Dream On Silly Dreamer

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Dream On Silly Dreamer is the story of the demise of traditional animation at the Walt Disney Studios, as told by the animators who watched it happen. Director Dan Lund and producer Tony West were both special effects animators for Disney before the layoffs that decimated the animation department. Lund interviewed many of his colleagues and friends, some immediately following the layoff announcement.

Right from the opening credits, Lund and West evoke thoughts of the original Winnie the Pooh animated features. At the screening that I attended in Minneapolis the evening before the annual meeting of Disney shareholders, the type style used for the WestLund Productions logo got an immediate reaction from the audience, as it echoed the old Buena Vista Pictures logo. The remainder of the film's opening minutes continues that look and feel, from the camera panning bookshelves and the tone of the music to focusing on a doll and then paging through a book, to Richard Cook's Sebastian Cabot-like narration.

Roy E. Disney poses with Dan Lund (left) and Tony West (right) at a screening in Minneapolis.

The film covers the rise and fall of traditional animation and the animation department itself under Jeffrey Katzenberg, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. From the highs of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King to the lows of Atlantis and Treasure Planet, the movie tells its story through a combination of interviews with animators, narration and animation.

© Dan Lund & Tony West.

Of course, with the death of traditional animation at Disney well-known, there really is no surprise to how the film ends. Rather, the surprise occurs during the telling of the tale, as the Disney animators concede that they were part of the reason for the department's downfall.

In light of the likely inclination for fired workers to show animus toward their former employer, Lund does an admirable job of balancing the story, placing blame in all quarters. Indeed, reportedly quite a lot of film was left on the cutting room floor in order to maintain the balanced view.

As to the production values, it is very difficult to maintain audience interest during a “talking head” movie, especially on the big screen. By mixing the interviews with narrated animation, Lund manages to break through that barrier, keeping the entire (admittedly probably biased) audience rapt during the screening that I attended.

© Dan Lund & Tony West

The one major problem encountered in the film is the fact that the original interviews were shot using a standard video camera. Once blown up to movie screen size, the loss of fidelity is very apparent. However, the interviews are so compelling to fans of Disney animation that one tends to look past the issues with the film. Because of this, though, the film will not suffer on a small screen.

West and Lund are still shopping the film around, looking for a distributor. In the meantime, the film had its world premiere at the Animex International Festival of Animation and also had five sold-out screenings under the auspices of the Independent Film Project of Minneapolis prior to the annual shareholder meeting of The Walt Disney Company in that city.

The best known of those interviewed in the film is master animator Andreas Deja, but the film's emotional center is Jacki Sanchez, who (it seems) was interviewed immediately after “The Tom Meeting,” where the animators were first told of the layoffs by Tom Schumacher on March 25, 2002.

© Dan Lund & Tony West

Regarding Disney's decision to lay off most of the animation staff and continue with a smaller group of CGI-only animators, Sanchez sums it up: “You have the London Philharmonic at your disposal, and you want to turn it into a boy band.”

West and Lund are hopeful of finding a distributor in the near future. In the meantime, they will continue to show the film where they can. One screening will be at 11 a.m. on April 10 at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida. The film will also screen at the Red Stick International Animation Festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (link), on April 21. Watch the film's web site (link) for further details.

Tony West and Dan Lund answer reporters' questions at the film's Minneapolis screenings.

The film is a good chronicle from the inside of the rise and fall of Disney's traditional animation over the last 20 years. While none of those on the business side of the studio were interviewed, the animators' introspection does provide a glimpse of what some of the managers' thoughts probably were.

True aficionados of traditional Disney animation should find a way to catch this film, either when it finds its way to a screening near them, if it finds a distributor and goes into wide release, or if it gets released on DVD.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mark here.

Dream On Silly Dreamer is a WestLund Pictures release

Currently showing at special screenings only.

Directed by Dan Lund.

Rated G.

Running time: 40 minutes.

Mark's Rating: 7 out of 10.