It was in early spring 1985 during the creation of “An American Tail” that we were ready to record Christopher Plummer as the voice for Henri the pigeon. Walt Disney Productions was opening their voice recording and music stages for film scores to outside filmmakers. We had six years of independent film and gaming production under our belts and were a bit anxious to be able to enter the Disney Production facility once again. To our relief, it seemed like no time had passed at all. The gate guards remembered us with smiles and even the voice recordist welcomed us into the music stage where we would record Mr. Plummer.
He arrived on that brisk spring morning wearing an expensive and flashy leather bomber jacket, its sheepskin collar turned up framing his ruffled hair and handsome face. He also wore after-ski boots with similar sheepskin trim around the top. He must have driven in with his sports car’s top down – very impressive. “Hi,” he said. “I’m ready and I’ve got some ideas.” Don said, “Great! Let’s get started.” As they moved into the sound recording area of the huge orchestra room, John Pomeroy and Gary approached them, introduced themselves and stepped into the booth with the recording engineer.
It was already 11:30 AM and we’d spent the first hour just trying to get Christopher to react to Don’s version of Fievel’s dialogue lines (from the script). Chris’s delivery of Henri’s dialogue was not resonating with what we had envisioned for the interaction between the two characters. So we interrupted. Since we were able to speak directly to Don through the headset that he was wearing, Gary pushed the button and said, “Don, why don’t we take a break and go over to the Gold Room and have an early lunch.” Don agreed. The Gold Room was a VIP lunchroom, separate but adjacent to the commissary where we could eat at a private table and a server was available to take our orders.
Christopher seemed to know that things were not going well. We sat. No one really spoke as we read through our menus. Finally, Christopher asked, “Are you the guys that made the animated film, The Secret of NIMH?” In unison we said, “Yes.” He responded, “That is my favorite film! You guys make movies frame by frame? That is amazing! It is the first and only video cassette I own.” We began to re-direct the conversation to the characteristics of Henri, and told Christopher that one of the reasons we chose him for the part of the French pigeon was that he was born in Quebec, Canada and spoke fluent French.
Having broken the ice and established a rapport with this well-know film star, we ambled back to the recording stage, where he suggested that he would use his French accent. We laughed and agreed. From that point on he followed every direction from Don. Every line of dialogue worked. He really brought the character to life. A few weeks later, when songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil had finished and received the approval of everyone involved for the song “Never Say Never”, we again descended upon the Disney recording stage to work with Christopher Plummer, where he nailed the song within just two or three takes.