Thursday, July 11, 2013

Unsung Disney Legends: Bruce W. Smith

We all know the characters, the movies and the songs but it is easy to forget that we are not watching actual characters.  Many people designed and worked on them.  Todays retrospective is on the multi-talented creator, character designer and supervising animator Annie Award nominee Bruce W. Smith.

Bebe's Kids
Bruce W. Smith had his hand in several features of the late eighties and early nineties features in varying capacities such as Pinocchio and the Emperor of the NightWho Framed Roger Rabbit, Rover Dangerfield and Rock-a-Doodle.  His first major project of note was as a character designer and director of the movie Bebe's Kids, which was produced through Hyperion and distributed through Paramount.  The movie was not very successful, most likely due to its PG-13 rating and urban setting.  Although the feature was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature.

Character Designing and Directing
After his first directing project Smith continued to be involved in several projects, such as working as a supervising animator on The Pagemaster.  Smith was the character designer for A Goofy Movie, C Bear and Jamal, Cats Don't Dance and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child.  He also directed episodes of the latter.  His big mid-nineties credit was as co-director of animation on the live-action animation hybrid Space Jam for which he was nominated for an Annie Award.

Smith's first major supervising animator credit and first major Disney production was on Tarzan for the character of Kerchak.  Smith does a great job animating this large intimidating figure that remains sympathetic despite his constant disapproval of the lead character.  Despite not being flashy or marketable, this is an important character to the feature and one of Disney's more complex ones.

Smith followed up Kerchak with a character in Emperor's New Groove that was similar in size but the complete opposite in temperament.  Pacha is a standard nice guy who is the heart of the goofy buddy comedy and balances out the selfish Kuzco.  Smith gifts Pacha with real sincerity making him extremely likable.

Proud Family
Not many of Disney's feature animators crossed over in television, but Smith sold Disney a TV series that Nickelodeon had previous rejected.  Walt Disney Television Animation only distributed The Proud Family while Smith's studio Jambalaya animated it.  This was popular for years on Disney Channel and was later syndicated to ABC, Toon Disney and BET.  The series concluded with a movie that Smith directed.  Smith also created the short lived Kids' WB cartoon Da Boom Crew.

Doctor Facilier
Home on the Range was supposed to be be Disney's final 2D animated feature, on which Smith was supervising animator for the character of Pearl.  However five years later Disney made an attempt to return to traditional animation with Princess and the Frog, on which Smith had the best character.  Facilier is one of the best villains in Disney history, Smith calls him the love-child of his two favorite villains: Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil.  The slender bad guy is menacing and energetic and steals the show in a superbly animated song (Friends on the Other Side) and a terrifying death scene.  This character is Smith's greatest achievement.

Piglet, Kanga and Roo
For 2011's Winnie the Pooh Smith was supervising animator for the characters of Piglet, Kanga and Roo.  Surprisingly Piglet does not leave that much of an impact (perhaps because the character just does not work for me without the voice of John Fielder).  However Smith animates Kanga to her best appearance yet, gifting her with some smart subtle reactions and a funny apathy towards the ridiculousness of the other characters.  Roo also gets some good reactions, the timing on the humor of all of the characters in this little seen film is all perfect.

1 comment:

  1. I am so guilty of forgetting about Bruce W. Smith! His work on Winnie The Pooh is perfect though. Thanks for reminding me!