Re-animating Disney toons
The first movie I saw — okay, maybe it was the second — was “The Jungle Book.” My brothers and I loved the movie, so naturally we were tickled pink when our grandmother gave us the soundtrack, singing along over and over to “The Bare Necessities.” (My Dad was less charmed, since the album was a free giveaway from Texaco and he was a loyal Arco company man.)
Anyway, I especially loved Baloo’s joie de vivre. Louis the alligator shares that same spirit in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s first hand-drawn toon in five years. You simply can’t create characters like that through computer animation, Disney toon king John Lasseter recently told me for this Variety story.
The directors, who have been known Lasseter for decades, felt like they had something to prove with the movie, as did the cast and crew still smarting from Disney’s decision to abandon hand-drawn animation in 2002. They tried some different styles — evoking painting of the Harlem Renaissance in one fantasy sequence and going psychedelic for the villain — and while those gambits didn’t always work, the movie was pleasantly upbeat in the way you could always count on Disney toons to be. The young crowd at the Bridge screening — mostly African-American, incidentally, for a toon with the Mouse House’s first ever black heroine — really seemed to enjoy it, barely fidgeting even during the goopy romance scenes.
The studio has at least two more hand-drawn toons in the works. First up: a new “Winnie the Pooh,” another childhood fave with its share of sing-along tunes. “Surf’s Up” co-director Chris Buck is busy on another.