“Phoenix,” Christian Petzold’s allegorical story set in post-war Germany, is almost indescribably deep, layered and complex. Adapted from the poorly regarded French novel Le Retour des Cendres (Return from the Ashes)...
The Belles of Broadway Part I: Eagerly anticipating lunch with the reigning queens of the Broadway musical, Irene Mecchi (“Lion King”) and Winnie Holzman (“Wicked”), I make the drive into Laurel Canyon to Irene’s bungalow, a journey with as many twists and turns as the careers of both women.
With apologies to General Douglas MacArthur:
"I shall return" – Neely Swanson 3/13/13
"I have returned" – Neely Swanson 3/13/15
Welcome to the newly redesigned No Meaner Place. There you will find past interviews, writer credits, the complete collection of quotes and past film reviews, essays and magazine articles. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy meeting the writers and other entertainers who will be featured in the months to come.
A Continued conversation with Irene Mecchi (The Lion King) and Winnie Holzman (Wicked).
Neely: Tell us a little bit about the journey with “The Lion King” because you’ve got two different sets of collaborators.
Irene: When I was working on Recycle Rex, the animated short about recycling, there was this project in development at Disney called King of the Jungle and it had hit a wall. Disney was a smaller company at the time and none of the artists wanted to work on it because, from what I was told, it was “Bambi in Africa” - very photo-realism and noble.
Winnie: Where was the fun going to be?
Irene: There was none yet, as far as I knew. So while I was working on the animated short, I got to know Peter Schneider, who was then the president, and Thomas Schumacher, who was executive VP at animation, and they saw my collaborative nature.
Winnie: That’s kind of a key. That’s like the headline of all this.
Irene: So I’m hired to write a production polish on this movie, King of the Jungle, and I go to the producer and ask to see a draft. And he said, “Oh we don’t have anything. We have a beginning – a cub is born. We have a stampede in the middle. We have the apparition of the dad and we have Simba comes home. And we’ve kind of thrown everything else out. Oh, and we have some Elton [John] and Tim [Rice] songs. They’re still coming in and we don’t know…”
Winnie: Can I ask what songs they had then? Do you remember listening to them?
Irene: They had “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matada.” Those are the two I remember. “Be Prepared” came in later but it was still very much in the Elton John demo stage. So the collaborative aspect to that show was multi-fold because Elton had never written for the theater…Excuse me, for the musical theater. And Tim Rice, who had written for musical theater, wanted to work with Elton. They also had Hans Zimmer who had sampled a lot of African Tribes for “The Power of One” and was working with a guy named Lebo M. And he said to Elton, “We’re thinking of kind of Africanizing South African tribal elements to the music. Are you okay with that?” “Yes.” So that sound, the one that gave us both the film and really the score of the play, the soul and the truth of both, can be attributed to ‘saying yes” way back then.
They had shuffled the director team. Roger Allers and George Scribner were the original directors but Rob Minkoff came in when Scribner left the project. Rob had done some Roger Rabbit shorts. He and Allers had great chemistry and somehow I fit in pretty well with them. Then they added another writer, a guy named Jonathan Roberts. This is how you start building the team. And the head of the story crew was Brenda Chapman. (Nodding) Yes… Brave. She’s a phenomenal story teller, a great writer. Linda Woolverton, who had already left the project, was also a credited writer.
So somehow out of this little project that nobody at the studio believed in, but that Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg were paying a lot of attention to, a little engine that could sort of formed. But they all had very low expectations. They thought that in the life of the movie if it earned $50 million they’d be happy.
And we almost got to that on opening weekend so they were like “Woo hoo!.” You can see it was really a situation that spoiled me for what true collaboration really is. Everyone was welcome at the table. All of a sudden people weren’t cut because they weren’t important or had the right… you know… title. So it was a lot of…