According to Joe Tracy's Animation History website:
Richard Rich is one of the few animation directors who has never participated as an animator. Rich joined Disney in 1972 in an entry level position in the mail room. He garnered attention at the studio by making presentations to the music department and by giving piano lessons during his lunch hour.
Beginning with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, Rich served as Assistant Animation Director. His other assistant director credits include The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon and The Small One for which he also composed the song "A Friendly Face".
Rich never had an opportunity to work with company founder Walt Disney, who had died in 1966. The last film that Disney personally worked on was "The Jungle Book" (1967). But Rich did work with the animation legend who would become the heir to Walt's artistic mantle: Don Bluth. Rich was, in fact, the assistant animation director working directly under Bluth on the live-action/animation hybrid "Pete's Dragon" and the animated short "The Small One." Rich also composed one of the three songs featured in the film, a poignant tale of the the donkey who carried Marie in to Bethlehem. (Bluth wrote the other two songs and the film was scored by Robert F. Brunner.)
Don Bluth left the Disney studio after making "The Small One" in order to form his own studio.
Richard Rich was given the opportunity to co-direct "The Fox and the Hound" (1981) along with Ted Berman. The title characters were voiced by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell. Other cast members included Corey Feldman, Sandy Duncan and Pearl Bailey. The film grossed nearly $30 million in U.S. box office ticket sales.
Rich and Berman next directed Disney's 25th animated feature, "The Black Cauldron." This film remains one of Disney's most controversial animated features. It was the first Disney animated feature to receive a PG rating: skeletons and other frightening creatures were animated in such a realistic style that the film was considered potentially inappropriate for younger children. "The Black Cauldron" was also the first animated motion picture to be shot in 70 mm since "Sleeping Beauty" in 1959.
"The Black Cauldron," which cost what at that time was a record $25 million to make, and earned over $21 in U.S. box office receipts, is clearly the more interesting of Rich's two Disney features. It is often praised for the very things that its critics reject, such as its more sophisticated storytelling, cutting-edge and sometimes frightening special effects, complete and atypical lack of singing musical numbers, and its unusual mixture of disparate animation styles.
"The Black Cauldron" would be the second and final animated feature Richard Rich would direct for the Disney studios. Although Rich's Disney features were made during what some people consider the studio's dark period after Walt's death, there are today many fans of these two movies.
Some time after directing "The Black Cauldron," Richard Rich left Disney and helped found his own studio, Rich Animation Studios. He directed literally dozens of half-hour animated videos marketed to families. All of these were intended to teach positive ethical and spiritual values. The Old Testament series includes videos about Biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, Esther, David, Ruth, and Daniel. The New Testament series focuses on the parables and ministry of Jesus Christ. The other series tells the stories of Christian prophets such as Samuel, Alma, and Ammon. The "Animated Hero Classics" portray the lives of historical figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Florence Nightingale, Pocahontas, Louis Pasteur, Alexander Graham Bell, Harriet Tubman, Wright Brothers, Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, and Joan of Arc.
Education specialists and historians worked on the historical videos. Evangelical Christian theologians and clergy, as well as Biblical scholars, consulted with the script writers at Living Scriptures, Inc., and certified the finished products. The videos are sold directly to homes and schools, and also sold in Latter-day Saint and general Christian bookstores around the world.
After the production of these animated educational videos had succeeded, Rich proceeded to produce his first feature length animated motion picture since leaving Disney: "The Swan Princess." Released to theaters in 1994, production of this film was a massive, and risky, undertaking. Rich wrote the story and script along with Brian Nissen, a colleague who had collaborated with Rich as a writer for many years. The original music was composed by Lex De Azevedo, and was nominated for a Golden Globe award. The cast included John Cleese, Michelle Nicastro, Howard McGillin, James Arrington and -- perhaps best of all -- Jack Balance in a delightfully fresh and entertaining turn as the villianous Lord Rothbart.
"The Swan Princess" received a warm reception from critics and audiences, and grossed nearly $10 million in U.S. box office receipts. It was an impressive accomplishment at a time when there was nearly no feature length animated films being made in the U.S. by anybody but Disney. As with any animated feature film, much of the film's success would eventually be measured in video rentals. The project was successful enough that Richard Rich made two sequels, which were released in 1997 and 1998.
Since then, Rich has directed other animated feature films. He directed an animated remake of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "The King and I" for Warner Brothers, released in 1999; it took in $12 million at the U.S. box office. "The Scarecrow" (2000), based on a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was co-directed by Brian Nissen. It was made as a direct-to-video release, but its present status is obscure.
Rich's "The Trumpet of the Swan" was based on the classic book by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. The film features the voices of Jason Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, Reese Witherspoon, Seth Green, Joe Mantegna and Carol Burnett. It was planned as a direct-to-video release, but when it was finished in 2001 the studio decided to release it briefly in theaters. Unfortunately, "Trumpet" suffered from comparisons to a groundbreaking CGI animated movie that was released at almost the same time: "Shrek" from DreamWorks. "Trumpet" used very traditional animation (at far less expense) and an extremely child-friendly script, and was never intended to compete head-on with a behemoth such as "Shrek", which was more teen- and adult-targeted, and had a $60 million price tag.
Fortunately, "Trumpet" was better received as a video, and especially as a DVD, with a variety of fun features, a game, and an impressive transfer that showed off its high-quality (although sub-Disney) images and sound. Despite (or perhaps because of) its frequent crude humor, "Shrek" is expected to win the newly established Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. But for younger children, parents are likely to prefer the utterly benign and warm "Trumpet of the Swan." Even for adults it is an enjoyable film, with a fairly unusual story, lots of fun jazz music, and a setting that has probably never before been featured in an animated film: Montana.
Richard Rich started in the mailroom at Walt Disney Studios and worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming the youngest director of animation features in the history of the Disney Studios. During his rise in the Disney organization, Rich worked on over 15 animated motion pictures, including Pete's Dragon and The Rescuers. For Disney, Rich directed The Fox and The Hound which, in its original release, was the highest-grossing picture in Disney history at the time. He also directed the critically acclaimed The Black Cauldron.
Since starting his own animation studio, Rich has directed The Swan Princess, a classic fairy-tale animated motion picture.
Web page created 11 December 2001. Last modified 4 January 2003.