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Interviews: Treasure Planet

Nov. 28, 2002by: JoBlo

Recently, the "friendliest people on earth"and I don't mean Heidi Fleiss' former colleaguesI mean the folks at Disneyinvited me to their animation headquarters in Burbank, California for a few sit-down interviews with the cast and creators of the new flick TREASURE PLANET. The film is, as you would expect, an epic ode to the great Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. Pretty much take that story, and some of those famous characters, and put them in space, and you've got the film. But, I must say, they do a really good job. Of course you can read JoBlo's comprehensive review of the film at your own leisure, so I won't bore you with my breakdown of the film. But I will tell you that I liked it, and was more than happy to accept Disney's invite to talk briefly with a few of the players that made it happenDavid Hyde Pierce and Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Animation.

First into the room was David Hyde Pierce, who everybody pretty much knows as Niles Crane from the hit TV show FRASIER. In the film, he provides the voice of Doctor Doppler, adventurous youngster Jim Hawkins's sidekick during his galactic journey. He's no rookie when it comes to voicing over characters for animated features. He did A BUG'S LIFE, and also had a cameo in an episode of THE SIMPSONS, as Sideshow Bob's brother, Sideshow Cecil. Here's a little from my conversation with David

DAVID HYDE PIERCE

How did you come about getting this role?

They had come to me for A BUG'S LIFE. They had sent me the script, along with some drawings of what the character and some of the scenic elements would look like. The script was fantastic, the look was so compelling. So, I did it. Also, Joseph Gordon Levitt had played my son in a show I did way back before FRASIER called THE POWERS THAT BE. Is that amazing or what?

So Joseph would've been how old?

He was 11.

So what was your role in that show?

I was a suicidal congressman. It was a political satire. It all took place in Washington. John Forsythe was the Senator.

How long did it run?

It was a mid-season replacement. It ran 2 half-seasons.Most of them aired on NBC. Some aired on USAWe were actually on at 2 o'clock on a Saturday at one point. A real prime time slot.

Unlike FRIENDS, which we always hear is going to end, it seems FRASIER will go on forever. True?

That would be fine with me. I don't think that's reality. I think we're contracted for this year and next year. And people have started talking about doing a year after that. We all sort of thought it would end in two years. And the only reason it would ever end is that we thought it just couldn't be good anymore. And the real reason it's been going for what seems like 20 years is that the writing has stayed so great. And this year we're having an amazing year. But my feeling is I really want the last show to have a feel of, oh, I wish we had one more season instead of thank god it's finally over.

Did you do any of your scenes in this movie with anyone else, or were they all alone?

I was alone. My stuff with Emma Thompson was all here, while she was in London.

What's that like?

Well, now, because I've done it enough, I enjoy it. And it becomes a very creative thing. It's very liberating. You get to just sort of use your imagination. Also it's such a different process because you do everything so many times. You do each line multiple times. And that's very freeing, because it's no longer about what the right line reading is for this moment. You don't know. You do as many as your imagination can come up with, and then they have to put it together and assemble it. And with the people they have working on films like this, it comes back better than if you had done it under your own devices.

What was the first time you did this?

I think A BUG'S LIFE was the first feature. And I had done voice over for a SIMPSONS episode, and I also did some for the HBO show PUSS N BOOTS that was set in Hawaii.

Was it any different doing a Pixar movie than this one?

Not from my standpoint. No. From a technical standpoint I'm sure it was. But from mine, no. I was on the same recording stage with similarly insanely passionate people in the booth. They all love the medium and they all love the story their telling. And that's the thing. When you're by yourself in that room, you have to have somebody who can help you visualize where you are in that particular situation, and how you need to react.

How familiar are you with Niles? Can you just turn him on and off?

I don't think I can turn him off. He's just there. Here we are in our 10th year, and that's just such a comfortable place for us to go. But, it just sort of happensI am aware that my character in this is very intellectual. And try to make sure that my line readings don't get too Nilesy, because that would draw away from this event and this setting for anyone that knows the show.

You are so busy. How little time do you have to do live action films?

I did do FULL FRONTAL, the Steven Soderbergh movie because of the way he scheduled it. I was still able to do FRASIER. But I did a big movie this summer, during my hiatus. That's really the time when I can do anything where I have a large part. That was DOWN WITH LOVE, an homage to the Rock Hudson-Doris Day films. I'm the Tony Randall character.It's set in the 60s, so the physical look of the movie is just great.

When you watch this, do you see yourself as Doctor Doppler?

I do, but in a really subtle way. In an individual frame, I couldn't say oh, that's the way I do X. They just sort of somehow meld you into this creature they've created, and it's neither you nor it.

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The other player I spoke with was the President of Disney Animation, Thomas Schumacher. He was great. So many stories to tell. He discussed the history of the film, some future Disney projects, and how Disney approaches their big features, as far as marketing. Here's more from the man behind the Disney magic

THOMAS SCHUMACHER

With computers becoming so important now, do we still need the artists in these animated films?

Yes. That's the hardest part to get people to understand. Since you're a write, you know that you can't sit at that Mac G4 and press F9, and spit out the great American novel. Somehow we all understand that.

LILO AND STITCH was a huge summer hit for you guys. ATLANTIS was a big hit too. This movie seems to be a cousin of ATLANTIS.

Yeah. Someone recently said to me, "oh, this is the movie you tried to make with ATLANTIS".

But box-office wise, is there less hope if the movie is skewed towards boys than it is girls?

When we made LILO, everyone said nobody was going to go it, while we were making it. Every time I presented it, they said who's going to go see a movie about a little hand-drawn girl that lives in Hawaii who brings home an alien. Why would anyone go to that? And then when they heard it had Elvis they said, oh please. I had more eye rolls with LILO. But it turned out funny, heartfelt. Quite frankly, LILO AND STITCH is a franchise movie. It's out on video. The tv series will launch in September. There's a theme park attraction.

And when you look at those characters, we had the same thing with TOY STORY toys, have you seen the interactive STITCH, where you squeeze his hand and talk to him and he talks to you? 32 different things you can say that he'll understand. And this toy was sold out before the movie opened. ..Everything on LILO just blew out of the stores cuz nobody really expected what was to come. But it's clearly a franchise movie, but nobody anticipated thatWhether it's geared towards boys or girls, if you make a movie that's charming, delightful, lovely to look at, and one that hits a chord with you on an emotional level, it'll be successful. Ironically, every success we've had has been the movie everyone rolled their eyes on. It frightens me when we now work on something everyone thinks is a good idea. It terrifies me.

I heard TREASURE PLANET will be translated, as most of your movies are, in 27 different languages. Is that true?

Yes. And that's a lot. But this is a worldwide business, and that's how we need to look at it.

What is HOME ON THE RANGE?

If you loved LADY AND THE TRAMP. If you loved 101 DALMATIANS. If you loved those talking animals that step in when the human world has failed, that's what this film is. Plus, it's been hard in making this film because there's a whole international group that doesn't get the joke, but anyway. It's a western told through the point of view of the noblest creature of the west, the dairy cow. They're played by Jennifer Tilly, Roseanne Barr, and Judi Dench. They're three cows whose farm receives this bank notice that they're going to shut it down. And they try to return the bank notice. Cuba Gooding plays the sheriff's horse.

And tell me about BEARS.

Everyone has this mythology, in every culture, of this guy who gets transformed into a bear. It's a mythology story, set in the great northwest 5,000 years after the last saber-toothed tiger. And it's Joaquin Phoenix who gets transformed into a bear. Music by Phil Collins. It's big and lush. Probably on the scale of like LION KING or something like that.

Is typical to, like they did with TREASURE PLANET, bring in a 2-page treatment to you?

The first time I saw it was actually after LITTLE MERMAID. They actually pitched the idea 17 years ago, and I've been here 15 years. And I saw it after that. And after ALADDIN we looked at TREASURE PLANET or HERCULES, and decided to go with HERCULES so the entire technological world could catch up to TREASURE PLANET.

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Well, that's about it. Like I said, very brief. And, as you can see, Schumacher loves talking about future projectswhich is great for those of you needing to plan you Xmas lists of Disney toys down the road.

To criticize me, email joblo@joblo.com. To praise me, email me at johngunn@joblo.com

Source: JoBlo.com

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