“Tropic Island Hum” released in theatres

Friday, October 10, 1997

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From Club Sandwich N°79, Autumn 1979:

There’s a lot of work going on down Bloomsbury way. Skilled artists are hunched over strips of celluloid, applying deft brush strokes to minute, perfect images. Top-of-their-trade editors are delicately wielding razor blades and synchronising sound to picture. From top to bottom, just around the corner from the British Museum in Central London, a single four-storey building is tangibly abuzz with excitement.

All this because, frame by frame, with loving care, a new Paul McCartney animated film is in production.

The film’s title is Tropic Island Hum, and although it’s still unfinished, a works-in-progress rough cut, made available for an exclusive Club Sandwich preview, packs enough promise to suggest that Paul has another absolute winner on his hands – much, indeed, as he had with Rupert And The Frog Song, the film that not only delighted cinema audiences but also, for a while, became Britain’s biggest-selling video tape.

The comparisons between Tropic Island Hum and Rupert are apposite, because there is a sense in which the new film approximates to a sequel. Kind of. Granted, there’s no Rupert, nor indeed a bear of any description, but one of the main characters in TIH is a frog, and the film begins with said reptile soaring up into the sky in a hot-air balloon, an image used to great effect in Rupert And The Frog Song.

Working with Paul and Linda on Tropic Island Hum, as producer/director, is their old chum Geoff Dunbar, whose genius fashioned both Rupert And The Frog Song and the little-seen but first-rate Daumier’s Law. Geoff kindly took time out from working on the new film to explain a little about its background for Club Sandwich. “The song ‘Tropic Island Hum’ came first,” he indicates. “It’s a sensational, bright, happy piece of music. Paul first played it to me about 1986/87, and I think he knew even then, when he had just recorded it, that it could form the basis for a film.

Then the two world tours and Daumier’s Law came along so we only began talking about this third film when Paul was in Australia in 1993. I called him there on the phone after we had won a British Academy award for Daumier. It was ten in the evening in London and Paul and Linda were having the next morning’s breakfast in Australia when I rang to tell them the news. They were cheering down the phone, and Paul said we could start thinking seriously about doing Tropic Island Hum next. We talked about it again in 1994 and got the green light in 1995. Now we’re in mid-production, having started dedicated work in August 1995.

In the very early stages the idea was to link up Tropic Island Hum with Rupert And The Frog Song, with the balloon flying over Rupert’s cottage and away into a new adventure, but the ideas have grown a lot since then. It wouldn’t be right to give too much away at this point but we’re looking at some really marvellous animated characters, principally a pair of squirrels and the frog. The film lasts just under ten minutes, with the song running five and a bit; Paul does all but one of the voices – Linda does the other – but they’re going to be re-recorded because the character personalities keep evolving.

In a talent-packed industry, Geoff Dunbar has acquired a reputation for consistently turning out award-winning work. For him, working with the McCartneys provides not only a thrill but a “meeting of the minds” – all three demand perfection. “Paul, Linda and I have agreed that we will keep using real hand-drawn animation,” Geoff says. “We want to maintain the quality, the feel, of the early Disney period, not the very early days but the late 1930s/early 1940s era of Snow White. You have to have a benchmark, you have to have peers: ours is Snow White and the guys who put that film together. So everything is being hand-crafted.

There have been as many as 70 people here until recently, all working on Tropic Island Hum. I guess in the region of a million drawings have been done so far, from the preliminaries to the roughs for animation, the clean roughs, inking on to acetate – it’s an awful lot of work. You have to be very diligent to make sure that things don’t slip, and of course it’s expensive. Modern-day Disney films – and I want to take nothing away from them, because the people there do a fantastic job – tend to go for a computerised look. To a large extent they’re still drawn, but they’re done with the computer in mind and are coloured mechanically so I think the overall look can end up, in my opinion, being quite cold. What you can’t criticise about Disney, however, is that those people really know how to tell a story.

Ironically, a number of “those people” at Disney for whom Geoff holds admiration are former colleagues – indeed, it cannot escape one’s notice that Rupert And The Frog Song has not only played a part in boosting the animated film industry but also in fostering talent. Eric Goldberg, one of the Rupert animators, went on to direct Pocahontas and animate Aladdin for Disney; Mike Smith, who has also achieved great things in the States, animated the cats in Rupert; Brendan Houghton, who did the Rupert layouts, is now head of the layouts department at Warner Bros; Dan Greaves, who animated the frog in the cup in Rupert, won an Oscar for his animated film Manipulation; and Denis Rich, who prepared the Rupert storyboard, has just done likewise for Disney’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. “It’s incredible to see how popular animation is now,” Geoff remarks, “and it seems to me that Rupert was the spur. We didn’t realise then that we would be opening up new horizons for the industry, nor that we would be starting off some big guys. But as a director I’m a great believer in ‘the team’ – I’m not a dictator, I harvest ideas and talents; I look for strengths, I don’t pick on weaknesses.”

Showing every sign of that strength, and no weaknesses, Tropic Island Hum should be ready for unveiling within a few months. It’s bound to cause quite a stir. “We’re going for a very, very high quality look here,” Geoff concurs. “We’re putting together a very classy number.

“This could well be the start of something big.”

Last updated on September 9, 2020

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