Tom and Tony Bancroft, identical twin brothers, have been in the animation business for over 30 years (each!). I was lucky enough to sit down with the talented Bancroft brothers to talk about creating Mushu in the Disney classic Mulan.
I was pretty excited to meet the Bancroft Brothers – I am such a Disney animation geek! I love the funny characters, like Pumba in Lion King, Chip in Beauty and the Beast, and Mushu in Mulan. Before meeting the brothers we had Chinese lunch in the Hyperion Room at the Disney Studios, very appropriate for the presentation of Mulan and some background in the creation.Tom and Tony Bancroft had very important roles in creating Mulan. Both are very talented at animation and character creation. Tom is the creator of the lovable and feisty Mushu, and Tony was the director of the film.
Between the two they have 7 daughters – Tony has 3, Tom has 4 – so Disney Princesses are a staple in their households. But Mulan is a different kind of princess – she doesn’t go through a big transformation like other Disney Princesses do. Mulan stays true to herself throughout the film and doesn’t lose her values. This strength was important to Tom and Tony. They wanted a female character that their daughters could really look up to for her strength and family values.
In creating Mushu, Tom looked at Chinese dragons and discovered them to be very different than typical dragons. Chinese dragons are more symbolic than meant to look “real”. While other dragons have an alligator quality to them, Chinese dragons have snake-like long bodies, whiskers like catfish, qualities of other animals like lions. Tom really wanted to capture this in his design. But Mushu is also a wise-cracker, so he needed a sly look and manner to him. Eddie Murphy voiced the role and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Tom really wanted Mushu to be purple and fought for that, but he ended up the fiery red that we know today. BUT… if you look closely at the scene where Mushu is on the back of the horse after Mulan, Kahn the horse, Mushu and Kri-Kee had fallen off the cliff and the soldiers had pulled them back up you will see that the tip of his tail is purple through that entire scene! This was sneaked in as a nod to Tom and his persistence to purple.
As Tom and Tony spoke, they drew. It was a real treat to see the artistic talent come to life on paper, As I at and watched them, I realized that some of my favorite Disney films wouldn’t have been the same without the magic of The Bancroft Brothers. It was a treat and an honor to be in the same room as these two geniuses of animation.
I also got to take a Bancroft Brothers original home! Here’s Mushu and Cricket, hand-drawn for me!
Mulan/Mulan II Blu-ray/DVD 3 Disc Special Edition is out March 12! BUY IT TODAY!
Disney provided me with an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the red carpet premiere of Oz: the Great and Powerful and to attend a Wreck-It Ralph press day at Disney Animation studios. All opinions expressed are 100% my own. All photos property of Disney unless otherwise mentioned.