Thursday, April 1, 2010

Basil of Baker Street, Part 4

First time director gives Vincent (Ratigan) Price the
background of his character at the recording session.
Vincent Price was perfect as the vocal embodiment of nefarious villian, RATIGAN!  Or as his character would remark, "... an extremely large mouse!" I usually didn't attend voice recording sessions because I really liked having only the audio in my mind when testing for new characters, unblemished by the live session although the expressions and physical traits could be helpful at times to study if we choose that person to provide the voice. You wouldn't believe the physical theatrics I've seen when someone was trying out for a role waving their arms, making faces and jumping around instead of concentrating on their vocal acting. A few times after such a session a director would be excited after what he thought was a great recording test only to find the rest of us who hadn't attended the recording less than enthused because we were able to concentrate solely on the voice. My other excuse was that I was usually swamped with work. When Vincent Price came in though, well that was different. As we all knew who he was mainly due to his horror themed later films and the booth was packed with most of our small crew. John Musker was directing the recording on the floor with Vincent Price when he asked for the same take one too many times.  We were dying in the booth, laughing and I'm sure John thought it was funny in time too. 

Me and my pal "Big Ben"
 We had a lot of fun in those days at Disney. John instigated the first of many Caricature Shows in the studio library where his wife Gail worked. Everyone at the studio was invited to contribute and most of us did.  At Halloween, the animation staff would wear their finest and strangest mostly homemade costumes. I'll have to post some of those around October.  And any Disney animation artist worth their salt could flip a pushpin into a facing wall or ceiling and hit the spot. It was a benefit of long hours of having so much ready ammunition around. We became adept with whipping out those tiny terrors of pintacular precision. 

Sometimes we used the wall, other times the ceiling. We could toss them with a curve or slight rise, like a baseball player on the mound pitching to a heavy hitter. On Basil we took it up a notch. We used to make blowguns out of pan cels and shoot special darts which were our solid lead pushpins from the 1930's and 1940's. We could hit the target from one end of the hall to the other. The pins hit so hard that when we pulled the softer lead, the steel points stayed in the back side of the closed door. Wonder what they thought after the animation staff left to relocate to Glendale? Must have looked liked a metal porcupine had farted cold steel quills!  Tons of silly sketches flew back and forth among artists during production a lot of which I kept copies of thankfully. A funny gag drawing could make a long day seem a lot shorter. A prop I had brought in for the Toyshop sequence was an old hand crank bubble machine I had picked up in an antique store in London.  I put it to good use when Musker had to leave his office across the hall to attend a meeting one afternoon. I had found some "Super-Duper Long Lasting Bubble Liquid"  for the fuel but when John returned, there were bubbles over his desk, moviola, floor, everywhere. Those bubbles just stayed, and stayed! Luckily when they finally went away they didn't leave behind any damage, only that springtime fresh clean smell, ahhh.

Our favorite little corner of the world
 The film was enjoyable to be a part of because it all seemed to work. The story and the crew were a good matchup. The directors were all top notch. I was lucky to work with people like Matt O'Callahan whose story sketches were great inspiration to all of us. Rob Minkoff and Mark Henn  breathed life into the violin playing mighty mouse of deductions and his trusty sidekick Dawson. Glen Keane was unleased for one of his best performances to date with his portrayal of the notorious Ratigan. Henry Mancini was and still is one of my favorite composers and I was able to work with him on other films besides Basil and he even invited me to his studio office early one morning for a chance to see and hear his latest magic. Then out of the blue, the title was questioned. Management decided to test market the name "Basil of Baker Street" to some small kids and came back to us that it wasn't working and that the children preferred the name, "The Great Mouse Detective" much better. 

They were also concerned over the recent box office failure of Steven Spielberg's "Young Sherlock Holmes" and wanted to distance themselves from that film. This totally ridiculous move by management led to the infamous memo that went out with new titles for all the classic Disney Animated features to date. One inside joke of course was that "Aristocats" was the sole title unchanged in the fake memo. This memo circulated throughout the company and internationally and the animation staff thought it was hilarious. Management was furious besides being embarrassed and called an inquisition to nab the perpetrator but to no avail. No one on the crew was going to rat out the culprit although we all knew the author. It's funny that decades later the current  Disney management team has renamed, "Rapunzel" to "Tangled"  somehow because "The Princess and the Frog" didn't meet someone's box office expectations (I thought it did well) and they are blaming both titles with attracting girls only. As the old saying goes, "... only the names change," especially at later day Disney.
Sherlock Holmes Musem London
  By this time Don Griffith had retired, along with Woolie, Frank, Ollie, Milt, and other great disney alumni. Part of the magic for me was seeing these guys and learning what I could from their immense talent. I also missed hanging with the veterans during break times or lunch and hearing some great stories of "the old days" with Walt. Brad Bird, Tim Burton and John Lasseter had also moved on and so the studio had lost even recently acquired top talent. In addition to the creative ranks being depleted, we had also been moved in the middle of production, to a converted warehouse in Glendale off the studio lot and out of the old animation building. I missed our old digs, the backlot walks, the morgue and its history. At this point I also decided it was  time to move on. 

Setting up what would become DTV
All the locations on Basil were set and the background keys were done. There was tons of reference we had collected and donated if anyone needed to go back to the source. I went to work for the Bagdasarians on, "The Chipmunk Adventure", and for Disney TV on their new small screen offerings, "Gummi Bears" and "Ducktales". Ken Anderson was also brought on board for the launch of "Gummi Bears" designing the main tree so that was a highlight to be paired with the maestro again if only for a brief stint on publicity concept art. Some of my former crewmates on "Basil", Ed Gombert, Toby Sheldon, and others soon joined the party at Disney TV which added to the fun we had over in North Hollywood.

Basil Wrap Party with me attempting to channel Miami Vice
        My wife and I were eventually invited back to the House of Mouse for the wrap party with the film officially entitled, "The Great Mouse Detective". We could each bring a guest so I brought Bill Frake and my wife invited his lovely wife Kathy. Bill had introduced us to Rowland Wilson and his equally talented wife Suz. We had quite the adventure one night at the Magic Castle which for time I won't go into here. Bill was a layout man I had known and worked with and he had contributed a bit to Basil and I wanted him there to enjoy the party . As the evening went on, two of the film's directors, John and Ron came by to say hi and catch up. As he sat down at our table, John Musker leaned forward and asked if I was interested in Art Directing a new film he and Ron were going to direct, something called, "The Little Mermaid."

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