When John Lasseter took charge of Disney Studios in 2006, he announced he wanted to return to the traditional forms of animation that had made Disney a leader for 75 years. For veteran animator Randy Haycock, that was instantly appealing.
"None of us expected it," he said while he and fellow animator Bruce Smith were in town last week to promote the CGI-free The Princess and the Frog, which opens Friday areawide. "Hand-drawn animation had been declared dead by all the Hollywood executives. We didn't expect to ever be able to do it again."
Haycock was supervising animator on the movie, which follows the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young woman trying to fulfill her father's fantasy of opening a restaurant in New Orleans. Tiana's plans get derailed when she meets a frog who claims to be a prince in search of a bride. To get the frog to become a prince again, they must travel deep into a swamp to consult the Queen of the Bayou (Jenifer Lewis), who instructs them on how to defeat the villainous voodoo king Dr. Facilier (Keith David). That's where Smith's skills came into play.
"The villains in Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians are really good," he says. "When I was given the assignment of Dr. Facilier, I knew he had to fit within the legends of Disney villains. How better than to mash Captain Hook and Cruella De Vil together as if he's the love child of those two characters? He has the smarmy elegance of Cruella De Vil and the sort of foppish fiendishness of Captain Hook."
If it sounds like this throwback approach might be lost on young kids more accustomed to CGI graphics and digital 3D technology, that hasn't been the case at screenings. Young kids appreciate both the Randy Newman soundtrack and the slapstick, says Haycock.
"It doesn't matter what the medium is," says Haycock "It's about the story and the characters. Does it have the humor, the heart and the entertainment that people want? When people see it, they fall in love with the movie and don't even think about the fact that it's old-fashioned. And it's great for us because we get to draw again."