Mark Dindal's Place in the Sun

by Joe Strike

Disney's latest, The Emperor's New Groove. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Director Mark Dindal. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

The hotheaded young test pilot won't give in. He won't return the experimental rocket backpack that has fallen into his possession, even though a Nazi spy ring will kill to get their hands on it. Finally, its inventor -- aviation pioneer Howard Hughes -- shows the pilot a movie he hopes will change his mind. The room grows dark and a cartoon appears onscreen...

Art deco chiseled, rocketpack-equipped soldiers fly across the screen in multiplane formation...a swastika spreads tentacle-like arrows of domination that arc across the Atlantic and stab into the U.S...battalions of flying stormtroopers fill the sky as the U.S. Capitol building goes up in black and white flames...and an unfurling Nazi flag gives way to a chilling full-screen legend, "Heute Europa, Morgen Die Welt" ["Today Europe -- Tomorrow The World"].

"It cost a man's life to get this film out of Germany," notes Hughes.

Who Is This Man?
Well, not really. The eye-catching 47-second animated sequence in the midst of Disney's 1991 live-action adventure film The Rocketeer was actually the work of Mark Dindal, a creative and ambitious young staffer at the Disney feature animation studio. Animation buff that I am, I made a mental note of his name as the film's closing credits rolled by...and then promptly forgot all about him.

Dindal's work in Disney's Rocketeer powered his career in animation. © The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

A few years later, in a trade magazine article on computer-based ink and paint systems, I saw a still for a yet-to-be released animated feature: a female cartoon cat posing wistfully by a street light against a stylized urban setting. Her defiantly non-Disney appearance (a bold-featured, oversized head with solid coloring and strong outlines), the subtle color scheme and the strength with which the picture conveyed its emotional content piqued my interest. I made another mental note to see the film, something called Cats Don't Dance, upon its release; this time I didn't forget.

The 1997 film, a funny and heartfelt valentine to the golden age of movie musicals, lived up to the promise of that one photograph. It followed the travails and ultimate triumph of Danny, a somewhat naïve "song-and-dance-cat" just off the bus from Kokomo and out to conquer 1939 Hollywood. By the end of the film Danny has bested evil child star Darla Dimple, put an end to the second class status endured by animal actors and won the heart of the beautiful Sawyer, the wistful cat in the above-mentioned publicity still.

Did I mention Cats Don't Dance was directed by Mark Dindal?


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