On Easter Sunday, little kids will be searching under bushes and inside closets for hard-boiled, chocolate, and marshmallow Easter eggs. But Off-Ramp animation expert Charles Solomon says animation fans can find Easter eggs every day of the year — provided they know where to look in their favorite movies.
"The beauty of these films is we try to layer them. We try to make them very thick … you know, like a very good deli sandwich. So that audiences won’t just watch it once and then forget about it. They’ll go back and look at it again, and again, and again. And every time they look at it, they see something else; they spot something new." —Disney Animator Tom Sito
For animators, an Easter egg is an in-joke, a caricature, or some other surprise hidden in a movie. Disney animator Eric Goldberg says the practice goes back at least to the 1930s: "You can look at 'Ferdinand the Bull,' for example, from 1938, and there’s a scene where all the characters are caricatures of staffers. There’s Ward Kimball, there’s Art Babbitt, there’s Freddie Moore, and at the end, the matador himself is Walt Disney. If Walt can take a joke, then so can we."
(Walt Disney himself was caricatured in the 1938 short "Ferdinand the Bull.")
1. In the classic Warner Brothers cartoon "Rabbit of Seville," the cast is listed on a sign at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl: Eduardo Selzeri, Michele Maltese and Carlo Jonzi. That is: producer Eddy Selzer, writer Mike Maltese and director Chuck Jones.
2. At the end of "One Froggy Evening," the demolished building whose cornerstone holds the box with the singing frog is named for sound effects artist Tregoweth Brown.
(In this scene from Warner Bros.' classic "One Froggy Evening," great sound effects are timed to occur as the Easter egg pays tribute to the short's Foley artist.)
3. When animation artists are designing minor characters for a film, it’s easy and fun to draw family members, the boss, or the guy in the next cubicle. In "Aladdin," Disney animator Tom Sito was assigned to animate himself.
Sito is Crazy Hakim, the discount fertilizer dealer seen at the end of the song “One Jump Ahead.”
John Musker, who co-directed "The Great Mouse Detective," "The Little Mermaid," and "Aladdin," calls Easter eggs “the spice in the soup.”
(L-R: Co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements always put themselves in their movies, as in this scene from "Hercules.")
But despite his success, he doesn't always get his way. "In 'Aladdin,'" Musker says, "when Jafar was opening the Cave of Wonders, he originally said, 'Rasoul Azadani!,' which was the name of one of our layout supervisors; he’s Iranian. And one of our creative executives said, 'No, no. You can’t put his name in the film.'”
4. Easter eggs can also serve as homages. Brad Bird put his mentors Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the last of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” in both "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles."
The trick is to place Easter eggs where they won’t distract regular audience members, but where fans can find them and get the reward.
5. The “Rhapsody in Blue” segment of "Fantasia 2000" is a whole basket of Easter eggs. If you single-frame through the sequence where a crowd pours through the revolving door of a posh apartment building — named The Goldberg — you’ll see caricatures of director Eric Goldberg, his wife Susan, other artists who worked on the film … and a bustling bearded character who resembles a certain animation critic.
(A scene from Disney's "Fantasia 2000." That's Charles Solomon on the far right. Animator Eric Goldberg is the small man wearing a bow-tie whose head is obscured by the purse.)
Listen to our bonus audio for exclusive interviews with Tom Sito, John Musker and Eric Goldberg as they talk about Easter eggs and the art of animation.
Editor's Note: In the first version of the audio segment, Rabe used an excerpt of "Long Hair Hare," instead of "Rabbit of Seville." We regret the error.