Disney fans were rightfully excited earlier this year when new Mouse House big-cheese John Lasseter not only announced a return to traditionally crafted feature animation with Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Frog Princess but also the inauguration of a new classical shorts program. This would keep established artists busy between the Studio’s plans for more full-length films and train new ones in preparation for the features.
Already, a number of the upcoming titles have been leaked, including The Ballad Of Nessie (a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster), Golgo’s Guest (about the meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial), Prep And Landing (in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit) and what we can reveal is now known as How To Hook Up Your Home Theater. This is the much anticipated and very welcome return to the big screen of one of Walt’s most popular characters, Goofy, in an update to the ever popular How To… cartoons of the ’40s and ’50s in which a deadpan narrator (usually John McLeish) explained “how to” play a sport or execute a task, while The Goof attempts to demonstrate, usually with unexpected and disastrous results!
Not a lot has been known about this new Goofy vehicle – his first solo outing for theaters in over 40 years – until now. Animated News & Views’ Christian Ziebarth has spoken to celebrated Disney animators Andreas Deja and Mark Henn (working with a crew that also includes Eric Goldberg) to find out more about How To Hook Up Your Home Theater for this exclusive interview!
Goofy gets confusingly cabled up in this pre-production storyboard for his new short
Animated Views: To help re-launch Disney’s shorts division, why was it chosen to do a new Goofy cartoon, especially an addition to the How To… line?
Andreas Deja: John Lasseter came in and announced that we were going to do shorts again, because Pixar’s doing shorts and it’s a good idea to nurture new talents and attach directors and storytellers to the new films, and everyone was thrilled. They were going to give the director of each short the choice to do them in whatever medium they wanted them to be in. So you can imagine that we have some that are going to be CG and some that are going to be 2D. John also mentioned that he would like to do something with the old characters again to bring them back and make them relevant. So then two story guys, Kevin and Stevie [first time directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers], came up with an idea for a Goofy How To… I think Kevin had just had the experience of hooking up his own home theater and went through all that.
AV: So he had some of the same trouble himself?
AD: Most of us do. We all love our big screens and high definition. I have Blu-Ray now and I love all this stuff, except that I need help with it, I’m not doing this myself. But even opening up a box of cables, you open it and see all these things so tightly packed and you think, “I’m going to have to take a half a day off work!” And so I animated one of those scenes where Goofy’s actually trying to do that.
AV: So you just channeled all your frustration into it?
AD: Yeah, and the reason why this resonates, and maybe why the old How To… shorts did the same thing, is because they deal with current situations that people have been through. It’s not some half-cracked kind of a story. It’s what Goofy as a cartoon character goes through in trying to hook up his home theater, so many people will know what that’s like and the frustration involved.
AV: So people in the theater can relate and think, “Yeah, I’ve been through that”.
AD: Yes, exactly. But that’s how it came about…Stevie and Kevin came up with the idea.
AV: Were there any other Goofy How To… concepts considered?
Mark Henn: They may have had a couple, but the home theater one was the one idea that was pitched that caught fire, caught everyone’s attention, caught John’s attention.
AD: I think there might have been, but John Lasseter liked this one, I think because he had been through it himself. And I know when people see this that John wants them to think, “Wait a minute. This looks like an old How To… film from the forties, but wait a minute, it can’t be because it deals with plasma TV, cable, subwoofers and surround sound”. So that’s the idea: he wants the whole look, the whole thing, just like the old How To… shorts.
AV: You have a big 60-inch screen, right?
AD: Yeah, I’ve had it for years and years. I paid top dollar for it back when these things came out, but I don’t regret it because I’ve had it all those years and it’s still working great. I love it. My greatest addition is Blu-Ray; I’m getting completely sucked into Blu-Ray now!
AV: In some of the Goofy shorts, such as How To Play Baseball and Hockey Homicide, each character closely resembles Goofy. Will that tradition continue with How To Hook Up Your Home Theater? Will it have lots of Goofy-looking people?
MH: Yes. Some of them were nothing but The Geef character, kind of a Goofy lookalike, and others involved Goofy so you had both of them.
AV: Several of those classic shorts referred to Goofy by some other name, such as “George Geef”. What name will Goofy have in this newest short?
MH: The Geef character is kind of a cousin to Goofy, if you will, and so in our short you will see Goofy as Goofy, and the rest of the world will be populated with those “cousin” characters.
AV: In recent years, we’ve seen other additions to Goofy’s family. Will his wife, son Max, Waffles the cat, or even nephew Gilbert make an appearance in the short?
MH: No, none of that.
AD: There’s no family members. There are background characters, minor characters, fourteen in all, and they all look like they belong in the Goofy world.
AV: Any Mickey, Minnie or Pluto?
AD: No. But it’s funny when you say you’re working on Goofy, and I mean it very seriously, but I’ll be in a conversation with someone and say, “I’m sorry, I have to go. I have a Goofy deadline”. And they say, “I beg your pardon?” and I say, “I didn’t mean that humorously at all”.
AV: At this time, what appears to be the length of How To Hook Up Your Home Theater? An old-school seven or eight minutes?
AD: They’re trying to do “short” shorts, keeping them around five minutes. I think this one’s about six minutes.
AV: In the New York Times article For Disney, Something Old (and Short) Is New Again, Don Hahn provides numerous thoughts regarding Home Theater and its fellow upcoming shorts. How much involvement does Don currently have with the shorts division?
MH: Not a lot since he’s on a sabbatical right now, so he’s not that involved. He was there at the time the article was written, and helped get things launched, but is taking some well-deserved time off right now.
AV: Are there plans to make any other How To… shorts?
MH: We hope so! I know that John has looked at some other pitches and I think Kevin and Stevie, who directed this one, have some different ideas, so I would say that’s a possibility.
AV: Since box-office grosses are usually attributed to the feature films some shorts are attached to, how do you measure just how successful an animated short is? Simply by critical acclaim?
MH: That’s a good question. I really don’t know, because we have the same question at the Studio. I’ve heard word-of-mouth around here that Working For Peanuts in front of Meet The Robinsons has been very popular. I don’t know if that comes from theater owners, or if that’s just internet people gossiping.
AV: Do you have know what movie Home Theater will be attached to?
AD: I have no idea. We heard that the plan would be to attach it to a Disney live-action family film sometime in the Fall.
AV: The Studio’s last theatrical short, Lorenzo, went out with a live-action movie called Raising Helen, and I actually went to the theater to see a different movie but when I thought Lorenzo was about to start I went to that screen and watched that and then went back to the screen I was watching the other movie at!
AD: That’s the kind of thing I would’ve done. I think I’ve done that myself!
AV: I did that with Runaway Brain too.
AD: Yeah, because that was with a movie that didn’t do that great, I remember.
AV: Yes, A Kid In King Arthur’s Court. On the new one, do you know who the narrator’s going to be?
AD: A narrator who sounds exactly like the one that we know from the old shorts. I wouldn’t know the name to be honest with you, but he has the same tone, that same dry, matter-of-fact delivery of his lines. You’d swear, “It’s the same guy, but it can’t be! They couldn’t have lifted old dialogue recordings because the material is all new!” He sounds exactly the same.
Goofy ponders if Ugly Betty would look any better on a 42″ plasma in this completed shot
MH: I think it’s Corey Burton doing the voice. He sounds amazingly like one of the guys used before, because they used several people. If you watch enough of the shorts you’ll hear at least two, maybe three, different narrators depending on the short. The narrator we have is kind of the classic, deadpan delivery, where he takes it very seriously. But, yeah, he sounds great.
AV: Which character model of The Goof is being used? Are you going back to Art Babbitt’s late nineteen-thirties/forties classic style, or the current, slightly more rounded Goofy?
AD: It’s going to be the model from the prior How Tos. We looked specifically at the wonderful Disney Treasures disc and all the shorts are on there: How To Play Baseball, How To Ski… It’s pretty much the same Goofy, it’s past the old Art Babbitt, which was very gangly and had a slightly different build, a bigger muzzle, his head was usually a little bit lower. We used the John Sibley one; everyone’s talking about John Sibley again since Pete Docter wrote that article about him in Amid’s Animation Blast magazine. Sibley did so much of that Goofy animation way back in those films, in How To Be A Sailor, you look at the credits of these old shorts and John Sibley’s in all of them. For this project he was our hero, our guy to look up to.
AV: So you had to make it seem old and new at the same time.
AD: Yeah, we looked at lots of Goofy shorts and we had to look at what makes funny movements, you know, he doesn’t just walk, he sort of breaks a joint for a walking pattern to make it look a little weird and odd. We tried those things.
AV: How are they dividing up the work? I imagine it’s a little different than with a feature where you have a strict team of animators and a lead animator on one character. Do you all work on Goofy?
AD: Well, Goofy is in just about every shot. We have to break it up among about six or seven animators. Dale Baer is the head guy on Goofy. He’s done Goofy before in The Prince And The Pauper and some Coca-Cola commercials in the eighties with Goofy and the other classic characters. So Dale Baer is very comfortable working with Goofy. He also did some beautiful pre-production drawings for us.
AV: If they’re looking at a Fall release, has production wrapped on this?
MH: Not completely, but I’ve just finished my last shot, earlier today, as a matter of fact. So I’m done unless there’s some more changes or revisions.
AV: Walt Disney Feature Animation contributed some Goofy cartoons to the Mickey MouseWorks shows, also later recycled in the House Of Mouse series. What’s the difference between what WDFA did there and what you’re doing for this new short?
MH: This is all new. It’s being done by Feature Animation as opposed to any of the other spin-off divisions
AV: The subject matter is obviously modern, but how much of an influence will the older shorts be as a direction for this new one, or others to follow?
MH: Quite a bit. We really wanted to pay attention, even though the subject matter is contemporary, that the look and feel still has the fun and feel that you see in the older classic Goofy shorts.
AV: To start it off in appropriate fashion then, will it open with the classic starburst frame?
MH: We have that in there now. I don’t know that there’s been talk of not using that. So, as far as I know, they’re going to use it. That’s the idea, to revive that whole thing.
AV: How To Hook Up Your Home Theater is obviously being animated by very good and experienced hands that know the character from other recent outings. How excited were you to be the ones bringing Goofy back to where he belongs, on the big screen?
AD: I got excited to work on a 2D project, period. And to work on Goofy is great because he’s one of the few classic characters I haven’t animated yet.
MH: Very excited. We’ve had a great time and a lot of fun!
Very special thanks to Mark Henn and Andreas Deja for participating in this interview; to Jay Carducci and Travis Beckner at Disney for making the arrangements and providing the movie poster and final frame image from the short; to Eric Goldberg for making this piece possible from the beginning; and to Animated News & Views colleagues Ben Simon and Josh Armstrong for suggesting many excellent questions and providing formatting and additional images.