Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Toys! The TOYS!!

Also, too: the Beatles!

1) Toy Story 4 -- 4,575 -- $58M (-54%) -- $234.5M

2) Annabelle 3 -- 3,613 -- $20M -- $30.3M (1st weekend)

3) Yesterday -- 2,603 -- $17M -- $16.4M (1st weekend)

4) Aladdin -- 3,235 (-600) -- $9.2M (-30%) -- $305.7M

5) Secret Life of Pets 2 -- 3,353 (-451) -- $6.6M (-36%) -- $130.7M

6) Men In Black 4 -- 3,663 (-561) -- $6.3M (-41%) -- $64.8M

7) Avengers: Endgame Dis -- 2,025 (+1,040) -- $5.9M (+200%) -- $841.7M

8) Child’s Play -- 3,007 -- $4.2M (-70%) -- $23.3M

9) Rocketman -- 2,003 (-411) -- $3.4M (-38%) -- $83.8M

10) John Wick 3 -- 1,550 (-57) -- $2.9M (-28%) -- $161M

Toy Story 4 has now vacumed in $500M worldwide as Aladdin has reached the $874.2M plateau. Horror flick Anabelle entered the box office derby with fair numbers (it's a horror pic, after all), and Yesterday did allright for Universal. The latest iteration of Spiderman is the next super hero movie to launch, and everything else will ratchet down a notch or two next weekend.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Strip-Mining The Library (Part XXVII)

Aladdin (the live-action version) is out and making nice coin, and The Lion King (the new animated remake of the old animated original) is waiting patiently in the wings. So this isn't particularly a shocker:

Melissa McCarthy is in early talks to play the villain Ursula in its live-action/CGI adaptation of The Little Mermaid, Deadline has confirmed. No deal has been done, but it would be the latest piece in place for the project, part of Disney’s reboots of its animated classics ...

Rob Marshall, who helmed Disney’s sequel Mary Poppins Returns last year, is directing Little Mermaid, which will feature Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs from the original 1989 animated feature (“Under the Sea” won the Oscar) and new tunes from Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. ...

People who complain, "Disney shouldn't be remaking its classic animated features! It just isn't DISNEY anymore!" ...

Well, yeah. Walt died fifty-three years ago, and under the leadership of Robert Iger, the company has turned into a sprawling, Berkshire-Hathaway style entertainment conglomerates, with theme parks and copious real estate, with movie studios and cartoon studios and (very soon) big fat streaming services.

So anyone who doesn't think Disney is the Disney of old, they're right. It's now a colossus who's main occupation is the minting of money. And to that end, the animated library has proven to be a veritable gold mine. and sure. There's the occasional misfire. But does anybody think The Mouse will give up on rehashing its long-form cartoons when the redoes have been so very, very profitable?

Not freaking likely.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Wolfgang Reitherman, Disney animator, director, producer, and head of Feature Animation from the middle 1960s to the tail end of the 1970s, has his 110th birthday today.

Mr. Reitherman began his career at the Disney studios in 1933, departed for military service during World War II, then returned -- after a stretch as an airline pilot -- in the second half of the 1940s. Said Ward Kimball:

Woolie was a good animator, but I think he suffered from a little inferiority complex. He didn't think he was a good artist, even though he was. Basically I think underneath, he compared himself to Fred oore or some of the others, which made him work harder.

But yet, because of this extra drive Woolie had, it reminds me of Pete Rose, the drive Pete had playing baseball. The guy, who is probably older than the others, but he's a student and wants to be better and consequently he is. Woolie's stuff in "The Rite Of Spring" in "Fantasia" has a great monumental weight to it, because Woolie in his own way just kept after it.

Woolie was tenacious. He didn't have the quick facility or facile way of working as Fred Moore had, or the flamboyant, spontaneous timing of Norm Ferguson. And he had to work harder, but he ended up with good stuff. He did good stuff on Jiminy Cricket, for instance. The cricket jumping along pointing to the words of the Blue Fairy's letter with his can, that's Woolie.

And of course, "How To Ride A Horse" [the Goofy short from '41] is one of the funniest shorts. Woolie was the Goof man after features he worked on. ... He was always stuck with the chase stuff because most people hated to do that, but Woolie got a big kick out of doing fast action and wild-out stuff, and he did it well....

After awhile, Wolfgang R. became known as the Disney "action specialist". When an inventive chase or fight or epic battle was needed, Woolie invariably got the assignment. He directed the climax to "Sleeping Beauty" which is pretty much nonstop action. ("We were trying to kill that damn prince," he said.)

Woolie began directing animated features in the 1950s, and ran the Disney animation department after Walt's death. He'd been a C.O. during World War II, and had a natural "gravitas". He was tireless in story sessions, tenacious when going over an animator's sequence at the movieola, always pushing to get the most out of a scene.

Wolfgang Reitherman retired from Walt Disney Productions in 1981 and died in a car accident in 1985, hale and robust to the end.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Million Dollar Contract

On this day in 1916, Canadian Gladys Smith (aka Mary Pickford), signs a contract with Adolph Zukor, head of Famous Players Film Corporation. Her deal is sweet: she gets $10,000 a week and half the film receipts, with a guarantee of $1,040,000 for 2 years work. She produces the films through her own company, "The Mary Pickford Film Corporation".

Of course, $500k a year doesn't sound like much NOW, but it was a potful in 1916. And Gladys/Mary went on to greater glory in the 1920s, marrying super-star Doug Fairbanks and founding United Artists, through which she released her movies from 1920 onwards.

That United Artists thing, that "form your own distribution company" strategy? It turned out to have implications for the course of the cartoon business. In the early 1930s, Walt Disney began distributing his shorts through United Artists, and Miss Pickford came within a whisker of partnering with Walt on the making of the first animated feature.

Mary was going to play Alice in Alice In Wonderland for the Disney studio. They shot some color live-action footage, but that's as far as the project got. Paramount Pictures (Adolph Zukor's new, LARGER movie company) beat Mary and Walt to the punch by making its own version of Alice, and Walt decided to move on to another feature project with a female lead.

And Miss Pickford stopped making movies, since talking pictures didn't really jazz her anyway. And as with a number of other screen icons from the silent era, her stardom faded, she divorced her movie star husband, and she ended her days as an elderly alcoholic recluse, holed up in an upstairs bedroom of her Beverly Hills estate.

But, man. NOBODY can take that $1,040,000 away from her.

Saturday, June 22, 2019


TS4 might be headed for a huge opening, but that doesn't mean it's not an underperformer! ... UnderPerformer! .... UNDERPERFORMER!!. (Just ask the entertainment press.)


1) Toy Story 4 -- 4,575 -- $123.7M -- $123.7M (1st weekend)

2) Child’s Play -- 3,007 -- $15.1M -- $15.1M (1st weekend)

3) Aladdin -- 3,435 (-121) -- $13.8M (-20%) -- $289.1M

4) Men In Black -- Sony -- 4,224 -- $10.9M (-64%) -- $52.8M

5) Secret Life of Pets 2 -- 3,804 (-760) -- $10.7M (-56%) -- $118M

6) Rocketman -- 2,414 (-607) -- $5.8M (-38%) -- $77.4M

7) John Wick 3 -- 1,607 (-426) -- $4.1M (-36%) -- $156M

8) Godzilla, King of the Big Lizards -- 2,368 (-839) -- $3.7M (-57%) -- $102.3M

9) Dark Phoenix -- 2,054 (-1,667) -- $3.6M (-61%) -- $60.1M

10) Anna -- 2,114 -- $3.46M -- $3.46M (1st weekend)

The big criticism on Toy Story 4? "You should have opened it on FATHER'S DAY WEEKEND!" ... at THANKSGIVING!" (etc.) So third best opening of an animated feature is a Fai.Lure. (It'll only end up with a quarter billion dollars globally after its first three days of release. I'll have to take an opiate to get to sleep tonight, I'm so upset.)

Meantime, The Secret Life of Pets 2 has collected $118m domestically and $185m worldwide. Does anybody see Chris Meledandri crying?

The movie that is holding up best, of course, is the live-action Aladdin. And the movie projected to rampage across the box office landscape in July is the animated remake of the animated Lion King. Diz Co. looks as though it will have a grand summer.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"Moving Day"

Professor (and animator, director, board artist, writer) Tom Sito points out one animated short that actually touches on economic hardships taking place during the time in which it was made:

[Moving Day is] a rare Disney cartoon addressing a real social problem during the Great Depression, that of banks foreclosing on people's mortgages and rents. ...

Moving Day was released on June 20th, 1936, using the talents of story writer/artist Otto Englander, director Ben Sharpsteen, and (among others) animators Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman, Art Babbitt, and Al Eugster.

(All the Moving Day staffers moved into features when Walt Disney started creating long-form cartoons. Eugster, originally an east coast animator and a "Duck specialist", soon moved on to the Fleischer studio in Miami; Art Babbitt left WDP after leading a successful strike to organize the animation department; the others remained at the studio for decades.)

This Donald-Mickey-Goofy short, beyond the storyline reflecting national realities, reflected the steady evolution of Disney characters. The last black-and-white Mickey had been released in the Spring of 1935. Since then, the Technicolor iterations of the characters had become more sophisticated, subtle, refined. MD was considered the cartoon where the modern, "mature" version of Donald Duck materialized, and Babbitt's handling of the character in Moving Day pushed Goofy in the direction that Reitherman later took him after Babbitt departed.

Disney short-form animation reached its apex during the mid-thirties, when the studio's best artists were working on the Mouse cartoons and Silly Symphony shorts. After that, the studio's A-list talent was focused on features and Walt Disney paid far less attention to the program-fillers the company had made from its beginnings in a backyard garage. By the late forties, Disney visited his shorts unit every month or two, gave a few suggestions, and focused his energies on other things.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Time Stands Still

This just in: Cartoon characters don't grow old ...

... Thanks to the new math, everything old will be back again (if not exactly new), the vaults are open, and the only wrinkles that age-obsessed Hollywood has to seriously worry about are the ones that distinguish the original plots from the sequels.

Who would EVER have thought?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Early Summer Box Office

Remakes of Disney animated hits continue to score; sequels to aliens and agents in dark suits don't.


1) Men In Black: Yet Again -- 4,224 -- $26.3M -- $26.3M (1st weekend)

2) Secret Life Of Pets 2 -- 4,564 (+3) -- $23.7M (-49%) -- $91.9M

3) Aladdin -- 3,556 (-249) -- $17.1M (-30%) -- $263.8M

4) Dark Phoenix -- 3,721 -- $8.3M (-74%) -- $51M

5) Rocketman -- 3,021 (-589) -- $8.3M (-40%) -- $65.6M

6) Godzilla: King of the Big Fat Lizards -- 3,207 (-901) -- $7.9M (-48%) -- $93.4M

7) Shaft -- 2,952 -- $7.1M -- $7.1M (1st weekend)

8) John Wick 3 -- 2,033 (-743) -- $5.6M (-25%) -- $148.1M

9) Late Night -- 2,218 (+2214) -- $4.7M (+1811%) -- $4.9M

10) Ma -- 1,794 (1,022) -- $3.8M (-51%) -- $40.5M

Aladdin (-30%) and John Wick 3 (-25%) have the two two smallest declines on the Big List. Secret Life of Pets 2 drops by half, while Men In Black fails to perform anywhere close to the level of its predecessors.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 had a domestic gross that was less than half the original's take when it opened domestically ($46.6 million vs. $104.3 million) so it's got a steep mountain to climb if it hopes to get anywhere near the worldwide gross of $875,457,937 that the first entry earned. (Just now it has a global take of approximately $140 million.)

Meantime, Toy Story 4 is tracking strongly ... with an opening weekend projection north of $130 million in the U.S. of A. and Canada when it'sreleased June 20th.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Women Working in Short and Long-Form Cartoons

Animation has been a boys' club for as long as I can remember (and it was a boys' club way before that. Cal Arts in Valencia now has more women enrolled than men. The animation industry itself? Not so much. ...

Only 3% of animated film directors over the last 12 years were women, while 13% of episodes evaluated across popular animated TV programs from 2018 had female directors. ...

Across 100 popular animated TV series, females comprised 16% of animation directors, 20% of lead animators, and 11% of lead storyboard artists. ...

Women comprise 27% (or thereabouts) of the Animation Guild's active membership. This would include color stylists nd animation checkers (both categories with a large proportion of women). Women in supervisory creative positions are few and far between. This has been true since the start of the industry.

There have been improvements in parts of Cartoonland, but change has been slow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Cartoon Development

All the big animation players are displaying their wares at Annecy. Where else would they show them this time of year?

Coming off the success of its Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, [Sony Pictures Animation] announced that China’s Tencent has boarded Jackie Chan’s Wish Dragon, and also revealed three projects in development – a reimagining of The Boondocks, horror series Hungry Ghosts, based on the Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, and comedy Superbago, a collabortion with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios – along with two new adult-skewing animated features from Genndy Tartakovsky. ...

There's more and more production of cartoons because:

A) The costs are low* and the profit margins are large.

B) Theatrical animation is, after super-heroes, the most profitable type of feature out there.

C) As streaming media becomes more ubiquitous, entertainment conglomerates have come to realize that animated content has to play a large role in what gets distributed because kids and adults both watch ... and kids in particular are a highly desirable market because they continue viewing habits with brands that plant their flag early (when children are 3-7).

Add On: And now the trades have noted this:

Disney stock rose 4.4% Thursday, setting a record high closing price of $141.74, after a Wall Street analyst boosted his price target for the company on increased optimism about the company’s streaming prospects.

Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley, in a note to clients, said he is now forecasting that Disney will reach more than 130 million global subscribers by 2024 across its three streaming services, Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. The analyst sees Disney+, which launches in November, accounting for 70 million of the total. ...

Animation, of course, is a large part of why Disney's future streaming business is supposed to be (per analysts) to potent ... and so profitable.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Letter From Lee Blair

Since I woke up extra early after going to bed extra late, and the brain is fried, I decided it would be a good day to perform a mindless task like getting the bric-a-brac cluttering the office into boxes and properly stored. In the course of doing that, I found this old letter from December, 1985:

LEE BLAIR* -- 3465 Crestline Way - Soquel CA.

Dear Steve:

There are several stories that come to mind regarding your search for after-dinner memories 'from way back when'. ...

One involves the great strength of Roy Williams** who used to be a friend of mine's assistant. Hardie Gramatky told me about him dumping over Ward Kimball's little Ford restored touring car, all on a bet. Another one about Roy was his car with the I-beam bumpers and bopping the guys out in Boyle Heights who cut in on him.

There was also a legendary guy at Harmon-Ising named Thurston Harper. He had been a soldier of fortune in Central America and other places and took no s*** from nobody. He was walking down Santa Monica Blvd. near the studio wearing his new Palm Beach suit. Some yoo yoos came around a corner and through a rain puddle and splashed dirty water all over Thurston. He was enraged. He took off down the middle of Santa Monica Blvd. and caught up with them at a red light at Highland Ave. He yanks out the driver and rolls him over and over in the water running down the street's gutter, then stuffed him back in the car. Wow!

Another involves Frank Thomas getting spit in the face in the Buenos Aires Zoo by a Llama. Webb Smith and I were standing there and Webb observed that Syphilis came from South America via Piaarro, started by llamas. Frank tore out on his way to the hotel to WASH UP.

There are others,

Lee Blair

* And if you're wondering who all these folks were, Lee Blair was a Disney animator, brother of Preston Blair and husband of Mary Blair. Roy Williams was a longtime Disney story artist and "Roy, the big Mooskeketeer" in the 1950s version of "The Mickey Mouse Club", and Frank Thomas was one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" and a long-time supervising animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Thurston Harper, remarkably enough, was an animator on Walt Disney's "Alice In Cartoonland" series during the 1920s, and also an animator on the Fleischers' "Gulliver's Travels".

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pets and Hybrids

Secret Life of Pets 2 opens to middling numbers. And the big window won't be open very long, what with Toy Story 4 arriving in two weeks. ...


1) Secret Life Of Pets 2 -- 4,561 -- $47.1M -- $48M (1st weekend)

2) Dark Phoenix -- 3,721 -- $33M -- $33M (1st weekend)

3) Aladdin -- 3,805 (-671) -- $24.5M (-43%) -- $232.3M

4) Godzilla: King of the Big Lizards -- 4,108 -- $15.5M (-67%) -- $78.6M

5) Rocketman -- 3,610 -- $14M (-45%) -- $50.4M

6) Ma -- 2,816 (+8) -- $7.8M (-57%) -- $32.7M

7) John Wick 3 -- 2,776 (-828) -- $7.4M (-33%) -- $138.6M

8) Avengers: Endgame -- 2,121 (-984) -- $4.8M (-40%) -- $824.3M

9) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 2,161 (-986) -- $2.98M (-57%) -- $137.4M

10) Booksmart -- 1,134 (-1,384) -- $1.5M (-52%) -- $17.8M

Pets 2 has grossed $97 million on a worldwide basis, considerably below the original's numbers.

Aladdin has now taken in $604.9 million globally and continues to perform.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu has vacumed up $409.5 million around the world.

Finally, the hybrid reboot Dumbo has earned more than double overseas ($236.5 million) from what it's picked up domestically ($113.8 million).

Saturday, June 8, 2019


The trades explain a new animated series:

Amazon dropped a teaser trailer today for Undone, an animated series that aims for a mind-bending brand of adult sci-fi that ventures into a trippy head space that evokes the surreal pursuits of Philip K. Dick, Phillip Pullman, Inception, The Matrix, and Pink Floyd.

Undone will premiere later this year on Amazon Prime Video but the first two episodes of the Amazon Original series will get a big-screen audience this Saturday at the ATX TV Festival in Austin, Texas. ...

Undone is the first episodic television project to use rotoscoping animation, which has visual rhythms that are far removed from the mainstream CG aesthetic that dominates and largely defines contemporary Hollywood’s approach to animation. The best-know product of the rotoscoping approach to date is A Scanner Darkly ...

"Deadline" likes to reference A Scanner Darkly as a well-known "rotoscope" approach to filmmaking. I'm not disagreeing, but since I'm a geezer, you could also say Undone looks a lot like a Fleischer feature cartoon from 1939. And you wouldn't be wrong. The Fleischers were, after all, rotoscoping specialists going back to their Out of the Inkwell shorts in the 1920s. Rotos were a wee bit different technologically back then, but the underlying principle? Much the same.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Walls Around the Boys' Club

Variety points out* the long tradition:

When animation guru John Lasseter was ousted from his post at Pixar last year, trailed by a series of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, it seemed like a wake-up call for an animation industry that was slowly coming around to its own #MeToo moment. Yet Lasseter’s controversial hiring by Skydance Animation just months later highlighted the challenges of reshaping an industry that many women say has systematically worked against them. ...

Women hold just 27% of creative leadership roles in the animation biz, according to Women in Animation. In the past two decades, just two studio animated features have been helmed by female directors. ...

Twenty-seven percent is an improvement over where women were a doen years ago. Then, they were in t he 15% range.

As in live-action, women have long drawn short straws when it came to key creative positions. In the thirties, to be a woman in animation meant they were cell painters, inkers, maybe checkers. Walt Disney Productions sent out form letters informing aspiring female artists not to bother going after an animation, storyboard or layout position, because WDP would only consider them for a job in ink-and-paint.

Way it was.

And over the years, the culture didn't change very much. Women made up half the Animation Guild's membership, but the jobs they filled were inking, painting, and checking positions. In the 1970s and 1980s, a huge amount of ink-and-paint work was shipped overseas, and the percentage of women union members plunged.

In the 21st century, more women fought their way into creative positions, but it was a long, slow battle. Disney Television Animation was sometimes known to have questionable "Gag" cartoons posted in hallways. The culture, Neanderthal since the thirties, continued that way. (One animation exec half-jokingly told a male director: "You're a lawsuit waitning to happen.")

The culture began to change five years ago. Women pushed back against harassment and busy hands. Directors and executives who had been involnerable for years found themselves unemployed -- Les Moonves at CBS was pushed overboard, Weinstein lost his company. John Lasseter, whose bad behavior was an open secret for years, was cut loose by Disney. Various TV animation directors with records of abuse, found themselves unemployed.

Now, of course, John Lasseter has been named head of animation at Skydance, and his hiring hasn't been met with rapturous applause, especially among women. Some of the walls around the animation boys' club have come down, but parts of the ramparts still remain.

* Variety highlighted the current thinking and culture in animation a couple of weeks ago.

Add On: And now, Disney has contributed to a new Women in Animation global parity program. ...

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Box Office of Remakes

... and also sequels. And musical bio pics. ...


1) Godzilla: King Of The Giant Lizards -- 4,108 -- $49M -- $49M (1st weekend)

2) Aladdin -- 4,476 -- $42.3M (-53%) -- $185M

3) Rocketman -- 3,610 -- $25M -- $25M (1st weekend)

4) Ma -- 2,808 -- $18.2M -- $18.2M (1st weekend)

5) John Wick 3 -- 3,604 (-246) -- $11.1M (-55%) -- $125.7M

6) Avengers: Endgame -- 3,105 (-705) -- $7.8M (-55%) -- $815.5M

7) Pokemon -- 3,147 (-677) -- $6.7M (-50%) -- $130.6M

8) Booksmart -- 2,518 (+13) -- $3.3M (-52%) -- $14.4M

9) Brightburn -- 2,607 -- $2.3M (-70%) -- $14.2M

10) The Hustle -- 1,407 (-970) -- $1.3M (-64%) -- $33.1M

Aladdin dropped slightly more than 50% week-to-week. Globally, the flick has earned $449,850,077

The Mouse's live-action reboot of Dumbo is all but gone from domestic theaters. In the U.S. and Canada it can be found on 230 screens, having taken in $113 million during 66 days of release. Worldwide, it's earned $350,102,657.

As for other animated titles still on the box office list: Uglydolls has long-since slipped into a coma, grossing $19 million domestically and $21,208,805 worldwide. (Yikes!) And How To Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World has all but concluded its stateside run, collecting just under $16 million, while earning $519,430,770 worldwide.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Creating The Original Aladdin - Part 2

The second part of the making of the 1992 Disney animated feature, from "Mouse In Orbit" ...

As the script and storyboards for Aladdin were put together, another problem cropped up. The First Gulf War happened as the picture's continuity was rounding its last lap, and a young street thief having adventures in and around ancient Baghdad suddenly seemed less commercially enticing. So the city of Baghdad got its name changed to Agrabah.

Animators started coming off Beauty and the Beast in large numbers and getting assigned to various characters. Supervising animator Andreas Deja, who had been an artistic force at Disney since stepping off a plane from his native Germany in 1980, knew that the villain of the piece presented challenges:

"I was confused early on about how to play Jafar [the Sultan's court advisor]. Is he more of a cartoony, eccentric character with big gestures? Or is he somebody who holds back, and shown as scheming?

"I asked Ron and John that [question] and they said, 'We don't know yet. Look at the storyboards.' ... Because there [were] boards where [Jafar] is digging in the sand, trying to find the lamp, and others where he's standing in the corner scheming.

"The more scenes I animated, the more I found out that the character works best by holding him back: small gestures, little things like that. He would rub his finger on his cheek, rather than being extravagant in gestures. And the more I held him back, the scarier he got and the more he contrasted with the other characters, who were more bouncy and animated.

"I thought, 'How can Jafar even compete with the Genie? Eric Goldberg [the Genie's supervising animator] was on fire with the character, his stuff was amazing. And there I was with my little Jafar, trying to represent evil.

Nik Ranieri had been a supervising animator on Beauty and the Beast and was hoping for a plum spot on the new feature:

"I wanted to keep going [as a supervisor], and I remember going to John [Musker], saying to him, 'I could take a minor character [the peddler] there at the beginning.' John says, 'Ah no, Duncan [Marjoribanks] is going to do that.' And I say, 'I thought Duncan was going to do Abu.' 'Ah, well, he's going to do that, too.' 'So what about Jafar as the beggar?' 'No, we're going to get Kathy [Zielinski] to do that.'

I looked at John and said, 'You don't want me to supervise, do you?' And John said, 'Not really.'"

Director John Musker, of course, was only familiar with Ranieri's less than sterling work on Mermaid, and gun shy. So Nik went and talked to supervising animator Andreas Deja, who was heading up the Jafar unit.

Nik recalled:

"I really wanted to go on the Genie, but Eric [Goldberg's] work was so intimidating, I was afraid I'd fail. I didn't want to approach Eric. Since I had worked on Ursula on Mermaid, I was familiar with the villain types. The great thing about working with Andreas was a lot of people he had on his unit were really solid and so we would get sequences. And he gave me the sequence where Jafar was introduced to Prince Ali. And that was great, I could go from 'This is Jafar' ... all the way to 'Prince Ali Bwa Bwa.'

"Basically the way I work is, I like to go straight ahead and work out all the concepts and ideas. ... I have to see things in real time. How high does he jump? How fast does he jump? All those questions aren't answered in thumbnails, so what I start doing is blocking it, doing a scribble pass, not worrying about how the characters look. Just straight ahead animation, all the way through.

"Every production I worked on with Ron and John, I would bring them these scribble passes, and they would be ugly. Every film, as far up as The Princess and the Frog, John would say, 'Well, that's good, but ... this scene, it's going to be drawn better, right?'"

Animator Kathy Zielinski, one of the first women to come out of the Cal Arts animation program and one of Disney's few female animators, didn't suffer the slings and arrows that struck Mr. Ranieri. She has only fond memories of Aladdin:

"I had a fantastic time on that film. Getting to do the beggar was really fun. A key scene: he does this huge smile and drool is coming out of his mouth. I looked back at that scene not too long ago and said, 'Oh my God. That's so cartoony!' When I was doing hand-drawn animated features at DreamWorks [Prince of Egypt, Road to El Dorado, etc.] we never went that broad, ever. Everybody was concerned about being "realistic".

As with many hand-drawn features, the crew shot live-action reference material for the animators. Actors were filming scenes for Jasmine and Aladdin at nearby Disney Imagineering, and Nik Ranieri was asked to participate: "They said, 'Why don't you be Jafar? You've got the height, you've got the beard, you're skinny.' So I played Jafar. And Ron Clements stood in for the Sultan."

Like Beauty and the Beast before it, Aladdin used an increasing amount of computer generated images alongside the hand-drawn work. The magic carpet, initially planned as a computer-animated character, was given to Disney veteran Randy Cartwright because he had a background of working with computers. But Randy explained:

"Tina Price [a Disney computer specialist] had done tests on the carpet, and systems were just not available to give you the full animation you wanted. So I animated the whole thing on paper as a regular character, and then Tina would bring it into the computer system and lay down a grid on top of it and tweak the grid to match the drawing. And then the computer would print the design on it, so it was a hybrid of the two systems.

"When I got the first scene on storyboard, [the carpet] was introduced as a dog, panting and all that. And I thought there was a more interesting way to do the character as opposed to just a dog following people around. So I asked John [Musker] if I could take a crack at reworking it and he said, 'Sure, go ahead.'

"I went through and thought up the whole opening of the monkey and the hat and the carpet, and thought of the carpet as more of a human character, as an innocent, cute character that had been there [in the cave] for three thousand years, and now all these strange creatures are coming through and 'What the heck is this?!'

"What I really wanted to do was have the carpet completely entranced with the monkey, thinking it's the coolest thing in the world. And the monkey [Abu] hates the creepy thing. I thought it would be a great relationship to play: the monkey wanting to get away and the carpet wanting to touch the monkey. There were other sequences we wanted to really push it, but because of time we didn't have a chance to play with it much more."

Despite the strenuous schedule, the story problems, and the wrestling match with CGI, Aladdin came out when Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted it to: November 1992. Critics were rhapsodic over the Arabian tale, and the feature stayed near the top of the domestic and foreign box office lists for months. (At the crew party, a beaming Michael Eisner, proud of the studio's latest animated hit, praised the picture to the skies.)

Aladdin went on to win Academy Awards, Annie Awards, Saturn Awards, and a basketful of Grammies for its music, songs and soundtrack. Its world box office take was north of $504 million, a new record for the division.

Disney Feature Animation had become more than just a well-performing part of the Walt Disney Company. It was thundering down a four-lane highway, breaking commercial records as it gobbled up greenbacks and awards. The Disney Renaissance.