Mark Dindal's Place in the Sun
(continued from page 5)

JS: Gene Kelly is credited with the film's choreography. Did he have an active role in its production?

MD: We probably saw him three or four times. I think we first met him a little more than a year before he died. It wasn't like he would demonstrate steps or anything -- we talked more about the philosophy of approaching musicals and what they were originally thinking back when musicals were being made all the time.

It was interesting, because he said, 'Now we're in a very analytical age, because there's so many books to read and films to watch.' I got a similar response from Ward Kimball when I asked him the same question. But at that time there wasn't the history we have now, so they were just trying things. They basically said, 'We would try stuff, and if it worked we kept it and if it didn't we would try something else.'

JS: Was there anything that just didn't work in Cats Don't Dance?

MD: Oh, yeah, but I can't remember anything in particular...and on New Groove too. Again, that's part of the process that you have to go through en route to the final product. It made the people without the experience at Turner nervous, because obviously money's going out the door and you're not seeing any results. At Disney they realize there's gonna be a certain amount of that. They're not stupid, they're not just gonna let things go out the door endlessly, but they realize that's part of it.

Introducing Kuzco, an emperor transformed into a llama, voiced by David Spade, and Pacha, a good-hearted peasant, voiced by John Goodman, in The Emperor's New Groove. © Walt Disney Pictures. All rights reserved.

JS: An investment, sure.

MD: And that it will pay off. If you've never done it before, you think, 'Oh my gosh, the meter's running and this guy's not driving at all.'

JS: Do you think it was Turner's lack of experience in animation, or the Turner merger into Time Warner that deprived Cats Don't Dance of a bigger opening?

MD: Well, when we were at Turner I certainly got the feeling that it was going to be a major launch, that it was a bigger fish for them. I was much more encouraged with what they were talking about doing, how they were going to position it.

At the time they had successfully launched quite a few things with effective ad campaigns. But when the film went to Warner Bros. everybody felt it was going to become a smaller fish and it would get lost; I was trying to remain optimistic that it wouldn't happen.

I think very objectively they looked at it and decided there wouldn't be a market for it. It wasn't something they responded to, they didn't think people would eat it up.

All the good reviews we got came too late to have a positive effect. The first responses from test screenings were very rough because the film was still very rough -- a lot of sequences were still only pencil tests. I don't know if most audiences can look at this black and white coloring book they see on the screen and imagine what it's going to look like when it's finished.

So the test screenings didn't go very well. All of it just pointed to not throwing too much money at the film. But after it was released there were quite a few reviews that were very favorable. It would've helped had they come out earlier.

JS: Was Cats Don't Dance a labor of love?

MD: It had to be because it went through so much 'changing of the guard.' We had so many problems in making it, and this went on for a little over five years. That was a long time to be hanging with that, and so -- it was a labor of love. All of us really liked it. We wanted to make a movie that wasn't just an 'edgy cartoon' and they kept pushing that. It was a family movie, and not Beavis & Butthead. I don't have the taste, I don't have the desire, to do that -- this is what I'd like to do.

You remember The Ed Sullivan Show where they had the plate spinner? I remember as a kid thinking one of the most exciting things on TV was watching that guy. At times during Cats Don't Dance I felt just like him; we would have several 'plates' going and then they would all start wobbling at the same time.

In the end we got it all to come together. And again, I think it was a valuable experience -- it contributed to the great appreciation I have now for the way the process works at Disney.

JS: They're more supportive here?

MD: Yeah, they're aware of the process and they trust the process. They know what to expect it to look like, what'll work and not work, because they've been through it.


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