Yesterday we published the first part of our interview with Don Hahn, during which we discussed the process of converting the film to 3D, and the possibilities this might have for Disney’s back catalogue in the future.

In this part Hahn talks about the effect of the film on audiences, the possibility of synchronous 3D releases for future cell animated Disney releases, and which film in Disney’s back catalogue he’d love to see in 3D on the big screen.


HUG: You’re coming back into this, sixteen years on. How was it, making decisions for the ‘3D-ification’ of a film that you haven’t been near in a long time?

DH: It’s a big contrast to when you’re making a movie for the first time, where you have the added pressure of not knowing if anybody’s going to come and see it. We didn’t really know – it’s a movie about a lion cub that gets framed for murder, which sounds like an awful idea – so we weren’t sure. So all those pressures were off; seventeen years later it was humbling, almost, to go back and say, ‘oh, here’s our baby again. Here’s our kid’. We left him seventeen years ago, and now we go see and revisit that creation again. So it was very humbling, really fun, very nostalgic, getting that team of people together again.


HUG: Presumably it’s also a very different Disney, seventeen years down the line, so how did that affect your relationship with the company? Were they more responsive to your views and those of your colleagues than they were previously?

DH: Yeah, they certainly gave us complete creative control over it. Disney, it makes sense that they’re a different company, because everyone changes roles, and the audience are different, certainly. But the studio now gave us all the creative control over it because they trusted us, for some crazy reason, to do it and not screw it up, and we didn’t want to screw it up. We didn’t want to add anything to it, or make changes to it. We wanted to make it a great experience for people who knew the movie and a really cool experience in 3D for people who didn’t know the movie. So the company were really supportive of me, on a creative level, and on a finance level, giving me the assets we needed to do the movie.


HUG: Have you discussed with John Lasseter about doing 2D Cell animation projects, and immediately putting them out in 3D?

DH: Yeah, he’s a huge fan of all styles of animation, but I think seeing Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast in 3D, he loved, and talked about doing it even as early as Princess and the Frog, so I think if you see some new, hand drawn animation from Disney, you might see it in 3D also. It’s fun, it’s just value added for the audience.

HUG: It sort of changes everything a little.

DH: It does. I’m not saying it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but it tends to be a more immersive experience, and more fun. You feel a little more a part of the movie, and a little more involved, and there’s a little more ‘wow factor’ to it, when you open the movie, and you see all the birds flying over Africa, there’s a little more investment the audience makes in that movie because  of what’s up on the screen.

HUG: Have you just seen it on a normal-sized cinema screen at the moment?

DH: I’ve seen it on a really huge screen, down at the El Capitane, which is massive.

HUG: My screening was at the IMAX.

DH: That’s big.

HUG: It was, overwhelming, which I think is an interesting thing for a film to be.

DH: The good thing about being alive now is that you can watch the film on your cell phone, or your iPad, or your television set, and with all of those, you’re looking AT the TV, or you’re looking AT the iPad. The thing about the big cinema screen is that you’re not looking AT the screen, you’re in the movie, because your field of vision is swept away by it, and you actually have to turn your head to look and see something here, or turn your head to see something there, so that physical investment in the movie is different from when you’re watching it on TV, and I’m really happy to take Lion King back to the theatre and have the audience feel that. It’s a different experience.


HUG: Have you had many audience reactions from it yet?

DH: Yeah, a couple of people that I’ve witnessed in person, and a bunch that I witnessed via Facebook. In person it’s just so fun, I saw it last weekend with a bunch of kids down at the El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, we had a premiere. It’s so fun having kids laugh at the jokes, because to us they’re old jokes, but to have people who haven’t heard them before, and to have people ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the opening scenes at Pride Rock and the wildebeest stampede and all that stuff, it was a very vocal audience, and that’s fun too, that social experience. People have been sending me little Facebook things from all over the world, I got one from Mexico just yesterday, that said people stood up and applauded after the screening, and they applauded at Circle of Life, and I thought ‘really? A seventeen year old movie?’ That’s humbling, and it’s amazing to think that anyone would have that kind of response to it.

HUG: So the response is actually better than you expected?

DH: Yeah.

HUG: One of the things I’m curious about there, you obviously developed the depth script and between you and the stereographers, there’s clearly a decision about what you want to achieve from sculpting the faces and bodies, from having flat-ish backgrounds against characters. Were the reactions you got at those points what you expected?

DH: The irony is, we weren’t expecting reactions to the 3D of it all. Rarely do people sit there and say, ‘Wow! That  Mufassa is sure dimensionalised’, they’re more invested in the story, and they’re more invested in seeing this movie again on the big screen. There’s a couple of ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ moments during the opening of the movie, or during other parts that just takes your breath away because it’s so big, and the 3D is fantastic, but most of it is just the audience reacting to the story, and that’s the best feeling. It’s not about the 3D, it’s about the story, and appreciating the story again on the big screen.

HUG: OK. If you had the chance to pick anything from the Disney catalogue, at all, and could dimensionalise it, and see it again on the big screen, what would it be?

DH: Peter Pan.

HUG: Why?

DH: Flying is fantastic in 3D because the characters can pop out and fly over the audience. You have Captain Hook, you have mermaids, you have Indians, you have kids in pyjamas, what more could you want. It’s a perfect movie for 3D.

HUG: Have you suggested this, because it seems like it’s an answer you already knew.

DH: I knew it because I love that movie. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories, I love that movie, but no, we haven’t talked about it at all. I really do think Lion King, and to an extent Beauty and the Beast are trial balloons, and if they work we’re going to start talking about some of those other movies like Aladdin, but we haven’t thought about that particular one.

HUG: With a mind to your future at Disney, outside of 3D, you’re clearly very much pivotal with Lion King and Beauty and the Beast post conversion processes. Is this a case of you coming back and doing more new animation as well, producing new Disney features?

DH: Yeah, possibly. I’m always looking for ideas, and I’m doing one animated feature right now.

HUG: You’re on Frankenweenie aren’t you?

DH: Yeah, Frankenweenie. It’s always a possibility, but what I don’t want to do is revisit places I’ve already been in my career. What’s great about Frankenweenie is, I’ve known Tim for a long time, but to be able to go back and revisit that story, but do it with puppets and do it stop motion is really fun, and really different for me, so as I’ve grown in my career I find myself doing different things. The stop motion thing is one, or doing more live action movies, that breadth of experience just becomes important the longer you stay in the industry.

HUG: Again, as a producer rather than generally, what is the difference for you between putting together a stop motion film rather than a hand drawn, or a live action film?

DH: In a lot of ways I see them as the same. What people do individually might be really different, but you’re looking for those interesting character designers or set designers or art directors, and in some cases they’re art directing by building miniature sets for puppets, and in other cases they’re building full sized sets for actors, but they’re kind of doing the same thing, and that job is telling a story, so whether they’re costume designers or drawing characters, everyone’s trying to help tell the same story, and that’s the criteria for hiring people really, who’s going to collaborate best and tell this story, so not that many differences really in my opinion.