Apparently Glen Keane has been taken off of Rapunzel. Dean Wellins too. The film has been given to Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, both of whom worked on the upcoming Bolt (Greno as storyboard director and Howard as co-director).
The film has been Keane’s pet project for several years, so this turn of events is rather shocking. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out – one wonders what Lasseter is up to.
Update: The story seems to have broken first on Cartoon Brew, where former Disney animator Floyd Norman confirmed its veracity. Considering that Keane has spent seven years on the project, this shakeup can’t have been taken lightly. It appears, according to Ain’t It Cool News, that the reason being given for Keane leaving the project involves non-life threatening health issues. If this is truly the case, we certainly wish Keane well.
Keane will continue on the project as an Executive Producer and Directing Animator, while Wellins will pitch a story for a new feature while also directing a new CG short. AICN prints the following, which they claim is the in-house memo that has been issued at Walt Disney Animation Studios:
For nearly two years, Glen Keane and Dean Wellins have been directing partners on Rapunzel. As Glen lessens his directorial responsibilities to attend to some non-life threatening health issues, their involvement on the project will shift. Glen will step back as a Director but stay attached to Rapunzel as an Executive Producer and Directing Animator. At the same time, Dean will move into development to pitch three new ideas for one of our future feature projects and focus on directing one of his CG shorts.
We are happy to announce that Nathan Greno and Byron Howard have accepted to partner as directors on Rapunzel as we continue to hone the story in anticipation of our Holiday 2010 release. We want to welcome Nathan and Byron to the project and thank Glen and Dean for their great contributions to date on Rapunzel.
After taking Chris Sanders off of Bolt (then called American Dog) and now this, Lasseter has certainly shaken things up. Let’s hope it’s for the better. Cartoon Brew floats the idea that Lasseter and Keane have different story sensibilities; I remember this being said about Sanders as well. Let’s hope that WDAS continues to have room for all manner of ideas, as long as they’re all good.
Update: The story that’s slowly emerging (see in the comments below) is that Keane is, indeed, stepping down for personal health reasons. At this point, it’s hard to tell what else is happening with this project. Watching the development process from afar is like trying to figure out why someone’s marriage works the way it does; there’s just a whole lot you don’t see and about which you can’t possibly guess.
One reason this story struck such an immediate chord with me is that I’ve really been trying to reconcile in my mind two very distinct yet divergent concepts. The first is that I want WDAS to be a place that not only excels at the tried-and-true Disney story model, but also allows for the occasional “out of the ordinary” project that breaks the mold a bit and allows a particular artist’s style to shine through. While it might not be easy to accommodate both very different processes, I’d still love to see it happen.
Maybe I’m just bitter because I want to see the Brizzi brothers return and make something insane and gothic, but doubt that would ever happen.
My second belief is that Lasseter and company really, really know what they’re doing. The two Pixar films which had conspicuous director changes were Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille. To say both of those shakeups worked out nicely is an understatement. It’s also true that this sort of thing happened all the time under Walt, and most always worked in the favor of the project. I just hate not being able to have my cake and eat it too – which is why I’d probably be a terrible director. Take the Jungle Book for instance; while the end product was a success and more effectively conveyed Walt’s vision, I hate that we’ll never see Bill Peet’s darker and more atmospheric take on the material.
So as much as I hate we won’t see any more of Chris Sanders’ work at Disney, I know that American Dog was troubled and it seems that Sanders left of his own volition. While it seems that Bolt lacks the visual flair of the earlier project, everyone seems to agree that Chris Williams and Byron Howard have done a bang-up job whipping the film into shape. And maybe that’s just what Rapunzel needed, too. Seven years is a long time for any film to be in development, and it appears from comments elsewhere that the film’s story was far less complete than I was aware. Even the greatest animators aren’t necessarily great directors; regardless of other issues, if the film still doesn’t have a workable story after seven years perhaps a shakeup was called for. Disney can’t develop the film forever, after all.
Thankfully Keane will still be animating, and hopefully he’ll be in good health soon. My one hope is that they don’t abandon the visual style that has been developed for the film – that seems to be the strong point of all of Keane’s years of effort. Interviews in the past have relayed Lasseter’s fondness for the film’s look, so hopefully it won’t be in jeopardy.
Maybe someday we’ll find out the full story behind this, maybe not. But in the end we’ll likely get a great film – that’s what it’s all about, after all – and forget all about Rapunzel‘s decade of drama.