by Steve Moore
"So this is love."
That's what Cinderella sang, dancing around with that strapping, young, royal buck she just met in Walt Disney's Cinderella.
"Hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm. So this is love."
Sure it's love! I mean, yes, they're complete strangers, but a gal won't dance like that fooling with the Sparkletts man. This is L_O_V_E , love, man!
To see this sequence by itself is to watch roto-scopy animation with pretty backgrounds and song to go with it. The sequence presents a very formal, glamorous representation of love. But seeing it with the set up - getting to know Cinderella and her desperate situation - the audience wants her to have her night and doesn't care if the prince is a stranger or that he sings like Mike Douglas, or that it all ends at midnight -- the audience wants this for her.
The set up is possibly the most under worked part of the romantic scenes of most films, live or animated. The most beautiful, well acted romantic scene will not play as true if the audience has not been set up to want it. They are under worked because they are a lot of work, and often there's just not enough time to get it right AND feed the production pipeline. Think it's easy? Try it!
Many features fail the emotional moments by copping out on the set up. In Disney's Hercules, the title character must choose between being an immortal god or being with the woman he loves - a mortal. In the end he gets both. The audience is given a couple of twits who get whatever they want, sacrificing nothing - a senior executive's dream win-win ending. Without the sacrifice, why even make the film?
Brenda Chapman, director or the Pixar's upcoming feature The Bear and the Bow:
"In Dumbo, the filmmakers committed to the moment - they didn't feel the need to cut away for a humorous aside - when you see the mouse, he's feeling what the audience is feeling, not rolling his eyes or making a wise crack. It's all character driven - the emotion, the drama, the humor - all comes from the characters. They didn't do cheap gags on the side (in case the audience is getting bored or too uncomfortable with the emotion - "too sappy" - which would be an executive comment I've heard over and over) - they commit to it. They feel it and put it in the scene, the sequence, the film. That is how a true filmmaker should approach it - not try to second guess the audience - but let it work on their own gut level... it will feel more true to the audience that way."
Obviously, the characters must click for a great set-up to pay off. What works in story reel can fall flat without the right character design, the right voice, the right animation and most importantly, the right direction. The more these elements mesh as a singular vision, the more fully realized the character.
In The Brave Little Toaster, a group of appliances in a woodland cabin decide to venture out to find the little boy who spent the summers of his childhood there. The film is entirely driven by the love the characters have for the boy. Studio executives all over Hollywood told producer Tom Wilhite that it was impossible to feel for a toaster, yet director Jerry Rees pulled it off.
Director Jerry Rees:
What is completely different about Toaster is that even after the appliances are reunited with the boy (now an adult), they must still maintain a barrier by not revealing their live nature. To the boy, they are still just appliances. His love is sentimental. The appliances, however, love him like completely. There's an unrequieted quality to the ending, like a secret love kept secret. This is different from any animated film that I can think of.
Art Director Fred Cline:
Two dogs eating a plate of spaghetti and meatballs in a dingy back alley. The "Bella Notte" sequence from Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp is arguably the most romantic expression of love in the history of animated films.
Animator Frank Thomas, regarding " Bella Notte":
It's a beautiful sentiment that Thomas executed perfectly. He connected his animation to a feeling. Other animators could have done these scenes, but none would have delivered the same performance. Each animator has their own life's experiences, own personality, to draw from in their acting. It is this personal investment that makes the performance ring true.
The Lion King is all about the love between father and son, and the grief and healing that happens after losing a parent. I think the greatest challenge I had with that relationship was in trying to keep the mother alive. Surprised? A success and a failure at the same time, I know. She's in their so little - but she's there. Even in the great Dumbo there was only one parent. It seems to be a trend in our industry to only allow our protagonist one parent to love and be loved by. Trying to keep in the scene of the parents, Mufasa and Sarabi, waking up in the morning together as their son tries to get them up was way harder than it should have been. It was called "shoe leather", "time wasted" and "unnecessary". Showing a family loving moment, to me, is what held the father and son relationship together. It was what drove the fear and pain of returning to the pride - having to face his mother - whom Simba loved - and admit he was responsible for his father's death. His mother also gave a stronger reason for Simba to return - the love interest was too weak for that - Nala - they could have gone off and started a pride of their own - but his mother was still at home. He went back for her - to face her - to save her... and to be worthy of his father's love - as well as his mother's."
*as told to Nancy Beiman, who shares it with us. Thanks Nancy!
c.2009 Moore Studios, Inc
"DUMBO DUMBO DUMBO!!!! That is by far THE BEST one and only almighty animated love story - a child's love for his mother and that mother's love for her child. The scene when Dumbo visits his mother in her prison. The time spent building up to the tentative touching of the trunks - together, but yet so very very far apart. Wanting that mother's embrace, coming so close, with her holding that sweet little guy and rocking him with her trunk - not even seeing her face, but feeling every single emotion through the movement of her trunk - I'm tearing up just thinking about it. Never seeing her face! And seeing the sadness and longing and love on little Dumbo's face and in his body language - the animation is probably the most brilliant ever done. Even before I had my daughter, I felt the immense pull of the heartstrings and the realness of it. And I feel it even more after I've had my own child. I defy anyone to come up with a stronger example... although I'd sure be curious if anyone tried."
The "Baby Mine" sequence in Dumbo is the best, I agree. Staged just outside a jail wagon holding Dumbo's mother to DENY the audience what it wants - Dumbo's reunion with her. They could have placed her in a cage, or just had her chained up, but to conceal the mother inside the wagon has the strongest impact.. Except for for one interior shot to show that it is indeed Mrs. Jumbo in the wagon, the audience, like Dumbo, is denied a complete reunion. We only see her trunk, so expressively animated, and Dumbo's reaction to her touch. The filmmakers trust the audience to feel the mother's pain.
While working in Taiwan on The Brave Little Toaster, I saw a group of Chinese animators watch this sequence on their lunch break. As the mother's trunk waves goodbye, the animators wept openly. Two animated elephants cross all boundaries of culture and language.
Music is a major tool to get immediate access to an emotion. Getting music that hits the right tone for that particular film is the tricky part, and must be given the right consideration. Imagine interchanging "So This is Love", with "Bella Notte" or "Baby Mine". Not interchangeable. There is no all-purpose tempo that will serve all love scenes. The music must be as true to the moment as the acting, with the composer connecting to the emotion, and reacting to it compatably to the director's reaction.
Told in flashback, this bittersweet sequence also reveals the pain the doll has been carrying since losing the little girl. Sarah McLachlan created a song that hauntingly captures Jessie's mixed emotions. We see her happily playing with the girl, then Jessie's forgotten under the bed, then the joyful reunion cut short when the girl, now grown up, deliberately abandons her. Strong on its own, when accompanied by the song, it is relentless.
Watch this version of "So This is Love" presented in director Alan Smart's student film from 1984. " I, of course, was a big fan of the Disney movies." Alan said, "I was doing a film on a pig that loves chocolate, and thought it would be funny to do a parody of one of those romantic song and dance scenes." In context to Smart's story, the song's meaning has a tongue-in-cheek whimsy, serving the story to a much different effect.
DUMBO!! I'm tellin' ya. No one has touched it, so far!"
The examples cited here are just a small fraction of different expressions of love in animation. I could write an entire book on the subject. Or half a book, and Brenda Chapman could write the rest. Point is, if your personal favorite didn't get mentioned, and that personal favorite offers a different presentation of love from what's mentioned here, write to FLIP, I'll do a follow up.