Behind the scene of beloved Disney films

jholmes@bradenton.comApril 12, 2010 

SARASOTA — Animation was the topic of choice Sunday during the Sarasota Film Festival’s “In Conversation With . . .” series’ second installment, which featured Walt Disney animation producer Don Hahn.

Hahn is the director of “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” which was screened at the festival over the weekend. The film is a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of some of Disney’s most beloved films.

During Sunday’s conversation, which was moderated by Ringling College of Art and Design’s Ed Cheetham, Hahn shared thoughts on the challenge of getting the hit film “The Lion King” off the ground.

“ ‘Lion King’ was a very problematic property,” the producer said while sitting on the stage at Florida Studio Theatre. “I couldn’t get anyone to do it.”

Hahn pitched it as a Moses-meets-Joseph-and-Hamlet-in-Africa story, with music by Elton John. But what people saw on paper was the story of “a lion cub that gets framed for murder,” he said.

It was an “OK” idea at best. But Hahn, who also produced “Beauty and the Beast,” said that’s how many great animation films begin — with so-so ideas that come to life with the help of talented people.

That’s probably why, as a producer, Hahn said he surrounds himself with the best people he can find when working on an animation project.

Hahn said many ideas are tossed around during the creative process of working on a film — from the details of the script to the music. Those ideas can come from the unlikeliest of sources.

“What wins in the studio is the best idea, not the best person,” he said.

But it’s films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which Hahn worked on as an associate producer, that serve as a tribute to animation. The film was created before the wonders of digital animation and was Hahn’s most difficult project, but one that he enjoyed greatly.

“I think that’s the movie that reminded us how much we loved animation,” he said.

During Sunday’s talk, Hahn also spoke of the $7 billion Disney takeover of Pixar in 2006. He said the acquisition served as a reawakening of the playfulness and creativity that had stared to wane at Disney.

But creativity at Disney is more than animation at its core — it’s about how all the other elements come together, too, such as music for instance.

“Circle of Life,” the hit song from “The Lion King,” was originally, as Hahn called it, a “bubble gum song” by Elton John. Hahn and his crew told John the opening scene of Simba’s christening was ceremonial, and they were looking for something with a gospel feel. So John went back to craft the version that’s so well-known today.

The tune was written in 30 minutes and was dubbed “the egg salad song.”

“He wrote the song dur- ing a lunch break,” Hahn said, who revealed that the dish of the day was egg salad.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.

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