The First Monday was hosted by Disney director, writer and animator, John Musker.


The Department of Cinematic Arts hosted this semester’s First Monday with director John Musker on Sept. 9. The event was geared towards providing cinematic arts students with a chance to meet someone from the field they aspire to work in; however, the event was open to anyone with a reservation. 

Musker is most famous for his work on popular Disney films, including “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Treasure Planet,” and more recently, “Moana,” which coupled CGI animation with his original 2D style in selected scenes.

Tony Bancroft, an assistant professor at APU and a former Disney animator, worked under Musker in the making of “Aladdin” and opened the event by introducing Musker to the crowd. 

“I am so privileged to have a friend of mine here,” Bancroft said. “I call him the most successful animator of all time.”

Throughout the event, Musker shared never-before-seen caricatures from himself and his coworkers, selected animated scenes from movies like “The Little Mermaid” and “Hercules,” among others, and photos of himself and coworkers.

Although audience members were not allowed to post the material on social media, many took pictures and videos for personal memories. 

Musker also shared his experience working with Disney and attending school. According to Musker, Disney had been looking for younger animators to join the company many years ago. Musker knew that he wanted to apply, but didn’t have much experience drawing animals like Disney wanted. 

Musker said that he had been denied by Disney and had taken the opportunity to go to school to learn how to animate. Eventually, he got a permanent job working with Disney and was quickly promoted to a role as a director. Since then, he has worked on several projects, but he found “Moana” to be among the most powerful storytelling experiences in his career. 

“I had always been interested in the South Pacific, though I had never been there,” Musker said. “I had been to Hawaii but not the deeper South Pacific, but I had read books … and that prompted me to think, ‘Well, is there a mythology that goes with this region?’”

According to Musker, that’s when he discovered the story of Maui and the mythologies surrounding the land. After visiting the area, speaking to South Pacific natives and learning about their culture, Musker and his team were able to piece together the story that would become “Moana.”

Musker said the natives of the region became like advisors to him and his team, guiding them to tell their story properly, whether that was by insisting that Maui have hair or getting the team to understand how water is viewed in their culture. 

“An older gentleman said something in Tahitian,” Musker said. “He said, ‘For years, we have been swallowed by your culture — one time you can be swallowed by our culture.’ So that became our motto.”

After the lecture was over, visitors participated in a Q&A. Some guests asked about animation careers while others inquired Musker about his favorite movies and scenes. Some asked him for advice in storytelling.

“Characters are the most important aspect of storytelling,” Musker said. “No matter what, they’re graspable, they’re relatable, they’re identifiable … Like in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ it’s really a story of an overprotective father whose daughter was chafing under that [overprotectiveness]; and the fact that it’s set underwater and all that, you could set it anywhere, but the bones that were there had to do with becoming independent.”

The event attracted many guests, some of whom came from other schools such as Biola and Cal State Fullerton. These visitors expressed their excitement for the event, having had waited in line from the front doors of Wilden Hall down towards the Ronald Building. 

Among the excited crowd was Hannah McElfresh, a junior film major, who said directors like Musker inspired her to pursue her career because of the films they made. 

“Movies like ‘[The] Little Mermaid’ and ‘Hercules’ ignite the imagination,” McElfresh said. “I went because I wanted to show my gratitude for someone who leads the next generation of storytellers, community builders and people movers.”