Dream On Silly Dreamer -- a story about a dream, the joy when that dream became a reality, and the death of that dream.
April 28th, 2005, Tony West returns to his home of Columbus, OH for the Ohio premier of his film, Dream On Silly Dreamer. Only more appropriate was its location. Tony is a graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design, right in the heart of Downtown Columbus (and not far from Michael Eisner's alma mater of Dennison University). I arrived onto the scene rather early, about 45 minutes before the scheduled start time. I was the first one there, except for a couple of the instructors from the college. Time went by and slowly more people came in, but 15 minutes till showtime and it was still looking like it would be a private screening for only a dozen people. Then 7:00 came and I looked up -- the place was packed. I overheard one man saying that he had never seen such a big turnout for a screening -- especially anything to do with animation.
It started late but when it did, all attention was focused up front as the announcements of upcoming events were read and Hazel Tarr and Tony West were introduced.
The screening started out with a 17 minute documentary short called AOL: Animation on Location: An Animation Odyssey by animation student, Hazel Tarr. The film chronicled a trip to 13 animation studios that several CCAD students visited during the course of a week. Even though she was barred from filming at such major studios as Warner Bros., Sony, Electronic Arts, and Universal, she managed to capture 28 hours worth of material on film, of which only 17 minutes were ultimately seen. This is a true student film -- a low quality film by a student for students.
The film starts on the bus. A very, very long bus trip to Los Angeles, which is evident from everybody doing absolutely anything in order to keep themselves entertained or else just fall asleep. When they finally arrive, the fun begins. Staff from Rhythm & Hues (primarily special effects animation, such as Babe and Garfield) and Klasky-Csupo (famous for The Simpsons, Rugrats, and many other Nickelodeon shows that share their unique style) take up the balk of the film giving tours of facilities and giving talks of inspiration to the small group of future animators. Of particular interest was the Rhythm & Hues studios, which keep several pieces of art work up on the walls to serve as inspiration. However, this is not art that they've done. This is original animation sketches from some of the greatest Disney movies of all time: The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, and many others can be seen.
In between their time at the studios, they visit such landmarks as the UCLA campus and Seggraph 2004, where we see animations from Shrek 2 and Van Helsing.
The film ends with an inspiring monologue by DisneyToons animator and CCAD graduate, Saul Blinkoff. Inspiring to animation students, that is. That is purely what this film was for: to be an inspiration to animation students, not something for everybody else. There are no behind-the-scenes looks into animation and only inspiration coming from the professionals.
Then came what everybody was waiting for, Dream On Silly Dreamer. A funny, yet emotional film that manages to bring Disney magic into an otherwise tragic subject. The style is borrowed from the classic Disney films, from the opening shot of "West Lund Productions, Inc.," a parody of the Buena Vista Distrobution title card seen on the classic Disney films, to the opening shots and animated sequences that recall such classic animations as Winnie the Pooh and the Jiminy Crickett educational subjects.
There is a lot to laugh about in the film. The animated sequences are quite funny (and from audience reaction, I'm not the only one that thought so) and help to balance out the tragedy of the tale. This is also a great film for some rare shots of times at the studio that we rarely get to see. Especially memorable is seeing the disco-era animators -- bell-bottoms and all.
The interviews contained within the film are very positive. Everybody featured in the film obviously have quite the love for the company and enjoyed everything that they had done. It's even more surprising when you find out that these interviews were filmed just after the March 25th meeting that announced the fate of the studio.
The film will bring a tear to your eye. That's how powerful it is. This is a must-see film for every animation fan. We may never get to have another film like this, especially since The Sweatbox is being held from any kind of release, one that shows the true heart and soul of animation. One that paints the all-to-human picture of what happened during those last fateful days at Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida.
The film ended with a long applause for both of the film makers, especially for Tony West's masterpiece. A question & answer session followed.
Poor Hazel. I'm sure she had a lot she could've shared, especially since a week was condensed into a brief 17 minutes. But she never got that chance as all attention, save for a couple of questions from one of the college's instructors. All attention was on Tony West for the rest of the night.
Of major importance of the evening was what happened with everybody and everything once the Florida studio closed. Especially when it came to the desks. According to Tony, the desks were originally offered at, probably jokingly, $1.00 each. They wound up costing the animators $1,300 each. Most that could make the purchase spent their last paycheck in order to keep their desk. As was stated by Tony, he had that desk ever since he started there and that there was no way he was going to let anybody else have that desk, so he bought up as much of his furniture as he could. A few weeks later, the remaining were sold off to a liquidator for $80 a piece. Hazel Tarr mentioned that while they were at UCLA, she was told that a few more were bought by the college. Many more were bought by Pixar, which is probably how the rumour of Pixar starting a traditional animation studio began (Tony West says that there's probably no truth to this rumor, although he'd love to see it happen).
As for the animators, that's an even sadder state for some. One of them is getting his CDLs in order to be a truck driver. Another is working at Home Depot. Less than 10% moved out to the Burbank studio. Andreas Dejas is now working at the studio in Australia, which did shock everybody until they learned why he'd settle for doing a sequel to Bambi. Just as the Florida studio was far enough away from the Burbank studio that they could develope their own stuff more freely, the Australian studio is the same way. Andreas Dejas did protest at first when he was asked to go down there and teach them how to draw Bambi, but when he saw that this was no ordinary direct-to-video project, that this was a project worth doing and actually had the heart and soul of the original, he decided to stay on. However, his contract with Disney will be up soon and his future with the company is very uncertain.
A few other animators went on to establish their own studios, such as the Orlando-based studios, Legacy and Project Firefly, where Tony West currently works.
Distribution for this film has been very difficult, not only for the subject, but also because most distributers are unsure of how to market it. It is only a 45 minute film, after all. However, there is a DVD planned to be released as a 2-disc set with plenty of extras. The target date for the release is July 17th or there about so that it can be available in time for the 50th anniversary celebrations. It will be edited from the version that is currently being shown in these screenings because of some information that was made known through James Stewart's book, DisneyWar. Near the end of the film, it is stated that 1,300 people lost their jobs. This was an estimation that Tony West and Dan Lund came up with based on a rough estimate of how many people were at each of the closed studios worldwide. However, according to DisneyWar, this number is actually about 4,500, and since James Stewart was on the inside and very close to everything in Burbank while all of this was happening, he's trusting that number enough to make the change on the version to be distributed and/or released to DVD.
If you are in a city where Tony West is visiting for a special screening, I highly reccomend that you see this film. I gaurantee you'll have as good of a time as you ever did with any of Disney's best.
Dream On Silly Dreamer will play at CCAD one more time on May 10 as part of the Alumni Homecoming events.
For more information on this film, including trailers, please visit http://www.dreamonsillydreamer.com