One of the best moments of my trip to the Disney Studios in Los Angeles was meeting Don Hahn, the Executive Producer of Maleficent.
We had a great evening of a free-flowing conversation with Don about Disney, Maleficent, his creative involvement with the production of the movie.
What struck me the most during our all discussions was that Don Hahn emphasized the importance of having a STORY in each and every project, movie, play.
The story that has the seed, the magic of developing different ways of interpretation of the same story based on person’s views, yet the power of conveying the filmmakers’ main idea and instilling the values into the viewing audience.
As Don Hahn emphasized in his conversation, it is of vital importance to pick the right persons for the lead and supporting roles in every movie. Here’s his impression and opinions of working with Angelina Jolie in the movie Maleficent.
“It was always, it was always her. It was always Angelina. I’m not sure that we would have gotten made without her? She loved the character. She grew up with it, loved the idea of playing a Disney character for her and for her family. I’m sure there are other actress that could have done it. But she was so right for it. Because when you said, “We’re gonna do Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view, kind of like Wicked with Angelina Jolie,” people said, “Yep, let’s go.”
It was like so gettable. And that’s a lot of the fight when you’re trying to get a movie off the ground. And she brought a lot to it, I have to say. I mean we first, she was on before the director. The first director we had for a short time was Tim Burton and she was on even then. Then the amazing Linda Woolverton, who wrote our screenplay, I had worked with on Beauty and the Beast ages ago. And Linda’s she’s really extraordinary when it comes to writing these stories and creating these strong, particularly female characters, that have these strong relationships. Cause we wanted to break some rules in this movie to say that love doesn’t always have to come from the guy in your life.
That love conquers all is a bigger phrase. That it can be love between two women, two men, a godmother character and a childlike character, like Aurora and Maleficent. And she fearlessly attacked all those things and I think did a great job with it.
And there were some days when I thought like what are we doing? We’re messing with this Disney fairy tale. But you also knew we couldn’t tell the other story. We couldn’t say you’re a young woman, you’re gonna be asleep until a man comes into your life and tells you it’s okay to wake up. And then you can start living your life. That’s an awful story to tell in 2014. So, it didn’t take too much smarts to abandon that and do something that’s more relevant.”
One of the interesting and detailed questions we had to Don Hahn if it were pre-meditated to use Angelina Jolie’s daughter as a Little Aurora in the movie. Look what he had to say to that.
“No, that was out of necessity because when we brought in little girls and dressed them up like little Aurora. They would come up to this amazing actress and scream and run away. Or get picked up by Angie and just you know not doing anything? And there’s so much genuine love and attachment in that scene where she just walks right up to her and goes, “Up” and you know and, like I have a little girl and, and you just know what that feels like. So there’s a real genuine moment in that scene.
And, and when you see the costumes, they’re upstairs here. When you go up there and see them, it’s formidable. You know she’s a big lady to begin with, plus the horns and all that stuff. So that was the real reason is to get a scene that played more as reality. We had to use Vivienne.”
Don Hahn has played an important role in pulling different details for the movie together: actors, musical details, story weaving, transitions and so much more. His plate was full. And we were eager to learn and find out his involvement and the level of his participation in different parts of it.
Question: You said you were a music person. Do you play a part in the musical aspect of the making of the movies?
“Yeah, I do mainly because I love it. I know you had James Newton Howard on this movie who’s brilliant. I can sit in the orchestra sessions at Abbey Road in London and just marvel at it all. I have an interest in it so I’ve probably made more musicals than most producers just because I love that and I love telling stories with music. Even though this wasn’t a musical, James gave us so much of the emotion of the story just by virtue of what he wrote in the score that we have from him.”
Question: Did you make Maleficent’s wings or were they special effects?
“They’re all fake. They are. There’s nothing there that’s actual. If you were to watch the dailies of her being filmed, she had a little green square on her back which held a battery? And two little, uh, antennae that came out with bright orange spots on the end. And that was enough for the visual effects guys to know the symmetry of her back. And that’s all. And so everything you see in terms of her, when she’s flying, most the time it’s a hundred percent animated.
We take a scan. You literally put her in a drum and do a drum scan of her and so you have that. Rick Baker did a face cast with plaster of her. So we can get the horns, cause the horns had to feel like they grew out of her skull. They were magnetic so if she caught her head by accident on something, they would break off just for safety reasons. So it was a really unusual film in terms of preparing it because there was a lot of question marks. But yeah, there’s so much of it is, is animated or fabricated. And the wings are all animated.”
Don considers it to be an important symbol that Meleficent’s wings have been saved by Aurora, and here’s why.
“Yeah. Yeah. Aurora was a tough character because her mother’s gone and when she gets back to the castle, there’s no maternal character for her. And we killed off mom for a very specific reason, so that her relationship had to be with Maleficent. And Dad’s a cold fish. You know he doesn’t even hug her when she comes to the castle. So now the only family she has is Maleficent. And so the icing on the cake then is for her to free the wings, which is kind of a symbol for her saying, uh, “You have your freedom back. You can fly again because of your love,” you know.
And that’s, um, that kind of symbolism in story telling is really powerful. And it’s fun to do and if it works. It’s deeply felt. Which makes it fun to do.”
Question: When considering technological advances, which one would be easier or harder?
“You know it’s like if you were to do a new Lion King today? We’re doing a Jungle Book today. And the tools are so advanced you can recreate these animals and make them incredibly plausible and the tough thing about animals, they have no opposable thumbs. They have no costumes. But the up side of it is, there’s no sense of time. Lion King could have taken place yesterday or a hundred years from now or a hundred- thousand years ago and makes it kinda it this timeless Shakespearean thing.
With humans, we are unforgiving. If we see a computer generated human that doesn’t look quite right? We know humans really well and you guys have seen as many movies I have where you go, “Uh, that’s fake.” So arguably the human, the Maleficent movies are a little bit harder just because we’re so unforgiving when it comes to looking at human animation. That’s why movies like Frozen or Tangled are such a modern marvel because those characters are, they’re a caricature but they’re beautifully animated. Those guys are amazing.”
Don Hahn speaks highly of his true teachers and mentors in his life, giving thanks to the amazing inspirational moments he was lifted by and led onto his professional career.
“Thank you. They’re all stories. My big heroes growing up were like Walt Disney and Jim Henson and those guys and telling stories with animals is really fun. Because basically you go out and shoot the three hundred hours worth of stuff and just go, okay, what happened? And then you try to put it all together. But they’re still stories. And they’re allegories. They’re all human stories.
So most of those movies like Bears or Chimpanzee it’s a mom who gets killed at nighttime and the kid’s left alone. I mean there’s a theme there. You’re telling stories about growing up and you’re telling stories about survival. So in the end, there’s still that, you know, human story even though it’s an animal.”
Don Hahn sees a huge future for Maleficent as it could be put into Broadway musical or even a theater production.
“The reason I say yes is I thought not in a million years could you turn Lion King into a musical. And we used to joke when we were making it, we thought, “Oh, this will be great like, like Lion King on ice.” We’ll be- like- and it was just a gag. And then Julie Taymor comes along and re-imagines it as this amazing kind of Shakespearean puppet show and it still plays every night in eight cities around the world and has made over a billion dollars for the company.
So could Maleficent be a stage show? Yeah, absolutely. You know Hunchback of Notre Dame’s coming back to the La Jolla Playhouse on stage. And it’s amazing. Never say never. It’s possible.”
If you haven’t seen #Maleficent – watch it with your entire family and friends! Make it into a movie night with enjoying the movie first, then going through a rich bonus material of the Maleficent making of the movie! The excitement I personally have about this masterpiece is infinite.
Get your Maleficent Blu Ray edition from Amazon and make it a Holiday gift to keep and enjoy for years to come!
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— Celebrate Woman (@DiscoverSelf) November 6, 2014