Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A True Hero

I have a confession to make. I have a bit of a crush. I would be a bit worried about what my fiance would say if I wasn't so sure that he shares my crush with me. I'm a sucker for an accent. And I'm a huge sucker for talent. And my crush has both of them. And beyond that he has my respect. A ton of it. I am wholeheartedly smitten with Andreas Deja.

Ain't he cute? He is a Disney animator who has started a new blog, in a strange twist of fate, on the same day I started Moved by the Mouse.

Deja View

Kudos on the clever name. He's just getting started, but with all of the experience and knowledge packed inside that adorable head of his, I have no doubt that the blog will continue to blossom into something amazing. He has already included memories of the legendary Eric Larson and Frank & Ollie, along with pencil tests and drawings. I'm glad that he's decided to commit his insight to the interwebs for posterity.

He was born in Poland and lived in Germany, which accounts for the fun accent. His record as an animation artist is pretty stunning. He's had a hand in the creation of a pretty stunning list of characters. His artistry is on the screen. You can see it for yourself every time you watch The Black Cauldron, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, Lilo & Stitch, Home on the Range, Enchanted, or The Princess and the Frog among others. That takes care of the talent. That just leaves respect.

Deja is an out gay man. Though I know at one time it was very much a boys club, animation doesn't seem to be a particularly homophobic field. Take this video made by Pixar for the It Gets Better campaign. Oh, and have a box of tissues handy.

But as an out gay man who grew up in the eighties and nineties, before the baby-I-was-born-this-way age of Gaga and Glee, I have bushels of gratefulness for those in any profession who lived their lives openly and successfully. I am unsure at what point Deja came out or if he was ever in for that matter, but I don't know of any hoopla made over his being gay. That in and of itself is pretty awesome. I love the fact that his sexuality is a part of who he is, and thus an influence on his art. He gives a great interview where he discusses the possibility of Disney making a movie featuring a gay family, saying that if the project was right Disney would be open to it.

Gay families in Disney movies only a matter of time, says animator Andreas Deja

And unbeknownst to me at the time, hints of his queerness were shining through his Disney characters and speaking to me in a very direct way.

Gurgi from The Black Cauldron was an often shunned outsider who, in the end, was capable of great courage, which had fitting parallels to a formerly fat, gay drama geek who was not exactly embraced in the jungle of school life. Though this movie wasn't really a home run for me, this character was.

Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit comprised one of the great bromances in all of cinema history.

It is impossible to forget the trifecta of gorgeous men that he animated in King Triton, Gaston and Hercules.

These are three of the dreamiest male characters in the Disney canon. I also love that all three of them are dimensional. The princes, for the most part, may be traditionally handsome, but they are often ciphers. Triton is a deeply loving and protective father. Gaston is a needy, self-obsessed guy in a handsome shell whose hubris is his downfall, and Hercules is a young man who has be patient and allow himself time to grow into his own skin, having faith that he was born the way he was for a reason. Born this way indeed. All three of these characters embody what are now common gay tropes.

He created two awesome baddies with questionable orientations. Yes, kids. If gay people can be anything, that means they should be able to be the villain as well. Ain't no shame. The gays love a good nasty nogoodnik. Both Jafar and Scar were pent up and slightly effeminate, using their wits, as opposed to brute force, to get what they wanted, though they were both unsuccessful in the end.

He animated another amazing villain in Queen Narissa. He got to animate an evil queen based on Susan Sarandon. That's tackling two gay icons with one fell swoop. And the character is fantastic. He also took on another gay favorite in Mama Odie, who is a funky, fabulous voodoo magician. One of my favorite things in the special features on the blu ray is watching Deja sass it up as he describes animating the finger wag when Mama Odie says "You're blind to what you need." Adorbs.

I've saved my favorite of his characters for last. Lilo & Stitch is my absolute favorite Disney movie. What Deja brought to the character of Lilo is a gorgeous sense of depth and feeling.

This is a troubled little girl from a broken home. She acts out, she's loving, she's funny, she's weird. She craves affection but wants independence. Family is the most important thing in the world to her. To me, she is the most dimensional child in the history of Disney animation.

What makes Lilo speak to a gay audience is the same thing that makes her speak to a straight audience, to children and adults, to everyone who has ever felt a little bit outside the norm. There is a great big, beating heart that radiates from the screen. And that heart was set into motion by Andreas Deja. That is the mark of a truly great animator.

So I am thankful to Andreas for being who he is, sharing it with the world and making it a better place. I hope he never doubts how greatly he is appreciated.

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