MURPHY: In your biography notes, special attention is given to how you could perceive a character or a story point and see it through. Any examples jump to mind where this happened?
JOHNSTON: Well, Prince John in “Robin Hood”; Baloo in “Jungle Book”; the owl in “Sword in the Stone”; Mr. Since; Trusty and Scotty in “Lady and the Tramp” (but others worked on them too.) On Baloo, I did the first animation and so had a lot to do on that character. I was there when they first brought in Phil Harris. He didn’t think he could do it but Walt asked him in and so he came. Phil said, “Heck, I can’t even read to my daughters! I can’t read for a bear!” But, we talked him into it and let him do the lines in his own natural way of talking. He talked more in his voice. We liked that. That worked out just great. As Phil says, it made him immortal. One of my first conceptions for the characters came from Walt doing an animation of Phil very bouncy and jivey. So, I made him sort of a musical beer who walks with a beat. Frank worked on him too. With Prince John I had a strong concept of him in relation to Sir Hiss. Neither had any redeeming qualities. I wanted the Prince to be even more unstable than he turned out. But once they worked in the gag about him sucking his thumb and having the mother-complex, I knew I was licked!
MURPHY: There is one sequence where I think his menace came out. Where he discovers the Sheriff and Trusty all singing the song that mocks him, he is a cold calculating presence.
JOHNSTON: I tried to get the audience to take him seriously. I felt that the whole picture ended up a little tongue in cheek. More so than most of ours. I like the feeling that we draw the audience in; that they are concerned about our characters because they believe in them. They believe that this is some magical place where all this could really happen; some place where they couldn’t go themselves but someplace they could believe in and care about.
MURPHY: I understand. I loved “Robin Hood” and I loved “Jungle Book” but I think I was drawn in on “The Rescuers”, most, and the story of the little girl.
JOHNSTON: A lot of people said that. One fellow wrote in and said: “When the little girl was told they adopted someone else, I started to cry.” We had other ideas for that concept that we couldn’t do. One was where she does her act at the orphanage and it doesn’t go over but• that would have taken a lot of extra animation and a lot of extra time and, as it was, we were pressed for time and trying to hold the picture to the right length.
MURPHY: I was delighted when I saw the picture to see that Jim Jordan (of Fibber McGee and Molly) was doing one of the lead voices. His brother, Mickey Jordan, just died last week and Jim was in Kansas City for the funeral. We all knew Mickey.
JOHNSTON: He was great – so funny! He asked us: “How long does it take to make one of those cartoons?” We told him two or three years. I-Ic said: “Well, you’d better get me all at once. I’m 74!” And, he’s still going strong!
MURPHY: You were talking today about the problem of everyone wanting to be a supervising animator and how hard it is to find good “in—between” men. I understand that the two pictures they are presently working on are “A Christmas Carol”, which is scheduled to come out this Christmas and “The Black Cauldron”.
JOHNSTON: I saw some of the Christmas Carol the other day. Our publisher is doing a book through the Studio on the production.
MURPHY: My brother Charlie and I are big fans of Uncle Scrooge and we were hoping that the Uncle Scrooge in the movie would be more like the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge than Scrooge’s last appearance in a cartoon where he looked more like Ludwig Von Drake.
JOHNSTON: It’s hard to say. I’d say it’s somewhere in-between. Clarence Nash is also back to do the voice of Donald Duck. Someone around here did Mickey and Scrooge who is done with a Scotch accent. The voices are adequate. It’s pretty good in some of the drawings I’ve seen, It’s 24 minutes long and they are going to release it theatrically I think and then have it each year at Christmas time on TV. That’s the only way you can make your money back on a short, by adding it to a feature. If the feature isn’t too strong, it might help bring in more money.
MURPHY: It must have been hard to bring back the very symbols that the studio is built on: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, etc. This will be Mickey’s first appearance in 29 years.
JOHNSTON: The Mickey drawings look real good. They’re done by a young fellow here and there is a nice flavour to the thing. It’s done by young animators but, for the stage of development that they’re at, it’s pretty good.
MURPHY: What are the problems of the young animators today that weren’t present in earlier times?
JOHNSTON: Well, cost for one. If you were to remake “Fantasia” today, it would cost you 15 to 25 million. And, “Pinocchio”, all that hand crafted work! What with all the costs, you’d probably have to make 100 million today before you’d turn a profit.