I am a big fan of Waking Sleeping Beauty. But I have yet to pick up a book that covers this era of decline and rise in depth from the animation point of view until now. Steve Hulett provides readers an inside look at part of this period with his memoir which details the decline of Disney feature animation.
Mouse in Transition: An Insiders Look at Disney Feature Animation by Steve Hulett details the author's tenure as a writer for Walt Disney Productions. Hulett was hired on, perhaps as a legacy, in the 1970's and continued into the 1980's working on features and other assigned animation products. Hulett takes her readers through becoming part of the Story team which included veterans who had worked with Walt Disney and new young artists looking to shake things up in what was at times an old boys unit. Through Hulett's eyes we participate in Woolie Reitherman's marathon (and frustrating) story meetings. The reader joins Hulett as he collaborates with Ken Anderson on a feature film and learns about Anderson's personal desires and failings. And Hulett discusses the beginning of the Michael Eisner era as new leadership takes over the House of Mouse. Eventually Hulett finds himself on the outside of the Disney gates. The text is full of office politics and personalities as Hulett outlines his good and bad times at the Studio. The book concludes with appendixes that include Hulett's interviews for a Pinocchio article, the completed article and short biographies of the animation staff he worked with.
There are several things that Mouse in Transition make clear for me as a reader. First, it takes a whole village to write a Disney animation feature! The movies that Hulett discusses in production include The Great Mouse Detective and Fox and the Hound and he talks about his efforts on these films taking what seems like months into years. But Hulett is also not the only one working on these films, as seen by Reitherman's mammoth story meetings. And several people contributed to the final stories of the animated films between writers, story artists, directors, producers, animators and the kid in the mail room (okay maybe not him, but remember a lot of staff started in Traffic). During a strike, Hulett an experienced animation writer attempted to find writing projects in television. He was denied out of concerns he could not keep to the pace needed on the small screen. Basically, they worried he could not write quick enough because of the leisurely pace animated features provide. Second, there was a lot of office politics both before and after Eisner's entry into the House of Mouse. Some artists like Pete Young became experts on how to balance their own creativity with inter-office squabbles. Others did not do as well. But working at Disney with longevity required learning how to play a game that not everyone was up to.
Mouse in Transition: An Insiders Look at Disney Feature Animation by Steve Hulett showcases a Disney animated feature department that has been on the decline. The price of production had gone drastically up. The quality of the pictures had become stale. And a massive change was about to begin as the old guard stepped down for a new wave of artists like John Musker, who wrote the introduction. Hulett shows his readers the state of a studio in decline. Sadly for us, Hulett had moved on before his cohorts could fully raise the studio to new heights of creativity under the Eisner leadership.
Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press