To promote the upcoming November 27th release of the Disney animated feature Frozen, the studio invited members of the press out to see about 30 minutes of the film, along with the short, Get A Horse!, that will be paired with it in theaters. Featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse, the charming and totally cool new 3D short that seamlessly blends 2D black and white animation with color CG follows Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse (voiced by Marcellite Garner), and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabell Cow, as they enjoy a musical haywagon ride. When Peg-Leg Peter (voiced by Billy Bletcher) shows up and tries to run them off the road, classic meets modern, often stunningly in the same frame.
Get A Horse! is so fun that not only did it leave me wanting to see it again, but it made me excited to see what other new Mickey Mouse shorts were to come. While at the press day, Collider got the opportunity to speak with director Lauren MacMullan and producer Dorothy McKim about how they each got involved with this project and ended up working together on it, the biggest challenges in blending the old world animation with the new world, the appeal of working with mixed media, how when of the characters ended up wearing a Captain America t-shirt, how long the process of piecing together Walt Disney’s voice for the dialogue took, and if there could be more Mickey Mouse shorts, in the future. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
LAUREN MacMULLAN: We actually had very different paths at Disney. I wasn’t here for very long. I honestly never thought I would ever work at Disney, so I spent many years working in TV and commercials. With The Simpsons, you get the best scripts and you get really great voice acting. I spent a lot of time learning how to storyboard, and a lot of time worrying about all the different ways that you can ruin a joke, which are a lot. So, when Rich Moore came over here to direct Wreck-It Ralph, he’d been a writer/director at Futurama and I’d worked with him for many, many years. I thought it would be great to figure out what a feature was all about and how you board one of those, so I was working in story on Wreck-It Ralph. And then, this opportunity came up and Rich was like, “You should do this. You should come up with an idea.”
So, the whole past three years were pretty astonishing. On top of that, I get to do something with Mickey. For the most part, we just tried to make it as funny as we could. A nice ramification is that people seem to be happy to see him, and it’s been great making people laugh. When is the last time Mickey Mouse did anything that could make you laugh? [Dorothy McKim] was in the room for the pitch, and once the pitch got greenlit, I had to settle down. I don’t believe in astrology, but I did, after the fact, look up my horoscope for that day, in case there was some alignment of the planets. That was at the point when Dorothy was finishing up Prep & Landing, and it was great to have someone as experienced as she is, especially with shorter form stuff, come onto the project.
DOROTHY McKIM: At the time, when Lauren pitched, I had been with the company for 33 years. When she pitched Get A Horse!, I was heading up development, so it helped to get that whole pitch in order. I was working on Prep & Landing, which we had finished, and it was one of those perfect timing things. I’m so glad that John Lasseter and Ed [Catmull] wanted me to produce it. The rest is history. It’s been fantastic!
MacMULLAN: What’s great about Dorothy is that features at Disney work a very particular way. I knew how to send things to Korea, basically. You ship your Primetime TV shows to Korea. But Disney has big departments that do one thing, like the lighting department, the look department, the model building, the rigging, and the stages that everything goes through. Someone who was very experienced at Disney could show me, “Hey, this is how this works. And now, we’re going to go into this phase.” Dorothy was like, “Yeah, it’s going to be hard at times, but it’s all going to work out.” And she was right.
McKIM: They all get done.
What are the biggest challenges in blending the old world with the new world?
MacMULLAN: Well, in a way, we animated the short twice. We animated it in 2D and in CG. Just on a production level, that’s pretty difficult.
McKIM: It’s actually two shorts coming together.
MacMULLAN: And the 2D and CG are mixed in so many different ways, throughout the short, that every problem was a new problem. Because it starts out relatively simply and gets more and more complex, what happened was that some of the tech guys and the CG animators had gotten some little problems under their belt, so they felt like, “Yeah, this one’s harder, but we can do it.” And a lot of it was simple tricks that have been around for a long time. You can do simple matting where you can matte the CG into the hole. You can map the 2D onto a CG volume. When Pete falls through the water and the screen bulges out, that 2D is mapped onto that curve of the water. And then, there was also the 3D element, too. They can do a lot of things at their desks to solve the problems that come up. We were like, “Oh, this is gonna be really hard. I wonder if they can do it.” They did it all, and they did a great job.
Had you worked with mixed media like this before?
MacMULLAN: I’ve always truly loved mixed media stuff. I did a lot of commercials, early on in my career, with mixed media in the same frame. I just love the way it feels. In this case, it had all of these crazy ramifications. When you see it together, because there’s CG and color in 3D, it makes the 2D change into a piece of paper or a strip of film, and that’s really fascinating. And then, the 2D black and white makes the color and 3D feel like reality, and like it’s part of your theater. That was a little bit unexpected, how interesting it was together.
Did you meticulously plan out the use of 3D for this short?
McKIM: Yeah. And it lends itself to being in stereo. I actually almost forget that I’m watching it in stereo because it feels like it’s right there. I feel like I’m in that theater and that they’re right there, and I can just reach out and grab Mickey.
MacMULLAN: We actually had to build the stage set very carefully. It took a long time. We actually used it for about five minutes. Our head of tech did a lot of research into what the average dimensions are for a modern-day movie theater. With the row of seats, if you’re too high or too low, the stage feels wrong, and it has to work in these parameters. I’ve been going around to film festivals with the short, and we’ve had a wide variety of theaters, and it’s interesting that different jokes play differently in different theaters. So, people should just go see it multiple times in multiple theaters. When we showed our crew the short, for the first time, the art director brought his five-year-old son to see it. They came in late, so they were sitting pretty close, and he told me later that when Mickey comes out of the screen and lands on the stage, for five minutes afterwards, his son would be looking around for him.
Whose idea was it to have one of the characters wear a Captain America shirt?
MacMULLAN: That was mine. It was the most iconic graphic t-shirt without words that we could use. That shirt made it easy to clear with legal.
McKIM: Also, the Milk Duds were a big deal.
How long did it take to go through all of the voice recordings you had of Walt Disney, to put the dialogue together for Mickey Mouse?
McKIM: It was months of work. Our associate editor went through it all, and it took her quite awhile. It was two to four months of really combing through. And then, we’d think we had everything and we’d be like, “Oh, we still have to get this.” And we would have to change the reels to match some of the dialogue that we wanted to use. We wanted to make it 100% authentic to Walt.
Was there just one word that you couldn’t find him saying?
MacMULLAN: The one word was “red.” We couldn’t find it anywhere, so she had to build it out of syllables. That took two and a half weeks.
How exciting has it been to see people’s reaction to the short?
McKIM: It’s very exciting!
MacMULLAN: They’re reacting much better than I could have ever conceived of it, especially at the film festivals. The students are all jazzed up about the combo stuff.
Are you going to work on something together again soon?
MacMULLAN: I’d love to work on another Mickey short. It’s all up to the pitch and how it goes. I would love to see more Mickey shorts in front of movies.
McKIM: I think there’s more Mickey stories to be told. I think it’s just something that could go on for quite some time. I think it’s great that children love him. He makes you feel good. It’s really great. And to get him at his roots and see what his personality was, there’s something heart-warming about it, and funny. Working alongside Lauren, one thing that I really appreciated is that she took risks in this short without being afraid to take the risks. We’d have a screening and wait, and when they didn’t say anything about a certain joke, we’d just keep moving. We do have approval processes, where we do get it in front of John, and he approves the different stages that we’re in, with story being the most important. For a good eight months to almost a year, Lauren was boarding this by herself, and I really admire that. She was not afraid to take a risk, and it worked.
MacMULLAN: Oh, I was afraid, but I did it anyway. I just have that can’t lay off personality.
Get A Horse! will be in front of Frozen in theaters, starting on November 27th.