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The Legend of Max Howard

Max Howard

Seeing Max Howard’s name as one of the judges of Animation Magazine‘s Pitch Party reminded me of a link I’d been meaning to share. First, a little background: back in the Eighties and Nineties, for reasons nobody fully understands, almost anybody who worked in musical theater could become an animation executive at Disney. Someday, someone will write about it and explain this weird aberration of animation history. Until then, we can piece it together through bits and pieces, like this three-page Orlando Sentinel article from July, 1990, about Max Howard’s beginnings in the animation industry.

The article reveals that Howard had an impressive background in British theater, but was thoroughly unqualified to be running an animation studio, which is what Disney animation v-p Peter Schneider hired him to do during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Howard says in the article (a bit indiscreetly) that, “They thought I was the person to run their London animation studio; incidentally, I didn’t. I told Disney I had spent my years in the theater and didn’t know a thing about animation.”

As a historian, I find it fascinating to revisit articles like this decades later. The piece is especially interesting now that Howard has aggressively begun to promote himself as an animation consultant and all-knowing guru who flies around the world to share his wisdom. In his lectures, I’m sure he doesn’t use many examples from his stint as president of Warner Bros. Animation where he oversaw the legendarily inept production of Quest for Camelot. He also doesn’t mention the film in his official bio, though he does make sure to take responsibility for The Iron Giant. Thankfully, that means he’s learned a few things throughout the years about what constitutes quality animated filmmaking.