AWARDS SPOTLIGHT: ‘MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY’ DIRECTOR DAN SCANLON
BY ZORIANNA KIT
When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences introduced the Best Animated Feature Oscar category in 2001, Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. was nominated alongside Shrek and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Shrek emerged the winner that evening, but now, 12 yeas later, the prequel Monster’s University is ready to get back in the Oscars game. SSN spoke with Monster’s Universitydirector Dan Scanlon about the film, in which Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their roles as the lovable monsters Mike and Sully. SSN: When working on the next installment of a pre-existing movie, are things generally smoother because there’s already a base in place? Scanlon: Sequels are their own challenge. One of the pluses is that John and Billy trust you, they know who their characters are, and they trust that it’s going to look a certain way. But this film takes place 15 years earlier, so their characters are very different [than they were in Monsters Inc.] Here they are 18, 19 years old—think of how different we all were at that age. It was a bit of a challenge finding the new voice of these guys, yet keeping them familiar enough that we still feel like we’re getting the same two monsters we remember and love. SSN: How were those new voices found? Scanlon: Billy’s character in the first film, Mike, was very much the comic relief. In this film he has to support the whole story. We really needed to see more of a sincerity in Mike. We needed to see him at an age where he was maybe a little more naïve and excited about the world, with big dreams. SSN: And what about John Goodman’s James P. Sullivan, aka Sully? Scanlon: Sully was very sweet in Monster’s Inc. But in this film, we wanted to see how he became that guy. He’s like an 18-year-old quarterback. He’s cocky, he knows he’s good. John really appreciated that and had fun finding a lovable arrogant take on this character. To read the full story, click here.
AWARDS SPOTLIGHT: ‘FROZEN’ DIRECTOR CHRIS BUCK ON CRAFTING WELL-ROUNDED FEMALE CHARACTERSBY ZORIANNA KIT Disney has long been inspired by the work of Hans Christian Andersen, having animated several of the Danish author’s tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and The Little Matchgirl, among others. Andersen’s The Snow Queen serves as inspiration for Disney’s latest film, Frozen. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, the film tells the story of a fearless princess (Kristen Bell) who sets off to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), a queen whose powers have enveloped the kingdom in an eternal, icy winter. Buck spoke to SSN about the film and the process it took to turn the 170-year-old fairy tale into an epic animated musical. SSN: What aspects of The Snow Queen did you first take to begin to creating Frozen? Buck: I looked for what spoke to me the most, which was the theme of love conquering fear … The Snow Queen isn’t defined very well in the book. She’s a villain but you’re not sure why or how she got that way. Still, there’s something very intriguing about her. The environment I found to be magical on its own, the snow and ice. Those three things were standouts for me. SSN: Frozen features new Disney princesses Elsa and Anna. Were you actively creating more to add to the fold of classic princess characters? Buck: They weren’t royals when we first pitched it. We added the royalty because it added stakes to the story. Anna has to not only save herself from eternal winter, but her entire kingdom. SSN: These princesses are not dependent on being rescued by a prince like some princesses of the past. Was that something you consciously strived to portray? Buck: I never thought of them as princesses. To me, they were two interesting, flawed female characters … When it comes to certain things earlier princesses may have done, I think Disney has grown up a bit, and a slightly more well-rounded female character is appreciated these days. To read the full story, click here.
AWARDS SPOTLIGHT: ‘EPIC’ DIRECTOR CHRIS WEDGE ON SURMOUNTING CREATIVE CHALLENGES
BY DINA GACHMAN
The animated adventure fantasy Epic, which is loosely based on William Joyce’s tale The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, had a long road to production. Director Chris Wedge, who is a longtime collaborator of Joyce’s, tried for over ten years to get the project made, but even though Fox loved it, they couldn’t figure out how to market the film, and so Wedge endured the dreaded development hell for years.The film was at Pixar for a brief time, but Wedge eventually ended up making the film at his company Blue Sky, back at Fox, and now instead of hearing doors slamming in his face, he’s hearing Oscar buzz. SSN spoke to Wedge about enduring development hell, the good, the bad, and the ugly of animation, and what allowed him to stick with Epic for so long until he finally got the greenlight. SSN: I spoke to William Joyce when the film came out and he talked about what great collaborators you guys are. How did you guys first team up on Epic? Wedge: Bill and I are good friends so it’s mostly fun. Bill’s the first guy I talked to about this movie way back in 1998. He’d spent the day at an exhibition of Victorian fairy paintings and he showed me the brochure from it and it just blew my mind and I told Bill we should do a movie in that world. That’s where the idea started, and Bill and I loved the same movies. It was the notion that we could do a rollicking adventure movie in animation, which I feel is ideally suited for that sort of thing. We took one of Bill’s ideas from his book about these heroes of the forest and I wanted to amp it up and make it more action oriented so we turned them into samurai and put them on hummingbirds like they were jet fighter pilots, and made them much more kinetic and cool. I loved Bill’s whimsical retro style and wanted to apply it to animation. To read the full story, click here.