This blogging thing is pretty crazy. One day you’re writing stories about running costumes and the next you’re sitting across the table from a real Disney genius. I love my life!
Friday I interviewed animator Eric Goldberg, the man responsible for many of our favorite Disney films and characters.
And it was the Best. Day. EVER!
Here’s the back story that might explain why this experience is currently sitting atop my Most Magical Disney Moments list.
It’s 1992. Picture if you will: me, a jaded 18-year-old finishing up high school. My life was editing the yearbook, perming my hair, shopping for new scrunchies, and looking for the next party. My future was wide open as I awaited the acceptance letters from colleges.
And Disney? Absolutely NOWHERE in my life at this time.
Dun-dun-duuunnnn… Yes, it’s true.
Disney was for babies and at 18 I was certainly all grown up, right?
My pal Joseph talked me into going to the movie theater. He heard that the Genie was WAY chill, and we had to go and have hella laughs. (I grew up in Northern California, so you know, “hella” was a thing).
Joe and I went to the movies, and my mind was blown.
When Genie started singing A Friend Like Me, I was entranced. I couldn’t believe the brilliance of this movie. It made an impression.
Disney was clearly NOT for babies. This cartoon entertained not only little kids but adults and snotty teenagers as well.
You could say Genie was my gateway to my Disney adulthood.
Flash forward to last Friday when I met Eric Goldberg, supervising animator on Aladdin. I found myself with the incredible honor of an intimate one-on-one interview with one of the people responsible for my Disney fandom.
Geeking out, right?
With a career reaching back almost 40 years, he’s seen a lot of changes in the industry. I asked how he felt about the technological advances in animation over the years. With his infectious laughter, he gave me his answer.
The more, the merrier! Animation, fortunately, is not a media that has to stand still. I marvel at what some animators can do on the computer. I can’t even use email!
We transitioned to talk about the movie Aladdin and specifically, Genie. I wanted to know about the process.
Does the character come before the animation or do they find an actor to fit the animation?
I was in England at the time and had known John Musker for a while. He and Ron Clements are two of the masters of animation at the Disney Studios. They lured me over to the United States with the possibility that Robin Williams would be cast. They didn’t have him. Didn’t know if they would get him. I didn’t know if I would get him. They wrote the early script and let me read and see if there was a character I’d like to animate. They have the unique talent of being able to write in the voice of the actor they want to cast. They took a flier on this and wrote it clearly for Robin Williams. So they had me animate a Genie to Robin’s comedy riffs; I did three test scenes, and they brought Robin in to watch them.
He laughed, and then he signed.
I think he’s always been a friend of animation- you can see it in the way he did his comedy. To have made Robin Williams laugh and sign on the dotted line— is amazing to me!
My absolute favorite scene is Aladdin is the song Friend Like Me. It’s where we get the full gist of the Genie’s power.
Mr. Goldberg shared how this scene developed.
Animation is collaborative. In this case, it starts with a song. Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman wrote the song. It’s great- a real strut my stuff song. It demonstrates all the power of the Genie in a very short period of time. The story crew takes the first pass, and they do the storyboarding. Ed Gombert, head of story, did a great, fantastic job. Then they had me take a pass at the boards. Then things happened as I was animating. Ed had Genie dancing with his hands: but just a Genie; I added the top hat and tails and had him stride down his tongue. I studied Cab Calloway footage and caricatured it. This is what we call plussing. Each new department plusses it and makes it better.
Recording the song was really fun too. Ashman had passed away, so Menkin was insistent that the song recorded perfectly. Robin Williams called it his “torture track.” But he worked on it diligently and finally got it in the can. John and Ron and I pulled him out and gave him direction: in this scene you are a gas station attendant here, a fairy godmother here. He said, “Okay, okay…” and went back in. Nailed it in 2 takes.
Goldberg went on about the brilliance of Williams.
He came up with so much stuff- stuff I’d never animated before. Like when he says “Duuuude.”
“I’m in the mood to help you Duuuude.” This scene was animated by Raul Garcia, and I directed him. We had to add a sneer on the “uuude” in the animation process. That’s Robin plussing it.
I imagine working with someone who adlibs as freely as Robin Williams would be challenging.
I hoped to hear a bit more about Mr. Goldberg’s relationship with Williams. How did it feel working with him?
Exhilaration! It was great. There was a script that was the roadmap; Robin took the detours. And we loved the detours. He made that character so unique and so special. But Robin the professional actor that he was could always channel it to the story. He didn’t want to crack up the studio for the fun of it; it was always filtered through the needs for the story. He’d do many versions of the same line, and we had to pick the ones we thought were funniest for the movie.
Mr. Goldberg had one more bombshell for me, one that you want to pay attention to as well. He asked me if I knew about the special feature coming out on the Diamond Blu-ray Aladdin.
I did not. I knew the Diamond Edition was coming out on October 13, but that was pretty much all I knew about the DVD.
Be ready to buy your copy because this bit of news brought tears to my Robin Williams loving eyes.
John and Ron and I wanted to use those outtakes in some form because nobody had a chance to hear them. As a tribute to Robin, I listened to over 16 hours of all his takes that didn’t make the film. I picked the ones that were the funniest and storyboarded them. I got my approvals.
There’s a special thing called Genie’s Outtakes on the Blu-ray. So much fun to go back into the material to realize what a great, funny, giving performer he was. Hopefully, people will understand even better what his genius was. I hope we did him proud.
I can’t wait to get my hands on this gem.
You can pre-order your copy of the Aladdin Diamond Edition Blu-ray or pick it p in stores on October 13.
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)