Both Disney and Pixar films tend to avoid the arch cynicism of a lot of other modern animation. Is that deliberate?
I’m just not that kind of filmmaker. I think Family Guy and The Simpsons are brilliant. I love South Park. But when you go down the cynical path, it’s hard to get the audience to really feel for the characters. And the heart, and the humour in our films comes from the characters. Which is how, I think, you make more timeless movies.
There’s a big difference between the great Chuck Jones cartoon films with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, the Coyote and all those and then the ones we call blackout cartoons, the World War II cartoons which are just full of gags. You watch those now and they are just so gag-based for that time that they’re totally dated.
You don’t get that any more. So, there’s a place for topical humour, but it's short-lived. Now look at Snow White, Bambi, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Dumbo - which is my favourite. You watch them again and they are still great. We want to make films that last forever.
Your dad sold car parts, your mum was an art teacher: Gadgets and drawing… a pretty handy background.
[Laughs] Well, yeah, I always loved toys. And always, always, loved cartoons. I remember even in high school, racing home to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.
When did you start thinking about animation as a career?
At High School. I found this book, 'The Art of Animation' by Bob Thomas. It was all about how Disney made Sleeping Beauty. And I was amazed. I had never thought that people could actually earn a living making cartoons.
Around the same time, I saw The Sword In the Stone and was just blown away because all this animation stuff was in my head. My mum picked me up from the movie theatre and I said, ”I wanna work for Walt Disney Studios.”
You wrote to them didn’t you?
All through high school. They sent me a pamphlet; they invited me around for a tour. Then, as a senior, I got a letter saying that they were going to be starting a programme at CalArts [The Californian Institute of the Arts] to teach character animation, and it would taught by these great Disney artists.
I was the second person accepted to the programme. After I graduated, I was invited to the Disney Studios to work that summer.