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The smell of blandness


Have you ever looked through one of these “The Art of…” books put out by Disney for their animated films and wondered why the conceptual drawings look some much more interesting and full of life than what ended up in the film itself? I certainly have, and I’m still at a loss when I try to explain why this happens. At a push, I might hypothesise that the bean-counters at the studio are afraid of straying too far from tried and tested formulae and end up ordering the artists to water everything down into insignificance, but I wouldn’t like to stake anything on it.

Occasionally, something ends up slipping through that shows a spark of creativity. Most recently, Lilo & Stitch, the brainchild of co-writer and co-director Chris Sanders, and by far the best Disney film since, oh, say, Aladdin, felt like a breath of fresh air with its distinctive visual style and offbeat sense of humour. Lilo & Stitch didn’t look or feel like any other Disney movie, and so, when I heard that Chris Sanders was working on a new project for the studio, American Dog, I was understandably excited to see what he’d do with the idea. Certainly, the first concept drawings and test footage looked extremely impressive, marrying Sanders’ distinctive illustrative style with 3D technology.

Then, bad news struck. Apparently, new Disney animation chief John Lasseter was unhappy with the direction in which American Dog was headed and ordered major changes to be made. This led to Sanders leaving the studio and handing the reins over to Chris Williams and Byron Howard, with whom he previously worked on Lilo & Stitch and Mulan. The project was given more or less a complete reboot, receiving a new storyline, a new art style and even a new title: Bolt.

Recently, the trailer for Bolt was released, and it looks as if my worst fears were well founded. While this may turn out to be a mildly enjoyable film in the long-standing Disney tradition, it completely lacks the charm and originality of the early images that were released a couple of years back. Perhaps worse still, as many people have pointed out, the plot seems almost word-for-word identical to a Disney cheapquel, 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure.

So, returning to my original unanswered question, how can it be that this

American Dog
American Dog American Dog

becomes this?


Posted: Saturday, July 05, 2008 at 4:06 PM | Comments: 5
Categories: Animation | Books | Cinema



I've seen the trailer for Bolt and, yeah, it looks quite anodyne now (although the cat's quite amusingly scraggy). Looking at that art, it reminds me of the pre-prod stuff Tim Burton did for The Black Cauldron, which was thrown in the bin for being too outlandish. What they went with was infinitely better and stood the test of the ages.

Posted by: anephric, July 5, 2008 6:52 PM


I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s pre-production work for The Black Cauldron, but I’d be generally surprised if it was inferior to what actually made it on to the screen. The Black Cauldron has always struck me as the weakest of an incredibly weak period in the studio’s history, and I’m not sure it’s “stood the test”, given that it’s probably the Disney film the least people remember.

Posted by: Whiggles, July 5, 2008 9:06 PM


Yeah, I was being somewhat facetious, although I have to admit I still have the toys they gave away in cereal boxes for the film. I remember loving it at the time.

Basically, Burton designed a lot of zoomorphic, Nightmare before Xmasy stuff - spiders holding candles as chandeliers, that sort of thing. I think he did some designs for Gurgi too, but they went with something far "cuter".

It's astonishing, with the amount of talent involved and the money lavished on the thing, that The Black Cauldron is soooo insipid and downright dour. It's a trudge to sit through, and (iirc, it's been a while) the animation isn't even all that. The books its based on are supposed to be quite good, mind.

Posted by: anephric, July 8, 2008 11:34 AM


It has some pretty nice effects work, IIRC, but overall the animation is nothing to write home about. I did think there was some interesting design to be found in the look of the Horned King, but even the darker elements felt like a really watered down imitation of Ralph Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings.

Posted by: Whiggles, July 8, 2008 7:12 PM


I like THE BLACK CAULDRON very much, then again, I like the films from Disney's so called slump period (The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound are pretty good too).

I'd much rather watch those three than Robin Hood or The Sword and the Stone.

Posted by: Marcus, July 10, 2008 6:39 PM

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