Scott Henrick (of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate) once described Disney's The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride as "a worthy successor to the throne of the most successful animated film of all time." But the real gem of this direct-to-video feature's fancy-schmancy two-disc DVD re-release released in stores Aug. 31, 2004 may be One by One, an outstanding new animated short directed by Pixote Hunt.
According to its producer, Don Hahn, One by One was originally developed a few years ago by Hunt to date, Disney's only African-American director as one of a series of animated shorts based on various forms of "world music." At one time, the proposed shorts Mike Gabriel's award-winning Lorenzo was one of these were intended to be collected as a feature film anthology of music-driven segments, or possibly to fill the rotating slots in Fantasia 2000. (Hunt directed the film's opening sequence, abstractly adapting Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5.") Instead, One by One makes its world debut on The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride DVD, a special release that the Walt Disney Co. (rightfully) hopes will reach the widest possible audience.
The four-minute short exec produced by Roy E. Disney opens in a squalor-stricken, rusted-out South African shantytown. When one of its young inhabitants discovers a colorful bird's feather (no, it's not one of Zazu the toucan's) borne on the wind, it inspires him to encourage his friends to beg, borrow and steal the necessary materials to make dozens of kites each with its own colorful kid-drawn motif with which they fill the African sky. Whether or not this "spiritual triumph of children" represents their dreams or reality, it definitely is artistically and thematically inspiring. One by One is the animated equivalent of a tone poem or haiku, but much more engaging.
One by One takes its title and inspiration from "One by One," a "freedom song" written and performed by Lebo M, one that was cut from the animated Lion King but is included in the live Broadway musical production. (It occurs immediately following the show's intermission.) The chant-like song "One by One" was originally recorded in South Africa by the Children's Choir, then augmented by additional recording of the Adult Choirs in South Africa and New York City.
One by One was art directed by Mike Humphries, who orchestrates a striking visual arc that begins with the harsh angularities of a poverty-stricken and rusted-out shantytown and ends in an impressionistic savanna. The short was visually developed (by Mike (Herobear and the Kid) Kunkel and Bruce (The Proud Family) Smith) and storyboarded on the Disney lot (with director Hunt traveling to South Africa for inspirational research), laid out by the studio's feature unit in Paris, and brought back to Burbank for animation, color and post-production.
Although primarily traditionally animated the roster of animators includes such well-known individuals as Tony Bancroft, Steve Gordon and Dave Pruiksma, among others One by One also features some cleverly-realized CGI objects (including those many kites) and lighting effects, seamlessly integrated into the hand-drawn material. This was overseen by co-director David A. Bossart, and it's to his credit that these subtle contributions spectacularly succeed merely by not drawing undue attention to themselves.
The two-disc DVD of The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride contains a wealth of special material in addition to the animated sequel itself. It includes: Find Out Why shorts (starring Timon and Pumbaa); "Proud Of Simba's Pride" (a making-of documentary); "Lots About Lions" (a live-action doc in the tradition of Disney's "True-Life Adventures"); "Lion King's Matter-Of-Facts" (pop-up trivia); "Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 2.0" (a CGI "virtual theme park ride"); "Rafiki's Challenge" (the old shell game with a new twist); "Pride Land Games," "Disney's Song Selection" and a "Love Will Find A Way" music video (performed by Heather Headley and Kenny Lattimore." Hopefully, One by One won't be lost among this abundance of "extras." Not only is it an outstanding animated short that deserves wide attention, but it also provides a appropriate opportunity for parents to explain to their young offspring about South Africa's ongoing social tragedy in somewhat upbeat terms. Indeed, the entire crew of One by One should be congratulated on creating this small but significant achievement in animation.
Scott Shaw! has variously worked as an animation producer, director, writer, designer, gag man and storyboard and layout artist over the last 25 years. His most recent projects include drawing character models for Warner Bros.' Duck Dodgers and storyboards for Warner Bros.' What's New, Scooby-Doo? and Disney's American Dragon, as well as co-writing and directing a pilot/promo for Education Comics' The Adventures of Scooter McDoogal. Scott also writes and draws stories for Bongo Comics' line of Simpsons comicbooks. And, for the last four years, Scott has written a daily column on "the craziest comicbooks ever published," Oddball Comics.