Dream on Silly Dreamer is a short documentary that chronicles the rennaissance and decline of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1989 to 2002 and does it from the point of view of those everyday people on the inside. The film premiered at the 2005 AnimEX Film Festival in England and more famously played five screenings the day before the Walt Disney Company annual shareholders meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with Roy E. Disney in attendance (see Mark Goldhaber's review and account of these screenings here).
Most of the live interview footage was taped in April 2002, just a couple weeks after the infamous Tom Meeting where Tom Schumacher, then president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, let it be known that most of the traditional animation artists and technicians would be laid off as their projects completed so that Disney could turn fully to a future in computer animation (similar news would soon be heard at Disney's animation studios in Tokyo, Paris, and Orlando as well). What follows is not so much a lashing out at management for the decisionthough there is some of thatbut mostly reminiscence of just what an amazing run it had been since The Little Mermaid revived the slumbering division in 1989. In five years they released four immensely successful films before decline once again set in.
Really, it is amazing how little anger is present in the live interviews. With the news so fresh, the dominant emotion seems to be more surprise than anything else. Surprise that even in the face of underperformance Disney would so completely sever itself from a 70-year tradition of hand-drawn animation. The biting commentary is mostly left to the interstitial animation that provide the narration for the film. More than anything else, these brief periods of animation provide the poignancy of the film. Each frame is an argument for the idea that the method of animation is much less important than the uses to which it is put. That to simply say up front that only one type of animation can be commercially successful is to completely miss the point.
The presentation is most certainly one-sided. No representative of Disney management ever appears on screen to speak for the company and the reasons behind decisions. For 40 minutes director Dan Lund and a collection of his closest colleagues just say what it all meant to them and how much they'll miss it all. It is important to keep in mind that there is another point of view out there, but for a fan of animation in general or the Walt Disney Company specifically, this documentary is an important artifact in understanding how it all came together.
Also available for fans of movie scores is a menu that allows you to select each individual piece of music used in the score and listen to it in isolation.
The goodies are a bit of a mixed bag and fall into two categories, Bonus Features and Extras and Super Sized Sequences.
In the Bonus Features and Extras about half the materials are standard for any animated DVD. You'll find story boards, intermediate animation stills, and other concept art. Personally, these types of extras are never of much interest, but many people like them and they're available. The other half of the section is additional video, not at all included in the movie itself. The first is a good-bye party for the clean-up artists at the conclusion of production on Home on the Range. The second is a last look at the Orlando studio by the effects team on their last day. Both have some interesting commentary in them (including an honest and accurate assessment of Home on the Range) but the video from both parties is almost completely dark and little can be seen.
"Buying Our Desks is an interesting little video of Dan Lund and Tony West returning to the Orlando animation studio to purchase the desks they had used, for $1,300 each. This bit would have been improved with a little bit of explanation as to why they were buying the desks. Was it purely out of sentemental feelings? Was it purely economical in that they now needed good animator desks for their home offices and they were cheaper from Disney than to buy new ones? Was it some combination thereof? The real value-added features in this section is a 14-minute video from an interview on BBC Radio for the AnimEX premiere of the movie that gives a better sense of how Dan Lund and Tony West feel about it all and an 18-minute video from a screening at Los Angeles's Alex Theater which reunited hundreds of former Disney animators.
The Super Sized Sequences is the section of the DVD you're going to want to spend the most time with, especially if you've already seen the film. In Mark Goldhaber's original review for the movie (linked above) he mentioned that a lot had ended up on the cutting room floor to minimize the one-sidedness of the movie. It is in this section that you get much of that back. Five segments of the film are represented with much more of the original material (as as well home movie footage of various events) and it is an even more blunt look at things. The only purely extraneous added piece is a section called Extra 'Jacki' Drama, which is mostly the kind of intra-office gossip that is only interesting to the people who are involved, but that is only about 10 percent out of more than 90 minutes of material mostly unused in the actual movie.
There are two hidden features on the disc, both accessed from the main menu. The first is if you select the sign that reads real world this way; you will get a short explanation of the various job classifications mentioned in the movie. This is actually helpful for someone unfamiliar with the process and you might want to click through it quickly before watching the movie. The other is accessed by selecting the one way ticket under Super Sized Sequences. This is simply a demonstration of several different color options tested for the sketchbook pages and probably won't be of much interest to many.
A quick note here. The review copy I received has some sort of flaw so that the disc would not play on my normal DVD player. Eventually I was able to find a way to get it to work on my computer's DVD player. It is possible I missed some animations on menu changes and the sound output was certainly degraded. In searching around the internet it does appear that this was a problem unique to my disc as I found no other mentions of it (in case others do experience it, my player would freeze 8 seconds into the FBI warning at the beginning of the disc).
The animated portions of the movie look wonderful but it can hardly be a visually spectatucular film when it mostly consists of headshot interviews taped on digital video. While it should look fine on normal televisions and my smaller laptop monitor the original nature of the tape will become more apparent as your screen size gets larger.
The menus are presented as pages from the sketchbook used throughout the film's animation. Transitions from menu to menu are presented as flipping through pages in the sketchbook. Each transition is about 10 seconds long, which is a bit much when the actual animation is only about five seconds and then a blurb of music plays while you're trying unsuccessfully to move about the menu.
Dream on Silly Dreamer is an essential addition to the DVD library of anybody interested in the behind-the-scenes history of the Walt Disney Company or in the general animation industry. For more casual fans of the genre more interested in eating the sausage than how it is actually made, there may not be so much of interest in this documentary.
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Alex Stroup works in Web functional design and married his way into this Disney thing. He currently focuses on movie reviews for Disney theatrical releases and other family-friendly films.