Disney‘s The Princess and The Frog is the first hand drawn movie from the studio, since 2004. After seeing the clips from the movie at Comic-Con I can assure you that this is a film not to be missed. My excitement only grew after learning that John Musker and Ron Clements the brains behind the classics Aladdin and The Little Mermaid were directing the film.
In the interview, John Musker and Ron Clements talk about Disney’s first African-American lead character, their inspiration for the movie, the music, their thoughts on 3-D animation, and how 2-D animation compares to CG films.
Check out what they had to say…
This is the first African-American lead role in a Disney animated film? Can you talk about that?
JM: It wasn’t driven by that. We actually started with the story we wanted to tell.
RC: This is very, very loosely based on a book called, “The Frog Princess”. Disney had bought the rights to the book a few years ago. It is a fairy tale. The basic premise is a fairy princess kisses a frog and she actually turns into a frog. That was the initial premise, and a twist on the story. We wanted to turn it into an American fairy tale, make it a musical, and set it in New Orleans during the jazz-age. Out of that, it seemed totally logical that the heroine of the story would be African-American. I think we were a little naïve and didn’t realize it.
JM: There was such a pent up desire, in that community, to have a role model. I think we may have underestimated how much desire there was. That being said, as we developed the film, we were sensitive to those issues.
RC: We tried to be sensitive to audiences, but we didn’t realize it was that big of a deal. We had the story worked out very, very early. About three years ago, we pitched the basic story to Jon Lasseter and he liked it a very much. At that time, it was set in New Orleans and had an African-American lead.
What can a 2-D film lend to a narrative that a CG film cannot?
RC: They are just a different medium. We describe it as using a different paintbrush. We are biased because our background is hand drawn. Ironically, Jon Lasseter is the biggest fan of hand drawn animation. He knows the Disney films inside and out.
JM: Drawing can be a really expressive thing. The slight nudge of the pencil can change an expression. It is really a magical thing.
RC: Animators can project themselves into their work in a slightly different way. I think there is a warmth and a very magical quality to hand drawn animation. The backgrounds are just beautiful.
JM: It is an organic world. CG really has to fight to become an organic world. They can do it, but it is really a fight against the grain.
How do you get into the mindset of making this film?
JM: Where we work in Burbank, they take our production areas and decorate is like New Orleans. There is a lot of wrought iron, beads, and hanging vines. It is like our own little New Orleans Square. It actually helps get you into the mindset. We actually had research trips and went down to New Orleans three times. We took videos and photos. We had artists doing watercolors and sketches. We had a Cajun tour guide named Reggie.
RC: We got to ride a float during Mardi Gras. We spent a day with a voodoo priestess. We had a guy take us around the cemetery and the voodoo shops. When we pitched the story to Jon, he said we had to go down to New Orleans. That had a huge influence on us.
How tight is the line between doing a cartoon character and a racial caricature that would upset people?
JM: I don’t know. We wanted our lead heroine to be beautiful.
RC: We had two goals, we wanted her to be beautiful and, definitely, African-American. I wouldn’t say that was hugely difficult. Generally, I don’t think was a major issue. Again, we wanted to be sensitive. We felt that, sometimes, there were some lines that could be crossed.
JM: When we previewed the movie, both African-American and non African-American families embraced the movie. We have created an iconic figure for young African-American girls to aspire to. It has been a responsibility we stepped into unaware of the weight of the issue.
RC: On of the things we are really happy about with our preview was that it previewed very well. The audience was split, but everyone like the movie. It is a big deal.
The newest trend is CG and converting films into 3-D. Will this film be converted into 3-D?
JM: I guess I like being a little against the grain. There are so many CG films out now. Now the big thing is 3-D; they are taking Beauty and the Beast and putting that into 3-D. I would have to say that if our film does well and if Beauty and the Beast in 3-D does well, then they will do this film in 3-D.
RC: This is the first hand drawn film in quite a while.
Music is a big part of this film and there are so many different types in the region. Are we going to see all those different elements in the film?
RC: The firefly is Cajun so the Cajun music comes from him. There is jazz in it. Randy Newman does all the music and he grew up in New Orleans. He really knows that type of music.
JM: We have a gospel tune in it. We have Dixieland and swing in there. We have music to tell the story and people sing on it, so it is a conventional musical in that sense. We like music and the stylization of music.
RC: Certainly in animation, music is fundamental. Music and animation seem like they were designed to fit together.
Sadly, that’s all the time we had. The Princess and The Frog will be released on December 11, 2009 and I’m sure we’ll have more for you from the Directors soon.
Watch the trailer below…