Comment of the Day: Musical Executives

In the post earlier this week about animation executive Max Howard, I wrote (somewhat flippantly) that nobody understood why “almost anybody who worked in musical theater could become an animation executive at Disney” in the 1980s and ’90s. Of course, many people do know. A Brew reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emailed a nice capsule history of what happened during that period:

Roy Disney was seeking a leader to put animation on a solid footing to move forward. He sought the advice of Robert Fitzpatrick, then-President of CalArts. Bob had just finished his stint as the director of the highly-successful Olympic Arts Festival, and he suggested that perhaps an arts management structure might be the most natural for Animation–both are project-based, but maintain ongoing management and cultural growth/identity.

Bob’s lieutenant on the Olympic Arts Festival was Peter Schneider. Bob connected Peter and Roy, and the rest is pretty well-known. Peter had worked with Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on “Little Shop of Horrors,” he brought in a lot of the Olympic Arts and theater colleagues in those early years in the 1980s including Thomas Schumacher, Kathleen Gavin, Karen Schmidt, etc.

As Ashman and Menken further identified Animation as a form of Musical Theater, the talents from that world naturally began to migrate to Animation. People often forget that there was no real paradigm for how Animation might work, structurally, in the 1990s, so they brought in all kinds of talents from all manner of entertainment, a lot from Theater, since it seemed to bear a stronger resemblance to the creative environment of Animation.


  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X98c8fCg5Sk ANIMANOID

    - History has shown interesting results when other languages ​​are mixed with animation.
    - There is a wing occupied in trying other languages ​​while the other wing prefers languages ​​already assimilated by the public in both there is the challenge of making creations which have empathy with people, something that seems forgotten by many professionals.

    • The Gee

      This infusion of another language resulted in a lot of soundtracks being released, right?

      Animation almost always has been an amalgam of different media and has worn its influences on its sleeves for decades.

      Not to be flip but the 90s for Disney seemed to result in a top-heavy result of Fairy Tales + many songs = the right way to do it

      Things like Disney’s radio station and umpteen gazillion tapes and CDs marketed for kids entertainment in cars and in living rooms.

      That direction for features also played into extending the life of the property on stage and on ice, and I presume in the parks. Those many parks.

      I guess it is not a bad thing but I don’t think many professional forgot what makes animation magic for them. I seriously doubt they forgot why they chose to make a career in the industry. Even when productions ramped up and studios closed down. I’m also sure they don’t forget the musical chairs with Eisner Katzenberg Ovitz and others.

  • cbat628

    This clears up some things.

  • 90′s WDFA Vet

    According to Howard, when he first came to the studio he was given his pick of live-action musical projects to develop. (“I, Tina”, which later morphed into “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, was one of them) He asked specifically to work with Animation.

  • http://exclusive-cheese.deviantart.com/ Taco Wiz

    Little Shop of Horrors is my favorite thing in the world (close runner ups being Ren & Stimpy and cheese pizza). It’s more like a religion to me than a fandom. How can there be a Cartoon Brew entry about Ashman/Menken WITHOUT me plugging it? There can’t. It’s a good thing I’m here. (Kidding, kidding.)

    Little Shop of Horrors is very representative of the direction Disney ended up going in the 90s. This could be because Alan Menken and Howard Ashman worked on the films and thus influenced it. It could be because someone at Disney saw Little Shop of Horrors and thought it seemed a lot like the direction Disney was planning on going in. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

    While not all productions do the show justice, and the 1986 film adaption certainly did not, the show really feels like one of a Disney film. There’s a lot of humor, but there’s also an emtoional core. Like a Disney film, different people react to it differently. Some people can see a funny family show, and some people see something deep and meaningful. ..Okay, only Beauty and the Beast really rendered that kind of reaction. It still fits, right?

    I’m not very eloquent. I’m also 15. I have an important answer to the question this journal entry poses, but unfortunately I can’t phrase it in a way that makes me look remotely intelligent. Let me just say that Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Hunchback of Notre Dame are VERY similar to LSOH in tone.

    Also, listen to Somewhere That’s Green and Part of Your World back to back. There’s something there…

  • http://thisisonlya.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I have no idea what all of Howard Ashman’s contributions at that time were but the movies with him seemed to work better than the movies without him.

  • Was My Face Red

    Little Shop Of Horrors was a very ‘toony’ musical indeed (I’m a big fan too) and it’s not a great leap to see how people coming from a theatre background, which is usually a team creative effort, might do well in animation, which is usually a team effort too, on a good day. Both deal in heighteneed realities and getting the best from the many different specialists involved in them. You could even make a claim that the heightened reality of much theatre puts it closer to the heightened reality much animation, rather than live actions movies. I think Ashman and Menkin were great at this, with the right sensibilities, whereas others ended up manking Pochohontas. The one that got away was Hunchback where for about ten dramatic minutes I thought they were going to make the Les Mis of animation, until the Disney gene kicked in and Quasi started talking to the birds and comedy gargoyles.

  • Bud

    Most of Disney’s song composers came from Broadway and/or Tin Pan Alley (or both!). Since the 1930′s. Nothing new. MANAGEMENT from Theater came in the 1980′s.

    I never thought of the older Disney films as “musicals,” but rather films with songs. Fine line, I know. But they were always character driven. And not one so-called “villian” song I can remember (save Cruella De Vil, which was not sung by her) until “Great Mouse Detective.”

    And thank goodness they never made the “le mis” of animation. The stage musical was bad enough.

  • Was My Face Red

    Believe me I’m no Les Mis fan either but it’s not ‘bad’ it’s just that you and me didn’t like it. But half the rest of the world did like it and I thought that for the first ten minutes of Hunchback they were going to have the guts to marry a darker dramatic structure to a sung through musical style to create something with a touch of the operatic. Then they didn’t.

  • A.C.

    Yay, I’ve always tied my love for musical theater to animation (especially when it comes to the musical numbers in my fave shorts). Cool to see it shared by the vets. Most of my inspiration has come from my fave musicals (1776 is one of the best examples).

    I find that theater actors always make the best animation VAs too, as they’re used to exaggerating over the top situations.

    Oh and I’m in a musical at my community theatere right now and having a blast. ;-)

  • Jamison

    Worst list ever!