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SUMMER SNEAKS '94 : You Can't Hide His Lion Eyes : It's no coincidence that Disney's latest jungle villain bears a wicked resemblance to Jeremy Irons; just ask the animator

May 15, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman is a frequent contributor to Calendar. and

"There were some similarities to Shere Khan, and I did not want to do 'Jungle Book.' I don't know how far I succeeded in that," admits Dejas. "But I talked to the other animators early on and said, 'It would be easy to take what the old guys developed for large cats, put a wig on 'em and call it a lion. It would be a shame.' I added a lot of black around Scar's mouth, gave him a nose that's like an open black claw, almost--anything that they didn't do, I wanted to try, just so that people wouldn't say, 'Oh, it's just like Shere Khan.' "

For once, mild-mannered Dejas betrays the barest hint of his screen villains' utter perturbability. "You hear this a lot when people recognize (bits of) other characters. It's really bothersome."

Hahn, the producer of "The Lion King" (and "Beauty and the Beast" before it), feels heartened that Disney is willing to take a detour here from the common thread that united the studio's previous three animated musical hits: "If we keep making a love story about people from two different worlds falling in love, I think we will suffer from that. And I think 'Lion King,' as a father-son story, is a great departure from that."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 22, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Page 83 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
An article last Sunday about the creation of the villain in Disney's "The Lion King" omitted the name of one of the film's two directors. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff are the film's co-directors. Also, the name of the supervising animator who created Scar the Lion was misspelled. He is Andreas Deja.

And so is Scar also a departure from Ursula, Gaston or Jafar, all of whom came off at least as buffoonish as they were sinister. Whether he'll be the breakout character remains to be seen. But "Scar was definitely our favorite character," says co-director Minkoff.

The traditional challenge, he says, is that "it's so hard to come up with exciting goodness. Like in 'Fantasia,' the 'Night on Bald Mountain' sequence is really dynamic and fun, and then they do 'Ave Maria,' and it's aaaavayyyy boooriiing ," Minkoff croons.

"Five or 10 years ago, people thought of Disney films as being good, right, so all the Disney copy films were about good characters doing good things--so there was zero depth. Because it's not about the goodness of a character, it's about overcoming evil, which is more interesting."

Dejas agrees: "Even in design, there should be something beautiful and intriguing that makes you want to look at this thing. You might shudder or look away, but you should still be curious enough to go back to it. Maleficent in 'Sleeping Beauty' is a gorgeous art-deco design, and has a lot of magneticism--you just want to look at this even though she's evil and she's bad and she curses."

But after tackling three virtual spawns of Satan in a row for Disney, an overtaxed Dejas is taking a break from nefariousness for a more virtuous assignment later this year: going to Paris to head a unit that will animate Mickey Mouse in the character's first theatrical short in four years.

"And the reason is, nobody knows Mickey Mouse anymore," Dejas admits. "I mean, the kids know the Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy, and Mickey is something from the past."

Can the animator help the Mouse get his, uh, edge back?

"He was a bratty thing at the beginning, in the '30s. He kicked things around and he hurt other little animals. He became nicer and nicer--and then in the end, by the time it came to the mid-'40s, '50s, he was just flat, and other characters took over. He's a very difficult character, such a corporate symbol, and you have to be so precious with him. . . . But in the end it's always easier if you really like your character. I love the character," Dejas assures.

And we promise to love him again, too, if only his animator can just find some credible context for Mickey to wrinkle his ears, return to his rat-like roots and, like Scar, announce that his teeth and ambition are bared.*

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