Mike Gabriel joined the Walt Disney Animation Department in 1979. Just over ten years later, he directed (with Hendel Butoy) The Rescuers Down Under, Disneys 29th full-length animated feature. With this film — acclaimed by such publications as Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times as a groundbreaking achievement in the art of animated filmmaking — Gabriel firmly establishes himself as a leading talent in the animation industry. Here, Gabriel reflects on his career and the experience of directing Disneys first non-musical action-adventure animated feature.
Jim Fanning: Why dont we begin with your own beginnings?
Mike Gabriel: Im what's knownasan Air Force brat, and I have ten brothers and sisters. Ive lived throughout the country, but a large part of my childhood was spent in Kansas, out there in the wheat fields and the rivers and all that, so I have a real affinity for nature and for haystacks and a Huckleberry Finn kind of outdoorsy fun. I love anything rural and bucolic — lightning bugs, birds, and lazy old streams that freeze over in the winter, and all that sort of thing.
When did you decide that you were going to work in Disney animation?
I came here by birth, practically. Honestly, as far back as I can remember, I always knew thats where I wanted to go. It was never if, it was never maybe, it was always thats where Im going. And its really a blessing to know where you want to go, because youre always working toward it.
Unfortunately, I wasnt good enough to get in for a number of years. I would always be sending drawings in, and never get accepted. They were always encouraging me to take more art classes, more life drawing classes. And I just tried for years and years, and I always expected a letter back: "Hey, you're great, come on in," but it never came.