“Once Upon a Studio” stands as a testament to a hundred years of unrelenting creativity and iconic storytelling from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Crafted by Disney legacy directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy, this commemorative short film imbues the timeless charm and magic of Disney, a sentiment echoed by the creators during a special Q&A session held in Hollywood that we were lucky enough to be invited to.
The narrative of the film is as compelling as it is unique. It tells the story of Disney characters from various eras coming together for a significant photograph to celebrate the studio’s centenary. Abraham and Correy, during the Q&A, shared their creative journey and the challenges they faced in integrating a myriad of characters. Correy revealed, “We knew from the get-go we wanted to represent everything from Snow White to the upcoming Wish in shorts in between, so we had a lot to choose from… And I think the first pass might’ve been about 12 or 13 minutes.”
The film’s creation was a delicate balancing act, with the creators having to make tough decisions about which moments and characters to include in the final cut. Abraham shared, “We threw every idea we had into a big thing, and we edited it all together. We knew we were gonna have to cut some stuff, so we were hoping that the best things kind of rose to the top and stayed on the screen.”
“Once Upon a Studio” is not just a visual spectacle; it represents the enduring creative spirit of Disney. It effortlessly blends hand-drawn and CG animation, paying homage to the original styles and techniques that birthed the beloved characters. The filmmakers’ dedication to authenticity involved engaging retired animators and over 40 original voice actors, enhancing the film’s genuineness and emotional depth. Correy explained, “We were so lucky that everyone we reached out to that’s still with us came back. And then we wanted to infuse the short with some of the nostalgic voices.”
Moreover, the film features an impressive roster of over 543 characters from more than 85 Disney films, a testament to Disney’s storytelling prowess over the decades. This grand assembly, however, came with its fair share of challenges. Abraham admitted, “There’s so many characters, and there’s so many situations and mashups and different things that you can do. It’s endless. So, yeah, some stuff ended up on the cutting room floor.”
An essential aspect of the film was maintaining the characters’ authenticity. Abraham and Correy emphasized the importance of making each character look, feel, and sound exactly as audiences remember them. “So, they needed to look and sound exactly how you remember them. And that was very, very important to us,” Abraham shared. They even used lines from the original films when possible and went to great lengths to recreate the characters’ original sound.
In a particularly poignant scene, all characters come together to sing “When You Wish Upon a Star.” This scene encapsulates the essence of Disney and resonates with anyone who has been touched by the magic of Disney animation. Abraham mentioned, “I really wanted Cliff Edwards for Jiminy Cricket at the end. I didn’t want to get a soundalike. So, they had to strip away the music from his original recording digitally. Some scientist masterminds were able to figure that out… And yeah, so we got Cliff Edwards in there, which was important to us.”
“Once Upon a Studio” is more than a film; as Correy aptly put it during the Q&A, “We knew making this short that we’re standing on the shoulders of greatness for the last hundred years… It’s a representation of everywhere we’ve been, but looking forward, it’s just a launch into the next generation.” It’s a tribute, an expression of gratitude, and a promise of more magic to come, all wrapped in a nine-minute spectacle that resonates with both young and old. It’s a love letter to the art of animation, an homage to the beloved characters that have become part of our lives, and a testament to the countless memories that Disney has gifted its audiences worldwide.
“Once Upon a Studio” will premiere on ABC at 8 p.m. ET today, Sunday, October 15, as part of The Wonderful World of Disney: Disney’s 100th Anniversary Celebration!
Gray is a lifelong Disney fan! From Disney+ to the parks, he loves it all. His favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast, and his favorite attraction is The Haunted Mansion.