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Classic 2D Animator Phil Nibbelink’s New project: Shakespeare For Children

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Julian Phillips talks to the traditional animator who brought us such films as ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and ‘Fievel Goes West’, Phil Nibbelink about his new 2D feature length film, ‘Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss’.

Fans of classic 2-D animator Phil Nibbelink were treated to a preview screening of his recently completed 35mm feature-length 2-D animated feature, ‘Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss’, on Nov. 17 at the Sony lot in Los Angeles. A work print of the film provided the first industry screening for an invited audience, but Nibbelink provided the magic touch he has long been associated with.

So, this is Shakespeare with seals, such as one finds in the ocean. That’s right: Romeo is a seal, Juliet is a seal, and all of the characters in the Bard’s timeless tale of love, betrayal and fate are either also seals, or other sea-creatures. The film has been in production for three years, and was written, directed and animated by Nibbelink.

The animator and artist told Skwigly in response to written questions that he started with the Disney Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts, and then began work as a Disney animator in 1978. Work on family favorite 2-D animated films like ‘The Fox and the Hound’, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, ‘Fievel Goes West’ and others established Nibbelink as a bright star in the pantheon of 2-D writers and artists producing these animated gems. Nibbelink was also directing animator on the ground-breaking ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, and did other great work in films like ‘We’re Back’, ‘The Black Cauldron’, ‘Casper’ and ‘Oliver and Company’. So if you brought up kids or a family in the 1980’s, Nibbelink is probably there on your video shelf.

In 1998, the artist and his wife Margit Friesacher started Phil Nibbelink Productions, and made a number of kid-oriented direct-to-video films. The journey, he says, started early, as with many young fan-boy animation wanna-be’s today.

“I’ve always been a sketch-aholic,” Nibbelink said. “Ever since I can remember I’ve drawn cartoons. When I was in high school I got a Super-8 camera and started doing animated films. Since then I’ve never looked back.’


He did, however, reach back a few centuries for Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

Romeo and Juliet Sealed With A Kiss

“I was putting my two favorite things together,” he said. “Seals and Shakespeare. I figured if Bugs (Bunny) can do opera, seals can do Shakespeare.”

Maybe not in real life, but in Nibbelink’s world of animated wonders, the two star-crossed seals from warring families also fall in love against their parent’s wishes. When Juliet’s father gives her hand (flipper?) in marriage to the monstrous elephant seal Prince, she must fake her death in order to be reunited with Romeo (‘arf-arf!). With the help of their friends Friar Lawrence and Kissy, the kissing fish, all’s well that ends well and the two slightly wet and furry lovers are brought together at last.

But will modern kids respond to Shakespeare? “I tried pitching the Shakespeare to my four children,” Nibbelink said. “But it was too complex and confusing for them to follow. So I had to throw out characters and simplify the plot. I also had to turn a double-suicide into a happy, G-rated ending. I hope that poor Shakespeare isn’t spinning in his grave.”

He added, “As a father of four little ankle-biters I feel there just aren’t enough G-rated films out there. I want to make films that I can take my kids to, that have something to say. ‘Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss’ tries to gently touch on the issues of love, pride, and prejudice, in an entertaining way. I never want the audience to feel they are being hit over the head with a big message. But I do want them to take a lesson learned home with them.”

Work began in 2000 in Nibbelink’s paperless, virtual studio. Every frame is still drawn by hand, but on the computer and not paper. “This buys us speed and creativity,” the artist said. “Still, the film was four-and-a-half years in the making. I’m sure it would have taken twice as long if we had gone the paper and pencil route.”

Nibbelink built a small recording booth in the basement of his home, and all the actors were recorded there. “Which was a real pleasure when I remember how stressful it was to record in a big expensive sound studio where the clock is ticking and the sound engineer wants you out of there in 20 minutes because his 3:00 o’clock is sitting in the lobby. Also, my daughter Chanelle plays Kissy, the kissing fish, and she started recording the part when she was only three (years-old). She’d do a line and run away. So I’d have to record a line a day, if I was lucky.”

So, maybe the question really is, 2-D or not 2-D? Nibbelink perhaps predictably is not overly impressed with 3-D CGI animation. “I’m a dinosaur,” he says. “I still like hand-drawn animation. I strongly believe that 2-D is more alive. To me, 3-D looks sterile and lifeless, like Tupperware. People tell me 2-D is dead. They said painting was dead when they invented the camera. But artists just had to re-invent themselves. That’s what we’ve done with ‘Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss’. We’ve made a movie that is one-hundred percent 2-D and I’m sure audiences will find it a refreshing change from all these Tupperware techno-wonders.”

Attorney Mark Litwak’s office which represents Nibbelink says all rights to the project are available, and no release date or venue was announced. Nibbelink responded to Skwigly questions on Nov. 19.

Items mentioned in this article:

Romeo And Juliet - Sealed With A Kiss [DVD]

Romeo And Juliet - Sealed With A Kiss [DVD]


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