Study Guide

Beauty and the Beast Director

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Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Beauty and the Beast came along at a delicate time for Disney. With The Little Mermaid, the company had finally emerged from decades wandering the wilderness after Walt died. They needed to capitalize on Mermaid's success, and they weren't going to put the effort in the hands of people they didn't trust. So, they turned to some homegrown talent to get them through. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise were both alumni of CalArts, the Valencia, California-based arts school created by Walt Disney to train animators for his company.

Trousdale worked largely in Disney's feature animation department on such less-than-classic '80s fare as The Black Cauldron and Oliver & Company. Wise did more freelance work, including helping with The Brave Little Toaster and the famous "Family Dog" episode of Amazing Stories. (That episode was directed by Brad Bird, who went on to direct The Incredibles, with help from a little nobody named Tim Burton.) Wise and Trousdale first met up as storyboard artists on The Rescuers Down Under, and they did their jobs so well that Disney put them in charge of one of the studio's most important projects.

It's safe to say that they nailed it. Beauty and the Beast not only became a huge hit and a timeless classic, but it was also the first animated feature ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Their skills with storyboarding helped them keep the action tight and the narrative clear, while their ability to coach the largely theatrically trained cast let them connect the songs to the emotional core of the characters. That added up to the masterpiece we now see before us: tight yet sweeping, epic yet intimate, funny yet guaranteed to make you cry like a little kid before that patented Disney happily ever after.

Their success with Beauty didn't go unrewarded; Disney tagged them again to handle The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). Trousdale eventually left for greener pastures, following former Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg to DreamWorks Animation, which was beginning a heated rivalry with the House of Mouse. There, he contributed to a number of films in the Shrek and Madagascar series, as well as some weird little shorts like Thriller Night (a music video parody appearing on a Shrek DVD).

Wise stuck closer to home and has mostly been known for directing the English-language vocal cast in the Japanese animated feature Spirited Away, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. (Beauty and the Beast didn't win that one because the award didn't exist when it was released.)

Either way, it's safe to say that this film represented a career high point for both of them, allowing them to show the world that animation was a force to be reckoned with again at the movies. They made sure that the Disney spirit was revived for a new generation.

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