By Bill Kallay
With his animated charm, Eric Goldberg may have easily been one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, legendary veteran animators who produced some of the studio’s classics like "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" (1937) and "Fantasia" (1940). He’s an animator who’s had the ability to churn out laugh out-loud comedy found in "Aladdin" (1992), to serious and brilliant animation in "Pocahontas" (1995), which he co-directed with Mike Gabriel. In other words, a Disney aficionado might mistake Goldberg for having been at the Disney Studios forever. It’s hard to believe that in Disney’s land of longtime resident animators, designers and writers, Goldberg is a relatively new kid on the block with nearly 15 years of work at the studio. But his skills in animation and charisma helped him fit right into the landscape of Disney.
Goldberg came to Disney from doing animation for commercials and feature films. His studio, Pizazz Pictures, was successful in London. He eventually came on-board at Disney to work on their newest animated feature called "Aladdin." The film was done in a relatively short amount of time of three years and came on the heels of two blockbuster hits, "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty And The Beast" (1991). Though the animated division of Disney produced "The Rescuers Down Under" in 1990, most audiences and critics alike agreed that Disney animation was back on track with "Mermaid" and "Beast." In fact, "Beast" earned a Best Picture nomination in 1992, a first for any animated feature film. It also earned over $145-million at the box office. How would it be possible for Disney to top that?
Waiting in the wings was a comedic, almost slapstick-style animated feature called "Aladdin." Using songs written by Howard Ashman* & Alan Menken, and Robin Williams as the voice of the Genie, there were high hopes that film would be successful. Of course, no one expected it to be as successful as it turned out, earning over $215-million at the box office, plus a lot more on video.
But this story isn’t about the gobs of money the film made. It’s about Eric Goldberg’s involvement with it. He made an imprint forever in audience minds with his fluid and very funny animation of the Genie. Listening to Goldberg, one gets the impression that A) He’s really loves his work. B) He’s a fantastic animator, and C) He’s a lot of fun to just listen to and learn from.
William Kallay, From Script To DVD: Eric, can you tell me about your background in animation prior to "Aladdin?"
Eric Goldberg: I had done freelance work and I had my own commercial studio in London called Pizazz Pictures. The first real professional job that I had was working with Richard Williams, who went on to do "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" . He had a very burgeoning commercial studio in London in the mid-and-late ‘70s. I first hooked up with him on "Raggedy Ann And Andy"  as an assistant animator. Then Dick then subsequently invited me to his London studio to direct and animate commercials. I was there for about four years. After that, I took a little break and then came out to California. I also met my wife on vacation in New York working at an animation company called Zanders Animation Parlor. Susan was the background department at the time. And we traveled out to California and I did the animation direction on "Ziggy’s Gift"  which won an Emmy and was produced through Richard Williams’ L.A. studio. I went back to London, worked freelance for some companies and then opened my own place with two other ex-Richard “William-ites,” and that was Pizazz. We continued there for about six years doing commercials and TV. titles. And at the same time, advantageously, Richard Williams dropped out of the commercial business in order to do "Roger Rabbit," so all of us kind of benefited with his client roster because he wasn’t doing it anymore.
FSTDVD: Somewhere along the way, you hooked up with John Musker.
Goldberg: Yes. Back when we were doing "Ziggy" in ’81, Susan, who went to Cal Arts (an arts school founded by Walt Disney), introduced me to a lot of her Cal Arts friends that she had known then. People like John Musker, Ken W. Toy. She had gone to school with Tim Burton. It’s the kind of thing where John Musker and I kind of hit it off. We continued kind of a mutual admiration society for several years while I was in London and he was working at Disney in California. Now, flash-forward a couple years before I left London, I came out to a film festival in California and ran Pizazz show reels. And a couple of Disney reps were there and they were very, very interested in getting a hold of me. And they ran my reels at the studio and all that kind of stuff. And eventually they kept calling. One in particular, Charlie Fink, just kept calling and calling. “You ready to jump ship yet?” “Uh, no I got this company.” “You ready to jump ship yet?” I heard that John and Ron [Clements] were doing Aladdin, and that sounded like a really good fit. So I divested myself from my company and we moved lock, stock and barrel out here to California in 1990. And "Aladdin" was really my first Disney gig.
FSTD: Was that a huge change for you, as far as your animation style, when you went from doing commercials and reels to doing a Disney film?
Goldberg: Actually not. I have to say that because of the nature of the Genie’s character. I didn’t know I was going to get the Genie. But my first week in L.A., John and Ron give me the script, “Read this over and see what you think, and see if there’s a character you might want to do.” So I read it. Of course, I went directly to the Genie. I come back in; they go, “So we’re thinking of giving you the Genie. Is that okay with you?” I go, “Mm-huh. Yeah, yeah, that’s alright.” In the meantime, I’m saying inside, “Yes! Thank you”
It’s the kind of thing where my commercials training was great because first of all, the different graphic design style that we would employ in commercials actually came to the floor in a big way in "Aladdin;" the way that the Genie shifts shape and identities all the time, and also in getting an overall design concept for the film that would be coherent. And the other thing was in timing. In a thirty second commercial, I like doing comedy animation where I’m trying to squeeze in as many little gags and things as I could and still cram it into thirty seconds. So by the time I had Robin Williams on the soundtrack, I already had several years experience of getting stuff to read quickly. It was actually perfectly in sync with the kinds of animation that I had been leading up to anyway.
FSTDVD: But it must’ve been somewhat of a step for you going from commercials.
Goldberg: The big difference for me was that I realized that all of the sudden the canvas was much, much greater and the impact was much, much greater. When I was in commercials, I’d walk down the street and see one of my colleagues in the business and they’d say, “Hey, hey, I saw your job on TV. last night. Looked real nice.” “Thanks.” And that’s about all you would get from your peers. It’s not the same, when for example, in order to sell Robin on the doing the movie in the first place, I had animated a couple of rough Genie tests to some of his old comedy routines. Jeffrey Katzenberg brings Robin in for this big “dog and pony show” and my animation is a huge part of that. I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m in Hollywood now. Okay, I’m working on feature films.” Joe Grant, who is now I think 96, created the Wicked Queen ["Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937]. He’s still at the studio. Anyway, he calls animation “monk’s work.” Animation is monk’s work. Sit in the monastery and keep drawing. You don’t come up for air very often.
FSTDVD: In a little dark room all by yourself, pretty much.
Goldberg: The other thing that was mind-blowing to me is that after about nine months worth of monk work on this character, they had a screening at the Museum Of Modern Art for all sorts of work-in-progress benefit screenings. They invited all sorts of New York luminaries. We got to go. And to have a house full of people rocking with laughter at this stuff, I’d never experienced that before. That was unbelievable for me. Being at heart probably an old vaudevillian, I sit there and time the laughs. It’s the thing where to actually hear an audience responding in such a huge vocal way to something that I had done with something that I’d never experienced. Both of those incidents really were the biggest differences between my commercial work and my feature work. It made me realize that it was reaching out to a much, much greater group of people than anything I had ever done previously.
FSTDVD: I remember when it came out in Christmas 1992 and seeing it with a packed house of about 500 people. When the Genie comes out of the lamp and his first lines come out, I recall the audience just cracking up. And I was trying to contain my laughter at the same time. It was definitely a great experience to witness the Genie. He’s a hilarious character.
Goldberg: It was so much fun on my end to be able to make that work. Animation is always guesswork. It’s not like live theater. You can’t perform it in front of a live audience. When the Marx Brothers did their MGM comedies like "Night At The Opera"  and "A Day At The Races," they actually took the show on the road and performed it live in order to time the laughs and then went back and shot the stuff. You can’t do that in animation. You just have to guess that an audience is going to respond to the bit.
FSTDVD: Is that a little scary for you to think about that?
Goldberg: What you do, I think, over the course of time is develop a sense of timing that is personal and that you know will communicate to a lot of people. That’s the best thing I can say. I’m working on a piece right now for "The Drew Carey Show." They’re doing another improv show, except it’s in front of a green screen so that animation can be put in around the improv actors.
FSTDVD: Oh really.
Goldberg: Yes. And it should premiere I think in October. I’m animating this stuff and there are a couple of scenes and one has a horse character. It takes place on a racetrack in this particular case, where I threw in this really wacked-out sense of timing. And just watching a couple of scenes made me laugh, which is rare. But it occurred to me, watching it, that if I added two more frames it wouldn’t be funny anymore. It’s that kind of thing that over the course of time, you kind of develop a sense of what’s going to trigger an audience and how you really learn to respect one frame. You’re still stabbing in the dark. You don’t know if an audience is going to respond until the darn film is finished.
FSTDVD: In a sense, you’re already editing the animation as you’re animating it.
Goldberg: Yes. We have to, because there’s really no going back. Yes, you can tweak and fiddle until the cows come home, but normally the cows are under pretty strict deadlines. It’s the kind of thing where there’s only so much of that you can do. And even if you make a very elaborate story reel of and continue tweaking the timing in the editing room, it’s still not the same as having it animated. Having it animated gives it all of the nuance and all of the subtlety and fills in all the gaps that even a zillion poses won’t convey.
FSTDVD: I’d like to get an idea of what responsibilities you have as a supervising animator?
Goldberg: The supervising animator on a Disney film is like the keeper of that particular character. So I’m the Genie’s keeper. What it means is with my crew, which we have the chance to select of the people who are at the studio, we develop the way the Genie looks and the way the Genie moves. As the supervising animator, I’m the go-to guy. The animators would bring me a drawing and say, “I’m having trouble this expression. What’s not working here?” So I put down a new piece of paper and go over it and give them a drawing to take away. There was always a kind of hierarchy, so the animators would always bring me their pencil tests to approve before they took it to the director for his approval. They have so much work to get through during the course of a feature that they rely very heavily on their supervising animators to make sure that their characters are doing what that character should be doing.
FSTDVD: Any examples?
Goldberg: I’ll give you a case. When I’m talking about how a character moves and how a character would behave, it’s one thing to animate a character walking, but it’s quite another thing to develop a particular walk for a particular character or a particular walk for a particular scene. One of the nice things about the Genie was that every scene in the movie was a great animation exercise. In one scene, you would have to move him like an airline flight attendant. In another scene, you’d have to move him like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In another scene, you’d have to have him move like Ed Sullivan or do Groucho’s walk. So all of those things became great little animation set pieces because of the nature of the character. And even when you strip all of the kind of quick change stuff away, he still has a style of movement. Slick. Fast. Smokey, given his outer shape, yet still conveys some dimension to it. His character is very elastic. The Genie has much more play in his face than say, Aladdin.
FSTDVD: There’s a difference in the cartoon-like features of the Genie versus Aladdin and Jasmine, for example.
Goldberg: You kind of define the universe through the characters. All the supervising animators and the directors and production designers got together to develop the design of the cast so that everything felt unified in that kind of Hirschfeld-style that I was aiming for. If you imagine Aladdin and Jasmine are the most conservative end of that universe, but they still have the same kind of fluidity in the drawing that the Genie has. The Genie and Iago are the most wacked-out end of that universe. And everything else is kind of somewhere in between. You know those are your parameters and all of those things reflect an overall design concept. But you wouldn’t, for example, take Aladdin’s face and stretch his jaw down to his chest and do a double-take and make the eyes bug out of his head.
FSTDVD: The Tex Avery approach.
Goldberg: You have rules for every character. You have certain ways that they will move because of who they are. And that’s really at the core of all of the successful Disney animation. It’s not how well it moves, but why it moves that way.
FSTDVD: They’re believable characters, even in some of the shorts.
Goldberg: Yes, absolutely.
FSTDVD: You look at some of these "Walt Disney Treasures" shorts that are out on DVD with Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck, it’s just great where you actually see personality within the characters. After awhile, you forget that you’re watching an animated cartoon.
Goldberg: I know. The animator’s Holy Grail is to be able to achieve a character that looks like he is acting on his own thought process. He exists on his terms, rather than looking like a bunch of drawings pushed around by somebody. When it makes that leap for an audience, that’s really what everybody is aiming at. The fact that we can call Donald Duck a character and define his personality and Goofy and define his personality, that’s huge! Basically, you’re just talking about a pile of drawings! And what an accomplishment that is over the years to develop something that’s so rich and so readable that people. If you say Donald Duck, they automatically know who Donald Duck is.
FSTDVD: Absolutely. That’s the same with the Genie, too. You hear people talking about Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie, which is fantastic. But I’m wondering how much of your personality is actually instilled in the Genie’s character?
Goldberg: Without trying to sound immodest, I would say it’s a 50/50 proposition. The voice track is half the performance, and the animation performance is the other half. And I would say that of any animation performance. The other thing that was nice, and even though it sounds like I’m tying to take something away from Robin, I’m about to give something right back to him. Robin and I, with very little discussion, knew without even saying so, that we were on the same wavelength. So we could do certain things when he riffed and he knew that I would pick up on it or the animators would pick up on it. The nicest example that I can think of is when the Genie was telling Aladdin, “You know, no one ever uses the third wish to set him free.” And Aladdin says, “Well, I’ll do it. I’ll set you free." And the Genie’s response is, “Uh-huh. Yeah right.”
[Eric makes a “boowoop” sound effect, imitating Robin Williams]
I had known for years Robin’s way of delineating Pinocchio’s nose growing. Ron [Clements] didn’t know that at the time. And I said, “Look, we own this character. Let’s go for broke and just turn him into Pinocchio and make that nose grow!" And it was a huge laugh. In fact in previews, it was such a huge laugh we had to actually add time to the scene to allow for the laughter to settle down a little bit. It’s the kind of thing where if it was a halfway, it wouldn’t have been funny. If it was like a bad kind of halfway version of Pinocchio, it just wouldn’t have had the impact. The fact that it really is Pinocchio for a split second it’s the kind of thing that you can do in animation and really make it work. Robin would do those kinds of things and we would pick up on them. He would just give us these pearls, and we would pick the ones that we just thought were the funniest. It’s a subtle thing, for example when inside the Genie’s cave, when he starts going into the Robert De Niro "Taxi Driver"  bit, “You talkin’ to me? Did you rub my lamp? Did you bring me here?” It’s the kind of thing where I was very aware that as you’re making this thing, there’s going to be a lot of kids in the audience that don’t know who Robert De Niro is. But you can still make the acting funny and you can still make the drawings funny. Fortunately, the kids laughed just because of that. And grown ups laughed because they understood the other layer on top. In that particular case, we put it in the film thinking that we’d never ever get it to stay in. It just made us laugh too much. And I went back to "Taxi Driver" and I watched De Niro in front of the mirror. I didn’t rotoscope anything, but I got an idea of his gestures and his attitudes that he had adopted in front of the mirror and then caricatured them in the Genie scenes. So it’s the kind of thing where the research has been done in order to make it resonate with the audience when they see it, but it’s got to work on two levels. Kids aren’t going to know who Ed Sullivan is, but with him hunched over one arm over the other arm in the classic Sullivan gesture, it’s just kind of funny to look at.
FSTDVD: The cave sequence has so many rapid-fire jokes that you have to go back and watch it a few times just to catch everything.
Goldberg: To me that was probably the most important sequence in the film, because it was the Genie’s introduction. And it’s probably the sequence that I have the most personal animation in, in terms of what I did myself and passed out to the crew. If you don’t introduce a character the right way in the movie, I think you’re sunk. It’s so important to be able to get an audience to ride with you at that moment. I’ll admit I was influenced by Robin’s performance in "Good Morning, Vietnam" . The first time you see him in that movie shouting, “Gooooood morning, Vietnam!” into the mike, that’s an entrance! And then he proceeds to deliver after that entrance. In this one, the Genie’s first word is, “Oy!” But it’s still a helluva entrance.
FSTDVD: It sticks with you, especially with his performance and how you and your crew brought it out. Now you mentioned Al Hirschfeld as an influence. Did you actually work with him on "Aladdin?"
Goldberg: We did subsequently on “Rhapsody In Blue” in "Fantasia/2000" . He was our official Artistic Consultant on that one and yes we did work with him. He became my friend and Susan’s friend during "Aladdin." The first time I ever spoke with him, Disney at the time would do a very early rollout to the press on their movies. This was about six months before the movie was released. They were having a press rollout in New York. I was a little nervous. I’d never met him. I’d admired him for so many years and here we were trying to utilize his work to inspire this movie. Out of the blue, I call him up. Believe it or not, he was listed in the New York telephone book.
Goldberg: So I call him up and say, “I’m Eric Goldberg. You don’t me but I’m an animator at Disney and we’re here to publicize the new Disney feature, "Aladdin." We would love for you to come down and see our presentation, because your work has been such a huge inspiration to us. We acknowledge you in the presentation. We would love for you to see what we’re doing and really thank you for all the great work and inspiration. And he said, “Well I’d love to come down, but you know I’ve got this deadline. I got these three drawings I gotta do for the New York Times, then I gotta another one I gotta do for Time Magazine. So unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make it down." So I hung up the phone and I thought to myself, “He’s 89! [laughter] When does it stop? He’s still working deadlines!”
FSTDVD: That’s amazing.
Goldberg: What happened subsequently was at the Museum Of Modern Art screening, we were standing in the lobby as people were going in. The president then of Feature Animation, Peter Schneider, walks by us and goes, “By the way, you’re Al & Dolly Hirschfeld’s minders tonight. About two seconds later, the car pulls up out comes Al and Dolly Hirschfeld. It’s like, “Uhhh! Hi, you don’t know who I am, but…” Suffice to say, I think I raised the water table line New York with the sweat off my palms. I was so worried. I was sitting right next to him thinking, “Oh my god, what if he hates it?” He loved it. He was so gracious about it. Subsequently, we had him come out to the studio for a week and give lectures on caricature. We did lunchbox interviews with him for the crew. It was just a wonderful time. He was just so wonderful about the response to whole film; not just the Genie, but the whole film. The nicest compliment that he gave that evening was “It all looks like it was drawn by the same hand.” And that’s magic. It means we accomplished what we set out to do, even though we had 500 people working on it, he got that impression. That was thrilling. I’m tearing up thinking about it. There are moments in your life that are just gold and that was one of them.
FSTDVD: What is it about his work that fascinates you?
Goldberg: The thing that I love the most about his work, and it’s not all of his work, but I consider the “prime Hirschfeld,” is the simplicity of it. He had an ability to boil the essence of a personality down into the fewest possible lines. He could make two dots and a squiggle and make it look like Carol Channing. It’s the kind of thing where that kind of eye and translation of graphics trigger a response from a viewer—an objective viewer—not somebody who’s tuned into art—anybody. He’s unbelievable. Every now and again, you’ll see there’s a lot of very nice, elaborate Hirschfeld where he does a lot of crosshatching and things like that. And he would say, “When I don’t have the time, I make a fussy, complicated drawing. When I have the time, I make a simple one.” That sticks with me everyday of my life. To be able to boil something down into its essence is really very much what animation is about; being able to communicate with the least amount of fuss. When I was designing the Genie, he went through several permutations and several of them had clothing on them. The more we stripped off the Genie, the better he looked, the better he moved. And it’s the kind of thing that simplicity really came to the floor, because then it made him a character that you could do anything with. He was the original Silly Putty man. It was really Hirschfeld’s influence. The other thing about Hirschfeld’s work is his fluidity, the fact that one line leads in a very supple, organic way into another line. If you look at some of Hirschfeld’s simple, elegant drawings, you’ll see the line of a skull continues all the way down the neck, all the way down the spine right into the leg. And it’s the kind of thing where you look at it and it’s one continuous line. It might be broken up a little bit by closing once in a while, but for the most part, he leaves those big strong lines in order to make a statement. His ability to capture a personality in a single pose is also very, very animation friendly. That, in particular, for the Genie was paramount because you had to have a pose read for a new character or a new expression instantaneously or the character was never going to work.
FSTDVD: You also used a lot of
exaggerated curves in designing the Genie.
Goldberg: Yes, and that came from Hirschfeld. When I first got there, I was the first animator assigned to "Aladdin." The rest of the crew was doing "Beauty And The Beast." So I had a year start on everybody. What I saw when I first got there were these terrific production design paintings by Richard Vander Wende, who went onto design Myst and various other famous computer games. They were what I would call “Hollywood Arabian,” where they took the “s” curves and all the curves found in Arabic design and exaggerated and made them larger than life. And in a way, that was actually very pleasant for a cartoon. I know these days people use the word cartoon [like it’s bad] ”Well it’s just a cartoon, but we don’t do cartoons—we do animation.” And I love the word cartoon. He had these great cartoony, very curvy environments that he had painted. Being the first animator and getting my feet wet on character design during that time, I thought what kind of characters fit in a curvy environment? Curvy characters, ergo, Hirschfeld. So that was really the impetus for me, plus the fact that prior to that, “angular” had been all the rage in television commercials in London up until that point. I kind of had my fill of angular which is not frankly animation friendly design concept. You can do it and it can look beautiful. Probably the pinnacle at Disney was "Sleeping Beauty" . But it’s not animator friendly, whereas round shapes are. So I had a personal desire to get back to round again. Round squared, if you will, because of the exaggerated curves in a Hirschfeld drawing. And it seemed to be the perfect thing to marry with Richard’s production design.
FSTDVD: I just realized that when I look at a picture of the Genie, you follow the curves from his head all the way down to the lamp.
Goldberg: Also there’s something to be said for using a character’s entire body to be expressive. A lot of the Genie is doing that. The fact that you remember the curves and you remember the entire body is good, because that is a huge part of his shape shifting is being able to express, through his body shape, what he’s thinking or who he’s being, and utilizing that for being able to telegraph his emotions to the audience. That’s good. I’m glad you do recall that. It was an absolutely conscience effort on our part. And frankly, we always try and do that in animation anyway. The more realistic animation becomes, the less stylized you can make those kind of poses. But even so, in the human characters, there’s an element of caricature and playfulness that is not present in the handling of human characters in other recent Disney films. And that’s all part and parcel of the style. One thing animators like to do once in a while to get an effect on screen is a smear drawing. I don’t know if you know what that is.
FSTDVD: Can you describe it?
Goldberg: Basically if you have a character in one pose and you want to go to another pose, you make one elongated drawing between those two poses that act as if a live-action blur would act, if you analyzed it single frame and a character were moving fast. So basically you’re smearing the character from one pose to the next, and then following it up with a couple more drawings. Now I use that in the Genie all the time in order to get him from one pose to the next. But you know what? So did Glen [Keane] on "Aladdin!" There are smear drawings worked into "Aladdin." But you don’t see them in movement, and you shouldn’t see them in movement. It’s a kind of thing where if you see them, then they’re not working. And if you feel them, then they are working. The technique was really developed first at Disney. I think the guys who really took it to town were the Warner Bros. guys, particularly on the Chuck Jones unit and on the Bob Clampet unit.
FSTDVD: Did you use those films and some of the other Disney films as influences when you were doing "Aladdin"?
Goldberg: It’s all part of the gray matter upstairs, let’s put it that way. The two biggest influences Disney-wise on the Genie were Ward Kimball and Freddie Moore, whose animation I love. In fact, early on when we were talking about the designs to the studio, I put a Genie drawing on the down shooter and next to it I would put a Freddie Moore drawing of Mickey Mouse from "The Little Whirlwind"  and darned if it didn’t have the same elegance of curves as a Hirschfeld drawing. Freddie Moore was such a fluid draftsman that he would be able to have one shape leading all the way down the back and across the leg and back up. And I said, “The studio’s already done this.” Another nice example, and I’m staring at it right now because I have a cell of it in my TV room here, is "Melody Time"  which was designed by Mary Blair in the “Once Upon A Wintertime” sequence where the characters are very, very curvy and stylized and move beautifully. All the ice skating stuff just moves in a beautiful way, but it never breaks that design. The design is always kept at the forefront. The studios have this stuff. We just have to kind of go back to the past and see it.
And as far as Ward Kimball’s stuff is concerned, well, he was a studio maverick. He was the "try anything" guy. That was part and parcel of the Genie all the time. What can we turn this into that the audience isn’t going to expect? In "Three Caballeros"  there’s a line Panchito sings, “We’re brave and we’ll say so.” And he points a gun at the camera and he lets the muzzle of the gun say the line, “And we’ll say so.” Just that little split second thing that’s bizarre, but it’s funny!
Between those two animators at Disney, they were huge, huge influences on the Genie for the kind of quicksilver changes and fluidity of drawing. It’s always scary for a big studio to kind of change gears and try something they’ve never tried before. To a certain extent, Disney’s had a house style. But every now and again, they would attempt to break out of it. The “Once Upon A Wintertime” being a good example. "101 Dalmatians"  is a good example. "Sleeping Beauty" is a good example. "101 Dalmatians" really looks like the Disney version of a Ronald Searle cartoon, especially in the background designs, but even in the character design as well. Horace and Jasper look almost like they can be Searle drawings.
FSTDVD: If I’m recalling correctly, a lot of hard angular lines were used on those films.
Goldberg: It’s exaggerated lengths of limbs. A boney wrist would be a hard angle. The postures of characters are very important. And there was a kind of scratchiness to the drawing that resembled a kind of pen and ink drawing. It really does feel like London of the early ‘60s and late ‘50s. So every now and again, Disney would try and break out of what was considered their conventional style. If you want to say "Cinderella"  and "Peter Pan"  are conventional style, or more recently, "Mermaid" and "Beauty And The Beast." It’s always difficult to make a studio kind of turn around, “Okay everybody, we’re doing this now.” That takes a huge amount of artistic commitment on the part of the crew.
FSTDVD: I recall when "Aladdin" came out, reviewers were saying how much of a departure it was for Disney to do a film like this. And it was true, and yet there was still a lot of that Disney influence within the film as you watch it. It still has that Disney flare that a lot of the older feature animated films had. And even some of the shorts had it, too.
Goldberg: Yes, and we all took that seriously. Just because we were going for a different design concept doesn’t mean we’re throwing out all the stuff we admire from Disney films past that were really, really great. It’s the kind of thing where the characters still had to be rich personalities. You still had to care about them. You still had to have the production value that felt like a Disney film. There are still so many things. You still have to feel the main character had an arc where he would develop over the course of the film. All of these things were very, very important Disney tenets that we weren’t going to drop that were just as important as anything new we were trying.
FSTDVD: I just thought of, kind of in a weird way, comparing the character of Aladdin growing from a boy to a man, to Pinocchio growing from a wooden boy to a real boy. Both of those characters eventually grow up and take on responsibility.
Goldberg: The audience wants to see those journeys. That’s what really hooks them. No matter how much you can make an audience laugh, there still has to be something in it that they can relate to as a human story, if you will. One of the most important things to me was the ending of the film when the Genie and Aladdin part company. I kept telling them to add more footage, more screen time. We could actually watch the reactions on their faces and realize they’re never going to see each other again. That’s important. They’ve built up this huge buddy relationship throughout the movie and now it’s going to be over. So you have to acknowledge that. You can’t just go—boom—straight into laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, “Okay I’ll see ‘ya!” You can’t. I can’t, anyway. Those kinds of moments are very, very important. People ask me what the toughest part of doing the Genie was. I said making the audience believe he has these sincere moments, even while he’s bouncing off the walls. If I can accomplish that, then he really is a fully rounded personality.
FSTDVD: He definitely did. Even interspersed through the story before the ending, he had those moments where it’s like, “Come on Aladdin, realize what’s going on.”
Goldberg: It’s throughout the story. You do have those moments. If you just play everything on a surface laugh level, then nobody gets anything out of it. And after awhile, the laughs can even become tiresome. One thing that I think was quite brilliant that John and Ron did in the film, and it was kind against studio conventional wisdom, the studio was very hot on the Genie. They were very pleased with what they were seeing. And they were saying, “You got to get to the Genie earlier.” John and Ron don’t let the Genie emerge until twenty minutes into the film. That is a huge deal. The first time I saw it with an audience, it’s like they set off a firecracker. All of a sudden, the movie went to a whole different level. But that twenty minutes before sets up all the pins for the rest of the story and your understanding of the character and your understanding of their relationships and their problems. And if you brought the Genie in any earlier, A) He wouldn’t have had the impact, and B) You wouldn’t have cared about the main characters. The decision to hold him off, hold him off, hold him off was really quite brilliant in my opinion as far as the directorial decisions are. He had exactly the intended effect when he arrived on screen. If they had introduced him ten minutes into the movie, it wouldn’t have been the same movie.
FSTDVD: Hitchcock did that with "Psycho" . He intentionally kept the plot going along slowly until the major shock scene. Obviously "Aladdin" is not slow and doesn’t have a shock scene.
Goldberg: I think "Psycho" is wonderful because it’s filled with all those audacious things, not the least of which he kills off the main character.
FSTDVD: That film still shocks me to this day. That’s how well done it was.
Goldberg: You have to do those things. You also find out during the course of the film, even though they’re doing a lot of set-up in that first act, how they play it out with twists and turns that you didn’t expect. When Aladdin finds out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be a prince, he’s not coping and he has to make some tough decisions, some of which are wrong. His desire to live in the palace in the front part of the movie—he gets that wish through the Genie, but doesn’t—where at least he gets to fake it. It doesn’t ring true to him and it doesn’t ring true anybody else, either. To set it up, and then complicate it is again, very sophisticated storytelling.
FSTDVD: Are you working on anything besides Drew Carey’s "Green Screen Show" that you can talk about?
Goldberg: I’ve been doing a lot of freelance stuff. One thing that Susan and I did do was three new pieces for the "Aladdin" DVD bonus features. We actually have three new pieces of animation in there. One is a public service spot for the Make A Wish Foundation with the Genie as the star. The other two are postcards that the Genie sends back to Jafar and Iago basically saying, “Neh-neh-neh! This is the fun I’m having.” And the other piece is Iago taking a tour inside the Genie’s lamp. Now that the Genie’s gone, it’s for rent. Jafar boots him out of the lamp, so he’s looking for a new place to live. He goes inside the Genie’s lamp and he’s shown around by the voice of the lamp who happens to be Robin Leach. So we did those three pieces. It’s always fun revisiting these characters. And the guys I worked with at Buena Vista Home Video were superb in terms of my input on those pieces. I said to them that this is the kind of atmosphere we used to have when we created this movie in the first place. They were just great to work with and it was nice to be able to do those pieces and have the characters kind of alive again.
FSTDVD: Thank you Eric.
Goldberg: It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Special Thanks To Eric Goldberg, Dorrit Ragosine, Traci Anderson & Ameilia McPartlon
*Howard Ashman had passed away during the production of "Beauty And The Beast" in 1991, but had written most of the songs for "Aladdin." Lyricist Tim Rice completed the other songs.
Artwork © The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.
Photos by William Kallay and Disney
Originally posted here on September 27, 2004