Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unsung Disney Legends: Eric Goldberg

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 my personal favorite animator: Eric Goldberg.

Goldberg’s first notable animation credit is easily his crowning achievement.  Robin Williams is often credited with bringing life to this endearing scene-stealer, but it is the cooperation between the voice actor and supervising animator that gifted The Genie with his heart and personality.  Goldberg’s lively and wacky sensibilities really made The Genie a standout.

Co-Director of Pocahontas
The success of The Genie was followed by Goldberg’s directorial debut: Pocahontas, which he directed with Mike Gabriel.  Goldberg has said that this is not a perfect movie but he is proud of what was accomplished artistically and stands by the message of peace and coexistence as an important one.

Goldberg has very broad comedic sensibilities and he had to tone those down here to give Katzenberg the serious movie he was looking for. However humor needed to be added in to broaden the audience. Goldberg has stated that he was not a fan of the film’s comic relief as the movie worked without it.  One of Goldberg’s strengths in movies such as Aladdin, Hercules and Princess and the Frog, is that his comic relief characters are an integral part of the story.

Goldberg returned as a supervising animator in Hercules.  Although Philoctetes is not the scene-stealer that the Genie was he is still a great character in the fine movie.  In animating the character Goldberg walked a very fine line between goofy comic relief and dramatic sincerity.  The short funny-looking guy had some real depth and investment in the lead, which really benefited the story.  Animating subtlety is very difficult, but Goldberg does it perfectly here.

Fantasia 2000
Eric Goldberg did not only direct the best short in Fantasia 2000, he directed the film's two best shorts.  The first one is an adaptation of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, styled after the work of Al Hirschfeld (who also had a clear influence on the Genie).  Goldberg used the animators of Emperor's New Groove on the film while that movie was being reworked and the segment was deemed strong enough for inclusion in the updated concert feature.  The style, personality and heart makes Rhapsody a classic.

The second short was the wacky, cartoony Carnival of the Animals.  The one with a Flamingo with a yo-yo.  This was very different from Fantasia's more pretentious goals, but the humor is so precise and animation so good that it fits naturally in the film.  Goldberg himself also had a cameo in the film's live-action transition as the animator who hands a note to James Earl Jones.

Animation Director of Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Goldberg had left Disney in 2000.  At which time he was hired by Universal to direct a computer animated adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.  The film languished in development hell until 2009 and Goldberg found directing work at another studio.

There is a clear Warner Bros. influence in Goldberg's Disney work so his involvement as the animation director of Looney Tunes: Back in Action seems perfect.  Back in Action follows the Roger Rabbit model of using an animation live-action director (Joe Dante being comparable to Robert Zemeckis) and having the animation be directed by one of the world's best (Eric Goldberg having learned from Richard Williams onRaggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure back in 1977).  Although this movie often gets overlooked and bombed at the box-office it is still the best feature outing of the Looney Tunes gang.  Also in the film Goldberg voices Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales and Tweety.

Goldberg updated another favorite from classic animation when he directed the opening titles to the 2006 Steve Martin Pink Panther.  Other notable non-Disney work was the 12 minute A Monkey's Tale at the Buddhist center in Hong Kong.

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
The classic Disney animator that is most comparable to Goldberg was member of the Nine Old Men: Ward Kimball.  Both tend to be wackier and able to cut loose.  So it is very fitting that Goldberg did the animation on the EPCOT ride based around Kimball's musical number.  Goldberg has also done animation for several other theme park attractions including The Magic Lamp Theatre, a 3D attraction featuring The Genie at Tokyo Disney Sea.

Almost There and Louis
I love traditional animation because there is much more personality and a personal stamp to it.  As soon as I saw the character of Louis inPrincess and the Frog propelling himself through the bayou with his tail I knew he was animated by Eric Goldberg.  Nobody else is capable of animating a character that lively.  Louis is another in Goldberg's long line of perfect comic relief.

Another highlight of the film was the stylized musical fantasy sequence Almost There, which Goldberg supervised the animation for.  The look is based on Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and the limited animation style is a fun, surprising break from the normal Disney style.

Rabbit and The Backson
For 2011's Winnie the Pooh Goldberg found new levels of neuroses in the character of Rabbit.  The expressions Goldberg gifts the character with are among the best in the film.

As with Princess and the Frog, Goldberg also animated the most visually satisfying scene in this traditionally animated feature: The Backson Song.  The song features the characters all imagined as chalk drawings and is extremely stylized.  The humor and action literally follows every lyric of the song, akin to the titular number in Three Caballeros.

Get a Horse!
Goldberg is still working at Disney.  He worked on the recent Goofy shortHow to Hook Up Your Home Theatre.  Even though Disney has abandoned traditional animated features once again they still utilize the art form to create computer animated films.  Goldberg did pencil tests forWreck-It Ralph before the characters where animated by computer.  A pencil test of King Candy can be found on YouTube.  And coming soon (hopefully in a wide release) is a new theatrical Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse! all styled to harken back to early black and white Mickey Mouse.  Goldberg is of course supervising animation on it.

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