A few years back, Japanese animation kingpin Hayao Miyazaki got Pixar’s John Lasseter (the Toy Story mastermind) to supervise the redubbing of his surrealistic fable Spirited Away into English. (It won the Best Animated Feature Academy Award in 2002 after a U.S. release by Disney.) But for this latest fairy tale, built around a bizarre homestead that walks around on chicken-like legs, Lasseter was busy directing his next movie, Cars, so Pixar’s Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) stepped in. He says Lauren Bacall’s line readings as a mean witch have been a treat — and a relief. ”We were a little worried she’d see the character with these rolls of fat — in one scene she’s all dripping with sweat and goo — and say, ‘What am I doing?’ But she just laughed hysterically.”
Jean Simmons, who knew nothing about Miyazaki — a virtual legend in the animation community and one of Japan’s highest-grossing filmmakers (”I’m learning,” she says) — voices the elder version of Sophie, a young woman magically turned into a 90-year-old. ”I think I need to go get my back straightened,” Simmons reports. ”I did a lot of hunching over to get the lack of lung power some old folks have.” Disney’s probably not holding its breath on this as a big theatrical moneymaker, but it’s a virtual lock to be a front-runner in the 2006 Oscar race…chicken legs and all.