The hottest young directors in all cartoon land, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, suddenly find themselves living out a fairy-tale story right after directing one. Just two years ago, Trousdale, 30, and Wise, 28 (who both attended CalArts, the Disney-funded art school in Valencia, Calif.), were summoned to the Disney boardroom in New York to talk about Beast. Their only professional directing credit at the time: Cranium Command, a four-minute, Pythonesque cartoon about the brain’s power made for EPCOT Center’s Wonders of Life pavilion.
In dealing with their paint-and-ink actors, Trousdale and Wise functioned much like live-action directors. There were weeks of story meetings with screenwriter Linda Woolverton, songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and producer Don Hahn. In contrast to most animated features, which lock in a screenplay early, Beast remained fluid throughout production, with some sequences being rewritten while others were being animated. Matching individual animators to the various characters, moreover, was a lot like casting actors. Says Wise, ”We had to wine and dine them one at a time, to find out what their strengths were and to try to sell them on the characters we felt were the most appropriate for them.” The task of casting real performers on both coasts to do Beast’s voices kept the directors shuttling between L.A. and New York.
Unlike many live-action directors, however, the two auteurs were not inclined, or allowed, to put a deeply personal stamp on their film. ”We like raucous, bawdy music-hall humor and the violent, intense bits in the wolf chase,” says Trousdale. ”But there are people who will pull you back” — he is referring to such people as Disney studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, vice chairman Roy Disney, and animation VP Peter Schneider — ”and they’d let us know when we’d gone too far. The area that we’re working is the Disney fairy tale, and there is a Disney house style. I don’t think it’s anything to get defensive about.”