New Richard Rich Interview

My friends from The Jewel Riders Archive recently brought my attention to an online interview in which The Swan Princess director Richard Rich answered several fan questions. His responses were quite lucrative. I learned many things I didn't know, including his brief stint at Disney in the '80s, the story behind the many recent sequels, and his response to voice actress Michelle Nicastro's death. While you could click the link and read the full transcript for yourself (which I also recommend), I also wanted to share my thoughts on some of the most interesting highlights.

As many of you may know, The Swan Princess was a famous 1994 animated feature film inspired by the "Swan Lake" ballet. It had two animated direct-to-video sequels in the late '90s and was all but forgotten until 2012, when a series of horrendous CGI direct-to-DVD sequels began popping up every year thereafter with no sign of stopping. It didn't come as too much of a surprise that Rick would support this low quality cash cow. Unlike other former Disney animation directors such as Don Bluth, Richard Rich does not have any big hits to his name besides The Swan Princess, so it makes sense that he would jump at the opportunity to milk it. The majority of his resume post Disney consists of low-budget biblical shorts for kids that most likely did not make much of a profit.

The first fan question Rick answers in the interview is about how he got into animation. His story about getting into Disney was surprisingly inspirational. I had no idea he had managed to sneak in through the back door by constantly writing letters and making phone calls to Disney. His persistence finally paid off when they offered him a low-paying job in the traffic department. From there, he got their attention by teaching piano lessons during his lunch breaks and got hired as an Assistant Director to one of the "Nine Old Men" because of his musical know-how. Unfortunately, the only two movies he worked on under the mouse were The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound from the '80s, neither of which were very popular.
For 3 months I would write a letter to Disney and the next week I would call on. Finally they said “ok ok enough, come in and we will give you a job in traffic”...An Assistant Director was retiring...they thought it would be nice to have someone who knew something about music...I got the job! Really just a typical Hollywood story of going from nowhere to somewhere.
He answers other questions about how he chose to make The Swan Princess because he wanted to make an animated movie based on a fairy tale that hadn't been done before and decided to have the climax take place on a night with no moon so that Odette wouldn't be able to turn back into a human. The movie apparently took about three years to make. A lot of that time was dedicated to storyboarding and designing characters and backgrounds. Sadly, Richard Rich claims that "traditional animation is pretty much a thing of the past," a topic that creates a lot of heated debate among animation fans. He blames the lack of demand for hand-drawn art and high-end traditional artists for The Swan Princess's transition from beautiful traditional animation to hideous CGI sequels.

What brought on these cringe-worthy sequels that continue ruining our childhood memories? According to Rick, it started out as a result of Sony Pictures noticing a decline in DVD sales around 2010 while Swan Princess DVD sales still "remained kind of steady." Just as sequels are usually born, Sony decided to shoot for quantity over quality and requested that the team behind the animated trilogy make more Swan Princess movies. Richard Rich claims that they made the characters "look pretty close to what they look like in 2D" using computer software but I think that's debatable. Odette's CGI look lacks all of the magic that her original counterpart had, and it doesn't help that these movies have paper-thin plots. It's great that Odette and Derek got to adopt a little girl, but making three movies entirely about her uninteresting life was totally unnecessary, even though Rick claims later in the interview that Alise was never meant to take Odette's place as the main character.

The interview concludes with an audio bite of Rick talking about the untimely death of Odette's voice actress, Michelle Nicastro. Apparently, she had passed away only three days before she was scheduled to come in and record the first of the CGI sequels. That came as quite a shock to me because I did not know she had been involved in them at all, nor did I know that the sequels were in production at the time of her tragic death. He makes a touching tribute to her, saying that she "was as sweet as the character Odette." For better or worse, Michelle's legacy as Odette continues to live on with two more CGI sequels currently in production. Richard Rich claims that he is "hoping there will be many more and it looks like everyone is working to make that happen."


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