He never misses Coach's Corner. He's a huge Stompin' Tom fan. So when Walt Disney approached 'Spaz' Williams to helm its newest animated blockbuster, he insisted it be all-Canadian. As he prepares for the release of The Wild, Williams talks to GAYLE MacDONALD about Disney's leap of faith, his devotion to the Maple Leafs, and why he cast Don Cherry as a penguin

When Walt Disney Co.'s lucrative distribution deal with 'toon darling Pixar ended in late 2002, the Mouse House went looking for talented, edgy animators with whom it could partner up.
It ended up on the doorstep of San Francisco-based Complete Pandemonium, a tiny firm whose eccentric creative brain is Toronto-born Steve (Spaz) Williams, a special-effects whiz who lives in the United States but remains a fervent -- some would say fanatical -- Toronto Maple Leafs / Don Cherry-loving Canadian.
Disney was specifically wooing Williams, a graduate of Oakville, Ont.'s Sheridan College, to direct The Wild, an $80-million (U.S.) animated feature film about a madcap troupe of animals who run away from the zoo. At first, Williams waffled, unsure about working for a monolith of Walt's proportions.
But finally he accepted -- on one whopping condition. Williams wanted to team up with a Toronto-based special effects / animation house named CORE, co-founded 12 years ago by Star Trek's William Shatner. The 44-year-old director also insisted that all the work be done by Canadian animators on their own turf: right in Hogtown.