Monday, May 21, 2012

Here it is - Redux Riding Hood

In September of 1995, at Disney TV Animation, Veep Sharon Morrill asked if I would like to direct a Fractured Fairy Tales type of short, and have stylistic free reign.

"Say that last part again?"

Free reign.  Go crazy with it.

And so I began working on Redux Riding Hood, a short that would take me to the sixth row at the Oscars.  Dan O'Shannon, one of the top sit-com writers around, had written a script about a wolf who, obsessed with his failure to catch Red Riding Hood, builds a time machine to go back and do it right.  It was Dan's concept, and the script was hilarious.

Even with a great script, there are plenty of ways for the final product to fail.  I set to work on the big stuff: production design, cast, and musical score.

Redux needed a  production designer who had never worked in animation, someone not schooled in animation history, not influenced by classic cartoons of yesteryear.  Dan Rounds, who I'd worked for on A Goofy Movie recommended a fishing buddy of his in New Mexico named John Kleber.   When I saw John's work I knew, from the color palette to the use of textural and photo collage elements, I had found my production designer.
John Kleber artwork.  Pieces like this were the springboard to the Redux production design

The first thing John wanted to know was if there were animated films he should view as reference.  "NO!" I said, and forbade him to look at ANY animated cartoons while we were doing this project.  The only other limitation I put on John was, because of our schedule, the style would need to allow background painters to work quickly.

I had a few meetings with casting director Jamie Thomason, who questioned me about the characters - what kind of person was the Wolf, Doris, Red, Granny, etc.  Once we had talked out who the characters were, the casting choices became self-evident.  Michael Richards was the manic Wolf.  Mia Farrow, as his long suffering wife (I made her a sheep, animation's first inter-species marriage.) I liked Mia's casual delivery and the sound of her plaintive voice was a great counterpoint to Richards' abrasive sound.  Writer Dan O'Shannon hated Mia's Doris, because she didn't have that sit-com cadence.  He wanted her recast, but I held my breath longer and won out.  I could go on and on about the cast -  Lacey Chabert, Adam West, Fabio, June Foray, Don Rickles -  but for now I'll just say I hit the jackpot.  And Jamie Thomason is truly brilliant.  There's no one else I would want in a recording session than Jamie.

For music I wanted jazz great Bennie Wallace.  I had met Bennie during the ill-fated Betty Boop feature in '93.  He knows more about music than anyone I have every met.  When I described the project and the off-beat quality of it, he brought me Charles Mingus' album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.  Like John Kleber's artwork, I was immediately inspired and excited as a new layer of the film revealed itself.

With Mingus as inspiration, Bennie set to the task, casting his musicians to get the right sound - among them Robben Ford on guitar, Emil Richards and his magic box of percussion instruments, Art Baron and his mad trombone, Alex Acuna brought a Latin beat on drums, and Bennie himself on Sax.

We recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood, in Sinatra's old stage.  As the musicians assembled, Disney's music veep Bambi Moe asked Bennie to see the cue sheets.  When she saw them, her head exploded. "WHERE ARE THE NOTES?!"  the large orafice on her head shouted.

Bennie laid on his Tennessee drawl. "Bambi, this is jazz." He said, "You don't tell these guys how to play."  Bennie was right.  He had indicated general timing cues and tempo, but the rest was improvised.  When the musicians performed, it was magic.  I got goosebumps, and was truly depressed when they finished.  I wanted them to play all night.

Here's the end credit cue with full band.  Bennie and Art Baron have a musicians' joust.  The spontaneity of this could not have been reproduced from transcription.

Disney TV President Dean Valentine loved the music, but said, "Jazz is for having a cigar and scotch. Not cartoons."  This time my head exploded.  How could this guy be in charge of an animation studio and have no knowledge of the history of the medium?  I was seriously outranked on this fight, and the score would have surely been scrapped without the intervention of Peter Hastings.  Peter's One Saturday Morning cartoon block was a huge hit,  so he was one guy who Dean trusted.  Peter gave the score his approval, and it was saved.

Thanks Peter!

I got to spend five months in New Zealand for production - what a beautiful country.  We did our best with a fairly green crew.  Lily Dell did some amazing work on the Wolf and animated the Time Machine combining cut-outs and drawings.  While in New Zealand, Jeffrey Katzenberg called me from DreamWorks.  I thought it was a friend doing a prank, so I played along rudely.  Then it struck me.  "This really is Jeffrey Katzenberg."

"Yes it is,"  he said, "the horse's ass."

I have no idea how he found me, or that he even knew who I was.  He wanted me to call him when I got back.  I only mention it because it was so bizarre.

Back in the States, the post mix with Dave Stone's awesome sound effects - his custom made Time Machine sound is hilarious. We did some festivals, went to the Oscars, lost, and then the film was put away.  Seven months after the Oscars, I was shown the door.
I won't go into that ugliness.

In the years since, Michael Richards had his infamous night club blow-out.  Garrison Keillor, our narrator, has made some less famous blow-outs.  I don't know if that has hurt the chances of a Redux release, but I hope not.  No one at Disney or on my crew endorses the backward thinking of two actors in the cast.  And while I dish about some now ex-Disney execs, in the big picture, Sharon, Bambi, Dean, and all the Disney brass were very supportive of Redux Riding Hood.  They let me make this film.  It would not have happened without their ultimate consent.  For that I will always be appreciative.  I'd like people to see it, so I post it here.

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