Annecy Opens on Note of Artistic Defiance as Disney Premieres Centenary Short ‘Once Upon a Studio’

Three days after a barbarous playground attack left the lakeside town in grief and shock, and in an amphitheater facing the public park where the tragedy occurred, the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival inaugurated this year’s edition with a show of solidarity and communal defiance.

“In response to barbarity, this festival will hold up creativity and artistic perspective,” said event organizer Dominique Puthod as he addressed the lively crowd. “You will bring color and wonder to the eyes of young and old alike, on bruised and battered paper, as a tribute to life.”

“The best response to this tragedy is to live even more forcefully and more intensely,” added Annecy mayor François Astorg. “With this conviction art and culture celebrates life, and enables us to change the world to make it a better place.”

With those rousing words, the animation showcase kicked off what promises to be a banner edition, boasting record attendance numbers, a substantial studio presence, and a spotlight on Mexico’s animation industry.

Annecy lost little time honoring both transatlantic delegations, preceding the screening of opening film “Sirocco and the Kingdom of Air Streams” with the charming, black-and-white short “Kikiriki” from Mexican animator Ram Tamez (“The Beast”), followed by the world premiere of the Disney’s “Once Upon A Studio,” from directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy.

A passion project, started on the fly in anticipation of the Mouse House’s centenary this year, the nine-minute short brings more than four hundred characters back to life, throwing hand-drawn, CG and live action characters into a dizzy mix as they collectively buzz around the Roy E. Disney animation building on the Disney studio lot, causing gentle comic mayhem and leading towards a sentimental close set to the studio’s most emblematic song.  

Of course, the short begins with an icon of a different sort, focusing on veteran animator Burny Mattinson (who passed away this February, just shy of his 70th anniversary with the studio – making his association longer than Walt Disney was alive, director Trent Correy pointed out onstage). “Boy, if these walls could talk,” says the legendary animator in his final screen role.   

Soon enough, the walls very much do, as Mickey and Minnie spring loose from hanged photos, rousing Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog,” Peter Pan and Wendy too, Moana, Maui, and Merlin, alongside Elsa and Goofy and Winnie the Pooh. Oh and about four hundred more – with “Zootopia” fan favorite Flash Slothmore drawing the screening’s two biggest laughs.

The creative team brought back more than 40 original voice actors, matching them with commensurate behind the scenes talent. Disney stalwart Eric Goldberg – who acted as lead animator on the Genie in “Aladdin” and co-helmed “Pocahontas”  – headed hand-drawn animation for the short, while “Raya and the Last Dragon” supervising animator Andrew Feliciano oversaw CG.

“This is a love letter to the medium, to Disney animation, and really a thank you to anyone in the audience that’s ever connected with a film over the last hundred years,” said director Dan Abraham. 

Future plans are as of yet hazy for the centenary short, though one should safely assume some form of wider broadcast or distribution before the anniversary year is out. But in Annecy on Sunday night, those gathered in the amphitheater-turned-haven could count themselves among the happy few to see the short first-hand. And in a city still reeling, it was a happy night indeed.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *