You’re often described as the most important figure in animation since Walt Disney, or even 'the new Walt Disney'. How does that makes you feel?
Er... I just... I don’t really think like that. ‘The new Walt Disney’? It’s hard enough being the old me!
I try and stay focused on what is important; the stories, the characters and the audience. Our role is to entertain people, and I hope, to make people laugh.
I want kids to grow old remembering our films fondly so when they have kids, they’re gonna want to bring them along to our movies. It was that way with Walt Disney's Films. That's what you aim for.
After so much success, and with your responsibilities continuing to grow, is it easy to maintain your drive?
It is, because there are always new challenges to meet to make great movies, and it’s fun and I adore the people I work with – they’re like best friends. We’re so lucky to be able to control our own destiny.
Ed and I both say, the test is to make both studios a big success - to make movies that are really, really fun and entertaining. And emotional.
And of course you want them to do well at the box office. You wanna make sure they are profitable so you can carry on doing what you want to do and make sure everyone is creatively inspired and fairly compensated. We don’t want people leaving our studios...
We’ve talked a lot about animation. What live action films influenced you growing up?
Oh, loads! Let me sort of go in chronological order… first I’d say Buster Keaton – I just devoured all of his films because his sense of comic timing was amazing.
He’s the closest a human being has ever come to a cartoon character. And I was just amazed at his sense of character and timing, the humour. It's all just so… sophisticated, even when you watch it today.
The silent films of Laurel and Hardy are remarkable as well. Then I’d say Frank Capra. He balances humour, character and heart. I tear up every time I watch those films. Preston Sturges is another great. Sullivan’s Travels is one of my absolute favourite films. It affected me so deeply.
I already knew what I wanted to do in life was to be an animator. And it was at CalArts I saw Sullivan’s Travels...
There’s that scene when they’re in prison and the prisoners are invited to this church, where they show cartoons [Disney’s Playful Pluto], and even in the depth of misery, everybody just starts laughing. And laughing hysterically, because it’s a great cartoon where Pluto gets stuck in a flypaper.
Then of course the main character, the film director, comes back and instead of doing ‘serious’ drama, he decides to keep doing comedy because that’s what the world needs. I just came away from that film thinking there’s this amazing art form that we have, you know. It just reinforced my feelings of what I wanted to do.
Alright, final question. What’s with the Hawaiian shirts?
I’ve worn Hawaiian shirts a little bit through my life, but let’s see… it was probably about ’87 I wore my first one that I really loved, to the point where it fell apart and I had to get another one.
And then I discovered a couple of Hawaiian shirt manufacturers with a whole line and I really liked their work. But I didn’t wear them exclusively at first. I started wearing them to do interviews and then my wife, bless her heart, said, ‘You should match the subject matter of your shirts to what you’re doing that day! If you can.’
So in our new home, we have a large closet and I have my shirts filed under subject matter.
Yeah, so that I know where my tropical-themed shirts are, my automotive-themed shirts are, all my movie-related shirts…
I always say that it’s the little kid in me, you know? Animators tend to be kids who’ve never grown up. A Hawaiian shirt is like a toy that you can wear. And I do love toys…
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