Makin’ Toons Book Review
Makin’ Toons is an appropriate title because Neuwirth takes an occupational rather than a historic or artistic approach. It is reminiscent of those murder mysteries that keep describing the same event from the often very different viewpoints of the many witnesses. The introductory chapter, “What a Great Idea! How Some Tip-Top Toons Were Born,” comes the closest to being chronological and historical as it takes 13 megahits from Roger Rabbit in 1988, to Ice Age in 2002, and briefly describes how each progressed from conception to completion. “Putting It Together” focuses more closely upon just four titles, two theatrical (Shrek and The Little Mermaid) and two TV (The Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants) and presents their production histories in greater detail.
“Auteur! Auteur!” Who are the modern Tex Averys, the Chuck Joneses, the Jay Wards; the creators whose personal styles are so distinctive that even the uneducated John Q. Public will recognize their work even if he may not know their names? John Kricfalusi describes his vision for Ren & Stimpy and grossout humor; Genndy Tartakovsky tells how Dexter’s Laboratory came to be; Craig McCracken, who got his start on Dexter’s Lab, interjects the story of his The Powerpuff Girls; Tartakovsky returns to tell how he went on to Samurai Jack and Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head) tells how he evolved from a wannabe comedian and fan of cartoons into a self-taught animator inspired by the Spike & Mike Festivals.
“How Screenwriters and Story Artists Get Toons Moving,” or, “It all starts with the writer,” makes it sound like no movie or TV series can become successful without a basically solid story concept, whether the writers’ approach is through a typescript or art. Ben Edlund tells how he created The Tick as an independent comic book and it evolved into a TV series. Sue C. Nichols, a “vis dev person” (visual development) at Disney in the 1990s, was a key figure in the early stages of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin and Hercules, taking the studio’s initial decisions and fleshing them out. (“We would sit in on story sessions, and they’d say, ‘Okay, the Beast’s house is enchanted.’ It was our job to come up with why, what, all of that… so you’re just as much a story person as the storyboard people,” she explains. “If someone said, ‘We need a character who fulfills this function,’ then we could throw out several designs for them.”)
Brenda Chapman, the very first female director to helm a major studio’s animated motion picture (DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt), tells here how she, as one of the original storyboard artists on The Lion King, helped coax that troubled project into its final, megahit form. Andrew Stanton considered himself an animator when he joined Pixar, and was surprised to find himself coming up with ideas during the “seemingly endless series of revisions and rewrites” on Toy Story that became part of its basic story.