involved explanation of how he felt he had been betrayed by Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Roth then pointed out that Katzenberg no longer worked for the Walt Disney Company. Robin went on to say that -- since many of the people who had helped Jeffrey pull a fast one on the comic were still working for the Mouse -- even with Katzenberg gone, Williams just didn't feel comfortable coming back to for Disney.
But Joe wouldn't give up. "What if the company publicly apologized to you?" he asked Robin.
Williams hadn't expected something like that. And he was floored when Joe Roth then held a press conference in 1986, where the then-studio chief explained to the media how the Walt Disney Company had wronged Robin Williams. Roth then went on to offer a public apology for all wrongs previous company executives had committed against the comic.
Roth followed up on this press conference by taking out full page ads in many of the industry's trade papers, explaining that the Walt Disney Company was sorry that it hadn't honored its agreement with Robin Williams.
Robin was flabbergasted that Joe would go to all this trouble to try and right Katzenberg's wrongs. He gladly accepted Roth's apology as well as his invitation to come work at Disney on Francis Ford Coppola's "Jack."
In fact, Williams was so thrilled at Joe's efforts on his behalf that he even agreed to once again provide the voice for the Genie in a direct-to-video sequel to the original "Aladdin" movie, 1996's "Aladdin and the King of Thieves."
In turn, Disney was so thrilled to have Robin back as the Genie that they threw out all the recordings Dan Castellaneta (the Genie's voice for the "Aladdin" TV show as well as the film's first direct-to-video sequel, 1994's "The Return of Jafar") had already made as well as the third of the film that had already been animated.
With Williams once again on board, the animators started from scratch. All the extra effort proved to be worthwhile. Immediately upon release, "Aladdin and the King of Thieves" became the number 1 best selling video in the country.
Will Disney's renewed relationship with Robin Williams last? So far, things still seem to be on track. Williams actually made two films for the Disney Company in 1997: a remake of Fred McMurray's "Absent Minded Professor" comedy called "Flubber" that was Walt Disney Pictures' big Thanksgiving weekend release for that year; as well as "Good Will Hunting," a drama produced by the company's art house subsidy, Miramax Pictures. Williams' performance as the depressed therapist in that film actually earned him a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar at the 1998 Academy Awards.
But there could be storm clouds on the horizon. Williams is said to be upset at how Disney handled his last film for the company, 1999's "Bicentennial Man." First the studio announced the project with much fanfare -- heralding it as the long awaited re-union between Robin and his "Mrs. Doubtfire" director, Chris ("Home Alone") Columbus. Then, well after pre-production is underway, the Mouse abruptly canceled the movie, saying that the film's projected production budget was too high.
Embarrassed by Disney's behavior but still anxious to make the movie, Williams and Columbus shaved $20 million or so off the film's production budget. With these cuts in place, Disney then agreed to put "Bicentennial Man" back into production. The film was finally released Christmas Day 1999 and quickly flopped.
Williams reportedly is upset with the way Disney opted to advertise the film as well as the financial restrictions the Mouse placed on Robin and Columbus while making the movie. The comic feels that the $20 million worth of scenes he and Chris cut out of the script to get the film greenlighted again may have destroyed the "Bicentennial Man"'s chances of ever winning over an audience.
Equally troubling to Williams was Joe Roth's decision earlier this year to step down as head of Disney Studios. Who's running the show at the Mouse Works now? One of Jeffrey Katzenberg's former lieutenants from Disney Feature Animation, Peter Schneider.
Taking this into account, it may be a very long time before Robin Williams ever again makes a movie for the Walt Disney Company.
Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.