Tony Bancroft is a classic animator, having spent 12 years with Disney creating iconic characters for “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” before venturing out into other projects, such as the new Lionsgate release, “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs.” Bancroft was the voice director for the film, overseeing a cast that includes Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Claflin, Gina Gershon, Patrick Warburton, and Jim Rash.
Bancroft is also a man of deep Christian faith, which he says has been the foundation for his successful career. In this interview, he discusses the new “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs,” his animation journey, and what’s next on his plate.
As I read over your bio, you’ve had your hand in a lot of classic animation through the years. How does that feel?
I am blessed that I’ve been on the journey that I have. And I certainly don’t take credit for it all because I am a Christian myself and I believe that God just really put me in wonderful opportunities to have some kind of influence on these films. And I’m still kind of surprised that people come up to me all the time and say, “You helped create my childhood.” It was a dream of mine since I was a boy to work at Disney, for the last half of my career, I’ve been independent, doing projects like “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves” and my own projects. And I kind of love both worlds, to tell the truth, creatively. And it’s given me all kinds of opportunities to be a part of a bigger spectrum of the animation industry.
“Red Shoes” has a really great message for kids about acceptance and confidence in being who you are. I don’t know to what extent you are comfortable talking about what happened with the initial marketing plan that received some backlash.
Well, briefly, because I wasn’t involved with all of that. But I know the producers, I know the directors and I’m friends with them. In respect of the people that have been working on this film for years far before, way before I came on involved with it, I also know there’s some cultural differences that happened back in the day. What you are referring to is—the honest truth—there were just some mispronunciations, some mistranslations on some posters, and things got out. I mean, you can understand this in the world that we live in. But things got out of hand in a big way. And it was never the intention of the filmmakers to put out a negative message about body shaming or anything like that. In this film, it’s the film is the opposite of that. You’ve seen the movie.
Yes, it’s the exact opposite. And my girls picked up on that message.
What happened was a real misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion. And unfortunately for the film, because it’s such a charming, family-friendly and great message, it really kind of tainted it early on, and this can happen in Hollywood. It just can happen so easily, especially in our social media world. All that happened as I was just coming on to the picture, and we were recording voices. I wasn’t a part of any of it. So, I don’t know all the logistics and details. But I do know that that was never the intention of the filmmakers to put that message out. I’ve been telling everybody since then because there were a lot of reporters that got a hold of me around that time. And I couldn’t say it enough. But that’s the movie is the opposite of that. It’s said it’s a positive message about body image. And it’s a message that as a father myself—I have three daughters also—it’s a message that was that attracted me to the film. I wanted to help them make this movie because I love that message so much. And it’s the message that my wife wanted to share with our kids because she had so many issues with how society saw her when she was younger. The whole thing was so frustrating to me and to the filmmakers, and to the actors to who, you know, were really on board with trying to be part of something positive. And, and when it blew up, it just, I’m just so happy that time has kind of healed a lot of those wounds and in the film at this point, is going to speak for itself. Because people, anybody that’s seen it, like yourself, knows that it’s not that and it’s the opposite. I’m very happy about that. Anyway, in the end, we will, you know, will have the right message and people will know that that was a mistake.
There is good comedy in this film as well, not mean-spirited but fun and positive.
I think that was kind of the tone that we were going for was to make it genuinely funny, but not in a negative way, not in a hurtful way. Although there are you know, there are negative hurtful people in it like the prince, but he’s so overplayed and so broad, that it’s I think even young children will understand that he’s not a good guy, and the viewpoints are not right. And there are so many positive characters. And I think that’s the really the key and storytelling but trying to get those positive messages across but it’s all about balance. How many characters are negative in the story, how many characters are positive? And how do you balance that out so that the overall intention is seen that the overall intention is a positive And then there’s a lot of other characters that play into that too, that that really lend towards a more positive message in a funny quirky vibe, which is it’s all wrapped up in which is what I loved about it.
How did you feel when helping put it together?
It was great because I mean, I got to work with new talent that I had never met before. And, like Chloe Grace Moretz, who is wonderful, wonderful and so charming to work with Sam Claflin and I really connected. We recorded him on a stormy weekend in Fiji while he was filming the movie “Adrift” off the Fiji Islands and, and so we flew out there to find a recording studio, on his weekend off, gave us all of his time. He was so generous. He really loved the movie and read the scripts and all that and was really into it. And we, it’s such a, just a wonderful turn. It’s a wonderful weekend even though it’s crazy outside and it was kind of scary flying into CGI video recording and stuff it made us he made it all worthwhile. So those are the kind of stories I have about, you know, the most factor so I’m largely not responsible for story and stuff as much as the actor’s performance. And so that’s kind of a dividing line for me a project but I also was very attentive and worked. And talking about some of the story issues and gave a lot of suggestions along the way, too. It’s very fortunate to have that ability. I just had such a great experience on it. The character designer was a good friend from Disney and I just love to set the style he gave the characters, and they have kind of Disney-reminiscent looks, but also uniquely their own. So, it’s kind of a fun fantasy world fairytale world but that they created for this movie.
What is next on the agenda for you? What are you working on?
I’m teaching a lot right now I’m working for a faith-based college and I started a program there a couple of years ago, shaping the minds that artistry, the creativity of the next generation of animators. I also am working in the industry still. I have a movie that just came out and called “Animal Crackers” on Netflix, just came out to Netflix. And I also, in working on “Space Jam 2.” I’m the lead animator on it, which will be out next year.
How has your faith impacted your career?
I was born and raised in a Christian and faith-based family and my love of Jesus and understanding of who God is has been influential, the big picture of a heavenly kingdom. It’s been a big part of taking that knowledge good morals and values and how important that being a parent, taking into the industry of animation entertainment. I started with animation. I was worked at Disney for 12 years, and I felt like being a Christian really helped. I was influenced by the movies that I worked on, in big and small ways. And then also, you know, as a Christian, I feel like I’ve tried to really speak in other people’s lives by example, and testimony in my own life. And I feel like that was my greatest responsibility. God gave me some talents early on when I was young, and I just tried to be responsible and follow His will for what to do with those talents. Hopefully, most believers feel that way. I felt for myself to certain responsibilities that I wanted to play out in my life. I think I’ve done that, for the most part. I’ve really tried to be an influence in the entertainment industry, and a light. And I even started my animation company after leaving Disney because I felt called to do that. And I did that for a good seven years. And we put out our own faith-based video series, “Lenny and Sid.” And it’s been amazing. I think when I look back at my life and the journey that God has put me on, that I could be an influence in this industry, but also more largely an influence for God.
“Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” is available on-demand, DVD, and digital outlets from Lionsgate Studios.