Why did Disney fire Jeffrey Katzenberg
"We found the grail"
He was once the boss at Disney, now at its biggest competitor. Jeffrey Katzenberg is the spiritual father of "Shrek", the sequel to the cinema today. In an interview with Rüdiger Sturm, the head of DreamWorks Animation explains the upheavals in trick cinema.
Die Welt: Last year you landed a flop with the classic cartoon "Sinbad". Now you can celebrate triumphs with the computer fairy tale "Shrek 2". Why is that?
Jeffrey Katzenberg: "Sinbad" was well done, but old-fashioned. We couldn't lure anyone out from behind the stove with that, and I take full responsibility for that. The "Shrek" stories are animated films like we have never seen them before: parodistic, subversive, with a pinch of social criticism.
Die Welt: But digital cartoons almost all seem to work for the audience, no matter what stories they tell.
Katzenberg: Because the audience can better empathize with their world. The three-dimensional effects enable a different kind of cinema experience. That's why clay animation films like "Chicken Run" are also successful. This year we are producing a new film with this technology together with their makers.
Die Welt: But above all you are betting on computer animation: with "Hai Society" later this year and two other "Shrek" sequels. So is classic animation dead?
Katzenberg: Our animation department only makes computer cartoons. But that is the result of a long process of knowledge. In my ten-year tenure as Disney Production Director, I learned the secret of Walt Disney's success inside out: "Films for children and for the child in each of us." That helped me develop films like "Beauty and the Beast" or "The Lion King". When we started DreamWorks in 1994, I was trying to come up with some other kind of formula that would differentiate us from Disney. We first tried serious dramas like "Prince of Egypt". But then came the phenomenal success of "Shrek". With that we had found the grail of animation. And the secret of the Grail was: "Films for adults and for the adult in every child."
Die WELT: Then why did you add two old school films to the first "Shrek" with "Spirit" and "Sinbad"?
Katzenberg: Because they were already in production. That's why the last two years have been so tough for me: On the one hand, I had to put my heart and soul into these projects, on the other hand, I knew that these films were discontinued models.
Die Welt: Nevertheless, a Hayao Miyazaki still celebrates huge successes with the alleged discontinued model.
Katzenberg: I am not saying that it is impossible. Classic animation is not dead, you just have to reinvent it. Miyazaki has managed to renew it for the 21st century. But that goes for his world and his imagination. I, on the other hand, don't know what new kind of cartoon Hollywood needs. We have now found a new philosophy and I would now like to pursue it. The stories we are trying to tell seem best suited to computer animation.
Die Welt: Does this formula for success include parodying other genres? "Shrek 2" targets fairy tale clichés, "Hai Society" makes use of mafia films.
Katzenberg: We are not concerned with parodies per se. We are planning a film like "Madagascar", which is laid out differently. However, we will refer to other strips in it as well. There are no more new stories, so you inevitably have to work with ironic overtones.
Die Welt: Is "Shrek" also a satire on Disney's ideal world?
Katzenberg: I've never parodied Disney and I won't. Everything I learned, I learned from Disney. There is no bill to settle. I always say: When I left the company, I got into the car, took off the rearview mirror and drove out the gate.
Die Welt: Maybe you need the rearview mirror again. More and more studios want to compete with you when it comes to computer animation.
Katzenberg: Many people talk about it, but only a few actually do it. At best, there will be a handful of digital cartoons a year. It's not competition.
Die Welt: Won't the audience slowly get fed up with the new technology as the number grows?
Katzenberg: Each of these films will be different. Around 250 films are launched in the US every year. Those who are really good are always special. And the audience can never get enough of them.
Die Welt: Did your draftsmen find it easy to switch to computer animation?
Katzenberg: Most of them do. Unlike Disney, we didn't fire our animators. Everyone had the chance to retrain. Around half took advantage of this opportunity.
Die Welt: Wouldn't you like to revive traditional animated films?
Katzenberg: Maybe one day. My job is to keep my eyes and ears open. 15 years ago I gave John Lasseter the money for "Toy Story", today he is the creative head of Pixar. I hired Tim Burton at Disney and produced the first feature film by the Wallace & Gromit makers. I always want to try out new trends. Hopefully I won't lose my ability to spot them.
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