This multi-year effort has involved Disney’s Restoration and Preservation team, with input from Michael Giaimo (Pocahontas, Frozen and the upcoming film Wish) and hand-drawn animator and director Eric Goldberg to maintain the original artistic choices of the filmmakers.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com on Zoom, Goldberg is wearing one of his many Mickey Mouse shirts, made for him by his wife. This one features loads of little black-and-white images of the iconic mouse’s face.
He’s had a love of animation since he was young, watching Disney cartoons on The Mickey Mouse Club, and he started making his own flipbooks when he was six, where “no memo pad in the house was safe” until he began creating films with his Super 8 camera.
Goldberg first joined Walt Disney Animation Studio as supervising animator of the Genie in 1992’s Aladdin, in addition to directing Pocahontas and key segments in Fantasia 2000. He also animated Mini Maui in Moana, Louis in The Princess and the Frog and Phil in Hercules.
He tells us that the restoration process for Cinderella has largely been about colour.
“Since Michael and I are old geezers, we remember what these films looked like in a movie theatre. There’s not many people who can still say that. We wanted to get it back to what we know are the right colours.
“Sometimes changes were made at the whim of other branches in the company, or someone decided to push the saturation knob all the way up. The film has been through so many different iterations for VHS, DVD and Blu-ray.
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“Consumer products wanted to push Cinderella more towards being a yellow-haired blonde with a blue dress. She’s not – she has dirty blonde hair, she always did, and her dress is silver.”
Cinderella is what’s known as cel animation, which involves characters being hand-drawn on clear celluloid sheets and then placed over painted backgrounds.
If Goldberg noticed that the paint was streaky, or a colour became lighter for a few frames, that would be amended, but he notes, “If there’s still a little bit of paint flicker on it, that’s fine for us, because it says this was made by humans.”
He adds: “We wanted to put this film back to what the original artists intended. The people who have seen Cinderella restored say it’s like looking at the film for the first time, and that warms our hearts greatly.”
Throughout his time at Disney, Goldberg has seen huge changes in animation, particularly with the introduction of computer graphics (CG), but while CG is great for turning around bigger, more complex objects, hand-drawn is better for “flights of fancy, for characters who are larger than life”, Goldberg says. “For the sheer invention in animation, nothing beats hand-drawn.”
Aladdin’s Genie is certainly a prime example of this, and just like Cinderella, Aladdin was a completely hand-drawn film. Imagine a giant flipbook, where it takes 24 drawings (or 24 frames) to make just one second of film.
The soundtracks are recorded first, which the animators listen to constantly during the process to “create performances that suit these particular characters”.
“The Genie has a soul. He has a want. He has a desire, and that’s just as important as making people laugh,” Goldberg says.
“The hardest part about doing the Genie was making people believe he was sincere. At the end of the movie, when Aladdin and the Genie part company, you have to feel something for both of them, you have to realise they’re both putting an end to that friendship.
“That’s why our characters remain popular – because you know they have the same feelings and desires as any of us in the audience.”
John Musker and Ron Clements, who produced and directed Aladdin, co-wrote the screenplay, writing the part of the Genie specifically for Robin Williams. “I didn’t confer a lot with Robin,” says Goldberg, “but we were on the same wavelength.
“If he did something in the sound recording booth, he knew I’d pick up on it. Occasionally he would drop into celebrity impressions. Other times, it would just be a noise, or a tiny bit of dialogue. We found we could capitalise on that.”
He adds, “The most famous example is when Aladdin tells the Genie he’s going to use his third wish to set him free, and Robin ad-libs, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, right, buh-woop.’ John and Ron didn’t know what ‘buh-woop’ was, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s Robin’s shorthand for telling a lie. That’s Pinocchio’s nose growing. Can I please turn the Genie’s head into Pinocchio? We own the character!’ So it’s in the movie, and he gave us countless opportunities like that from his amazingly fertile brain.”
With Cinderella done and dusted, Goldberg is now working on the restoration of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As Disney approaches its 100th birthday, with celebrations culminating in new film Wish being released in November about what happens “when you wish upon a star”, why does Goldberg think the company has endured for a century?
“Disney films do a lot of things – they transport you to new worlds, they tell you stories, they use sound and colour to convince you these characters exist.
“It’s what Walt [Disney] brought to it many years ago and what I’ve been describing, personality animation – the creation of characters that audiences want to spend time with – that keeps Disney Animation alive and well, and will continue to do so.”
Cinderella will premiere on Disney Plus on Friday 25th August 2023. Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 per month or £79.90 for a full year’s subscription.
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