Story-ideas-1011172

From ‘happiest place on earth’ to richness of Jewish identity

  • Blinkoff
Saul Blinkoff, speaking at the Sinai Indaba on “A Disney Tale” related how he followed his dream and en route found his Jewish identity and observance.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Jun 25, 2015

Blinkhoff’s aspiration, after seeing the movie “ET”, was to become a film director. “Steven Spielberg is a Jew and I thought if he could do it, so can I,” he recounted.

He started off with the objective of becoming an animator and was supported by his mother who took him to Florida after he became enamoured of “The Little Mermaid”.

“So,” my mom said: “You want to fall in love with a fish!” But, all the same she accompanied him to the casting offices, “the doors of which looked like they came out of Alice in Wonderland” and the building décor included figures of Peter Pan and Wendy and John.

Blinkhoff’s next move was to go to art school where he found he was the only Jew in the school. His roommate had Mickey Mouse slippers, a bedspread and a clock. He was told by a Disney representative that of the 350 students, only four would be successful and have Disney internships.

“There was a model but when we started to draw her, she had left. We were told to concentrate on the gestures and draw what was in our heads.”

Blinkhoff was unsuccessful in his Disney attempt, but his friend Andy was chosen. “They said that at Disney World, you would be the happiest you could be in the world.”

Then Blinkhoff decided to contact the representative who chose Andy and found he had had just missed being chosen. “Seventeen were successful and I was number 20. This gave me a new perspective and then nobody worked harder than me.”

After seeing “Beauty and the Beast”, Blinkoff did animations for “Sleeping Beauty” and he gave his portfolio to a Disney animator, who was impressed. “But my portfolio became a tug of war with him as I found out I had more time to improve it. I created a new portfolio in two weeks and was told by Andy: ‘You did it, you are on the list,’ and I was going to the happiest place on earth.”

Blinkhoff became an animator on films like Pocahontas and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Í couldn’t believe I was getting a pay cheque for something I loved doing!

“It takes four-and-half years to make a Disney movie and one million drawings and we had a lot of down time while making the ‘Tarzan’ movie.” So Blinkhoff decided to go to Israel where he was profoundly influenced by Rabbis David Aaron and Freedman, scholars and Kabbalists. Rabbi Aaron has visited South Africa and discussed his books here.

Learning the lessons of the Temple, the meaning of the mezzuzahs on doors of Jewish households, incidents from the Holocaust and about the Torah and Shabbos, made Blinkhoff want to connect.

He became a director at MTV in New York, became shomer Shabbos and was joined in his observance by his girlfriend (now his wife).

Today he lives with his family in Los Angeles and does not mind when (on Succot) his neighbours remark on how they seem to be “enjoying being homeless people”.

Often his signature in his animations is a Jewish sign: “’Winnie the Pooh’ became ‘Winnie the Jew’,” he quipped.

He now has “a life of meaning through Torah” and enjoys switching off his cellphone, iPhone and iPad on Shabbat and throughout his work the influence of Judaism rears its head.

 

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