Saturday, September 6, 2008


Disney's 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" is one of the most satisfying projects I was ever lucky enough to animate on. Directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousedale and producer Don Hahn not only made a fine film that was embraced by audiences in record numbers, they also kept staff morale high during a backstage production process that had it's share of ups and downs.

My small contribution to the levity came in the form of David Letterman-style "Top Ten" Lists, which I wrote to poke fun at the studio and even the production itself. I found a couple of these in a drawer recently--this first one deals with the heroine's lament in the opening number: "There must be more to this provincial life..."

I think I probably only did this about a dozen times or so, and looking back, some of the humor seems in questionable taste. But everyone who read them when I posted them outside the office that I shared with fellow animator Larry White seemed to appreciate a little irreverence now and then. Office behavior guidelines were looser in those days and I probably wouldn't do it (or advise doing it) today, at any studio.


David Nethery said...

"Office behavior guidelines were looser in those days and I probably wouldn't do it (or advise doing it) today, at any studio."

And that just makes me sad .

Our little cartoon industry has become so corporate and pc . It's true.

Would anyone be allowed those rubber band fights anymore ?

Darn it, where'd the FUN go ?

Will Finn said...

Dave the p.c. thing is complex but it isn't all bad in my view. some of the jokes are provocative ("Everybody's French" ???--YIKES!!! not to mention #8) and I am not sorry I wouldn't make them today.

You never know when your going to hit a nerve in a big workplace and in the end everybody has a right to expect a certain amount of comfort.

Mike Caracappa said...

"You never know when your going to hit a nerve in a big workplace and in the end everybody has a right to expect a certain amount of comfort."

Call me crazy, but we're all cartoonists here. We're inbred with a certain amount of sarcasim, and I think it's kind of healthy to vent that every once in awhile. This is one of the things that really irritates me about the animation industry. I remember while I was at Cal Arts, the first day I was there, we got the "animation industry is small" speech, "so don't piss anybody off!" I'm paraphrasing of course, but looking back I find it disturbing that they would say that, for the sake of anyone wanting to keep their job/reputation before the end of their career. I guess it goes to show that some people out there just take everything personally. And it kind of makes me wonder why they're cartoonists to begin with.

Will Finn said...

Mike you're probably right about cartoonists' sarcastic sensibilities, but the problem is that not everyone walking the floor of a studio is a cartoonist. There are people in a number of other capacities, now more so now than ever. You can't tell who does and doesn't share your sense of humor any more and I've come to learn it's best to think twice. The types of jokes I made in these were often deliberately ignorant (like Letterman) but in the huge ranks of a feature production today, they might not be welcome. Back in 1990 the crew was small enough and familiar enough with each other that it wasn't a problem.

From what I know of live action, the CalArts speech you heard would probably apply to Hollywood in general. It's impossible to live up to, but you wind up regretting it every time you don't.

pud said...

Oh yes... I've had my wrist slapped once before. Leaving a personal cartoon on a co-workers desk only led me to a meeting with HR. Ugh.

The person felt Sooooo bad for that happening.
Total mistake...It all seemed innocent enough, something between friends yet not knowing the whole story and why there was a bad reaction and once explained , i understood why the misunderstanding took place.

I did try to explain to the person behind the desk that we draw cartoons for a living and our humour is what it is etc etc.... but they explained that things are different now.... big companies, lawsuits.... etc.

point taken.
back to my desk, closing my door....
getting back to the business of animation.

Thad said...

Anyone who would give a dressing-down over French jokes needs to grow a spine.

Wes Riojas said...

Thanks Will for posting this otherwise never to see daylight "backstage" history from Disney's past. Hey, you're correct with the p.c. thing in corporate america. It's the world we now live in.

Floyd Norman said...

As an old cartoonist, I've always been more than ready to poke fun at executives, managers, department heads and the like.

While working at Disney I even went after Michael Eisner -- and guess what happened? He actually sought me out for a special cartoon gig.

I guess what I'm saying is ... I really don't care if someone gets bent out of shape over a gag. I'm a cartoonist! Deal with it!

Rhett Wickham said...

I have to laugh (and cringe a little). I remember Brad Bird at the AMPAS Panel on Frank & Ollie talking about his disdain for sycophants and certain types of executives who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk, and after several of these comments, Eric Goldberg, wide eyed and laughing in disbelief, leaned over to him and said “My God, how do you stay employed?!”
I suppose that being "careful" or, rather, "mindful" of public humor in a corporate environment is well advised, as not everyone has a good edit button, or an evolved sense of humor (most people these days find Bennet Cerf offensive.) But nothing could be more stifling of creative potential than fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. I admit, as the short, round, pompous very gay guy in the room, I'm often far too easily offended. (Hell, a snobby 20-something me wrote an idiotic letter to poor Don Hahn once, complaining about the drag jokes in BatB. What an ahole thing that was! Don, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry.)
I can't tell you how many writers have said (and still say) to me "oh, no I have to be careful that we don't have the character do X or say Y, because (and here are some honest to goodness reasons I've heard) "the head of the studio has a red-haired daughter", "my producer’s cat is diabetic…we can’t", "he hates sentimentality, so we have to kill her, even though it doesn't make sense" and, my favorite, “She won’t laugh. She doesn’t like funny women, she says it’s offensive and oppressive to make women seem silly or comical.” The film bombed. Why? Ask the critics who didn’t laugh.
Funny is funny. Period. Cruel is something different, but #8 is funny, not cruel, and if you’re French you’ll know it’s even funnier. That joke is not the same as an ill-tempered producer making fun of a pair of gifted artists behind their back, let’s not confuse the two.
I understand and respect your point of view, Will. I’ve always admired your principles and your wise choice to never burn a bridge or take a fight (or a grudge) into the street (a temptation to which I’ve succumbed more than I care to admit) and you were graceful even when, frankly, you were treated badly by folks far less talented than you. However, when you cut loose and don’t give a damn, you are even funnier and your wit is unrivaled. I wish for you a place where you can not only post this list, but where somebody has the guts to say “Funny, but don’t hold back on the next one.” Your colleagues and your audience deserve it.

Will Finn said...

Thanks Floyd and Rhett for chiming in. i guess the whole thing has become more nuanced than it used to be. I originally just wanted to put these up for a laugh and only added the editorial warning as an afterthought and that seems to have taken over the post! I still stand by it though.

Some of the jokes on the other lists are even rowdier and if i get around to posting more of them you'll have to judge for yourself. i guess because I've been in a leadership position a few times since then, I know that there's an expectation to be a little more restrained. i think i can take a joke at my expense pretty well, but not everybody can and I've learned that the hard way.