We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Disney’s Joe Hale who was the producer of “The Black Cauldron,” which is set to release to DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on September 14th. Joe spent more than 35 years at the Walt Disney Company, during which time he worked as an animator, special effects artist, story man, layout man, and producer. Below you can read our interview with Joe:
We watched “The Black Cauldron” last night and really enjoyed it! How did “The Black Cauldron” come about?
“At the time Disney had its ups and downs with its teenage crowds, no respectable teenager would be caught dead watching a Disney movie. We were making movies like ‘That Darn Cat’ and ‘Cat From Outerspace,’ and ‘Robin Hood,’ and movies had changed a tremendous amount at that time – getting more into the adult type films, and the Disney type movies just weren’t going over. In fact, we used to kid at work and someone said you know if we made a film about Nazis they’d probably call it ‘That Darn Hitler.’ They wanted something that teenagers would go to, something that was more adult. They wanted a PG rating and it went on for years and years, they’d work on it for a while, it was about five years in the making.
My wife and I looked at it, they sent us a copy of the DVD that’s coming out, and I hadn’t looked at it in a long time, and I was surprised about a month or so ago I ran into a whole bunch of reviews about the ‘Black Cauldron’ that had been sent to me that I had never read and I was surprised it got really good reviews at the time.”
Why was the decision made to create “The Black Cauldron” in 70mm?
“That decision was made before I came on the picture. I think they felt, and I felt the same way, you’ll notice that there are an awful lot of long shots and they wanted to take advantage of the big screen and I didn’t want a lot of shots of talking heads, so I wanted to keep the camera back and take advantage of the 70mm.”
The movie had to be edited multiple times in order to avoid a PG-13 or R rating – what was included in the movie that had to be removed to make it more kid-friendly?
“When I was making the picture I really wasn’t that conscious about what kind of rating it was going to get. I don’t think it really entered my mind, I didn’t purposely make it a PG rating, I just wanted to make what everyone wanted, which was a film that was a little different from all the other Disney films, they wanted something for the teenage crowds, something you would take your ten-year-old to.”
What is your most memorable experience from the time you spent working on “The Black Cauldron”?
“We had been showing [the film] to different audiences and getting really high ratings. Everybody thought it was going to be a real blockbuster, and I think out of all of the things I enjoyed about the picture, my part of it, is that I enjoyed giving everyone who worked on it screen credits, and that was the only time that had happened, and I got in a hassle with Roy Disney because the titles were too long and he said ‘I want them cut in half,’ and I kept stalling and stalling and he kept insisting. I didn’t want to go back on my word. I said ‘You’re the boss, if I have to cut them in half the first name that is coming off the picture is going to be mine,’ he got a little put out about that.”
Out of all of the Disney movies you worked on, which was the most challenging for you?
“It probably would be ‘The Black Cauldron,’ but the one that I remember that I really enjoyed was sequence 8 in Sleeping Beauty, and that’s where Briar Rose comes to the edge of the forest and dances with the little characters. That was the first picture I worked on layout on. I was given that sequence, sequence 8. I worked on other sequences, like baking the cake and making the dress, but I always felt like that was my sequence. I did every layout in that sequence.
I also remember doing a sequence in ‘The Fox and the Hound’ when Tod gets in the chicken yard. That was my first chance to write and storyboard a sequence that worked really well. I also did a sequence in ‘The Rescuers’ where the mice get into the big river boat trying to rescue Penny, and I wrote and storyboarded that sequence, and I had a little song at the end when the mice get away and I wanted her to sing a ‘Who I Am’ type of song, sort of like in ‘Oliver’ [‘Oliver & Company’] something like the little boy sings like ‘Where’s Love,’ it never made it into the picture.
I have a lot of memories. I started on ‘Peter Pan,’ worked on ‘Fox and the Hound,’ ‘The Rescuers,’ ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks,’ ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ I remember working on ‘Pete’s’ which was a lot of fun because I had complete control over the live action and animation combination scenes. I have great memories of going out on the back lot at six in the morning and having a cup of cocoa and planning the shooting. It was a lot of fun working with Mickey Rooney and some of those people I had admired since I was little.”
What do you think of the new 3D trend in movies?
“I got out of the business just at the right time because when I look at the computer animated films they just boggle my mind. I’m still trying to figure out how they do that stuff. I think ‘Toy Story’ was perfect because the characters have that toy look anyway, and it’s perfect for toys. The only thing I would say is I can’t tell which are the Disney characters anymore. They all have kind of a similar look now, you could always tell the Disney characters in 2d animation, as they call it now.”
Be sure to pick up the 25th Anniversary edition of “The Black Cauldron” on September 14th and let us know what you think!