Today we bring to you some questions from an interview held with co-creators of Princess and the Frog John Musker and Ron Clements. Musker and Clements joined creative forces in 1983 to write The Great Mouse Detective and went on to co-direct the film along with Burny Mattinson and Dave Michener. This successful collaboration led to a reteaming on The Little Mermaid, the award-winning film that helped to revitalize feature animation at Disney and generate new excitement for the genre as a whole. Since then, Musker and Clements have co-written and co-directed two of the funniest and most memorable animated features ever, Aladdin and Hercules. Their next project was the Disney animated feature Treasure Planet, a swashbuckling intergalactic adventure based on the classic novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Of his successful partnership with Ron Clements, Musker says, “We’re both relatively agreeable Midwestern types, and we each have slightly different strengths and approaches. Ron is more structure-oriented and makes sure that the overall story doesn’t disintegrate during the course of too many rewrites. I tend to be more concerned with specific details and gags. We constantly go over each other’s scenes and drafts and add new ideas and suggestions in the process.”
Clements and Musker joined forces once again to usher traditional, hand-drawn animation back to Walt Disney Animation Studios with their feature animated fairy tale, The Princess and the Frog. Below are some questions held during this interview with some coming from this very site’s own forum and staff.
Q: (Hi-Def Ninja) Being a Louisiana native, its eery how well you got the cajun Raymond character and extremely entertaining. Was their alot of research involved in the Raymond character and the film as a whole?
John Musker: We wanted to do right by Louisiana and the culture there including the great Cajun populace. John Lasseter really wanted authenticity so we took several trips down there. We met with a number of people including a man named Reggie who was our bayou tour guide. We noted his speech patterns, and picked up more phrases at jazz Fest. We also did research where we read stories written in a “Cajun” voice and found Cajun glossaries online. Best of all though, we cast Jim Cummings as our firefly. When he auditioned he did a great Cajun accent and we learned he had a home there for several years and had worked with Cajuns in the Merchant marines. He was able to improvise in his Cajun speak, so he added a lot of flavor to our gumbo.
Q: This is a return to 2-D animation for Disney. Is there anything new with the technology this time around?
John Musker: Our “ink and paint” system was different. We used “Harmony” instead of CAPS, our old system that had been mothballed. With this new system we were able to evaluate scenes in full color and do paint adjustments to the characters without having to repaint the entire scenes. We also were able to evaluate all elements “in continuity” which was something new. Our character animation was done on paper just as Snow White was. Our effects animation, i.e., the water ripples, magic, shadows, etc. for the first time
was done without paper. Those elements were drawn on a pressure sensitive tablet with a stylus.
Q: Randy Newman’s score lends itself beautifully to both the location and time period. Was he the first composer you had in mind for the film, and at what point in the production did he begin developing the music?
Ron Clements: We pitched the idea for this movie to John Lasseter in March of 2006. We pitched it as a hand drawn film with an African American heroine, and as a musical with Randy Newman doing the music. John said yes to all those things. We thought of Randy almost immediately because his music is iconic, classic Americana, and we knew he spent his boyhood summers growing up in New Orleans. We met with Randy the following May, took him through the story, and talked about the placement of songs and styles of music. Randy took to the project immediately. He hadn’t written many musicals before but he was a great collaborator and we were thrilled with his brilliant work.
Q: In one scene, King Triton rolls past on a Mardi Gras float in an obvious reference to “The Little Mermaid.” There are dozens of less obvious references to other Disney movies like “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “The Jungle Book,” and even “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Was this a conscious collective homage, or are those classics so much a part of everyone’s consciousness that they just sort of crept in?
Ron Clements: Almost all this stuff was deliberate and done for our own amusement. Actually most of the Mardi Gras floats are based on movies John and I worked on. Along with the “Mermaid” float, their are brief shots of an “Arabian Nights” float, a Greek mythology float, and a “pirate” float. There are also caricatures of John and I on the mermaid float throwing beads to the crowd. There are many other caricatures of people who worked on the movie that pop up throughout. Many other Disney refrences as well. We don’t want any of this stuff to be distracting. Just a little something extra for whoever may catch it.