Disney: Fire & Rescue not made to sell toys

In the animated movies Cars (2006) and Planes (2013), the characters are talking and walking - well, self-driving and self-flying - vehicles. Not surprisingly, they have been criticised for being essentially glorified advertisements whose raison d'etre is to sell toys.

DisneyToon Studios' writer-director Bobs Gannaway disagrees. Speaking over the telephone from Los Angeles, he says: "Our goal is to tell a great story and have viewers visit an interesting world and populate that world with a lot of appealing, fun characters that they want to spend time with. That's what my job is."

He helms Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue, which opens in cinemas here tomorrow. In the sequel to Planes, Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is forced to give up racing and tries his wings at firefighting instead.

Gannaway, 49, declares that merchandising targets are "absolutely not" in the driver's seat. "Any ancillary things the studio wants to do, such as make toys and things like that to extend the storytelling, are great. I have young kids, a little boy and a little girl, and I love that they can play with a character from my movie or another movie," adds Gannaway, who is married with six-year-old twins.

While Fire & Rescue appears to be targeted at younger audiences, the process of making it was anything but child's play.

Before a single pixel was rendered, the creative team spent time doing research on cropdusters used to put out wildfires and spent time with a local firefighting team in California.

Then, the team spent 21/2 years developing the way in which they produced the fire and had a team of about 70 effects artists working on the fire scenes.

All this effort was necessary because, Gannaway notes, "the fire is essentially a character in the movie, more like the antagonist". "It was important to us that the fire had to feel real to the viewers."

While Planes was released theatrically last year, he points out that, in effect, they have been working on Fire & Rescue for four years. The biggest challenge in his work at Disney, where he has directed animated works such as Secret Of The Wings (2012) and Stitch! The Movie (2003) in his 20-year career, "is to not pander to kids and never write down to them".

He adds: "That's why we try to go for deep storytelling and real characters."

Looking at the world from a child's point of view, though, is a piece of cake. "We're all essentially big kids and we all have kids.

There's a youthful enthusiasm that John Lasseter promotes, a creative environment that he nurtures, all of these things help to keep us creatively young," he says, referring to the chief creative officer at Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios.

Yes, Gannaway says he has used his children as his test audience for his work, but not all that fruitfully.

"My children find the animation- making process extremely frustrating. When I bring them to work and we'd be working on a scene and we watch it over and over and over again, they didn't really understand why the movie wasn't still going."

He adds: "They never actually want to come to work with me again."


This article was first published on Sep 3, 2014.
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