>And they lived happily ever after: Reviewing the ACMI Disney Masterclass


And they lived happily ever after: Reviewing the ACMI Disney Masterclass. By Jess Lomas.

And they lived happily ever after … or so they used to. According to the LA Times, after 50 feature animated films Disney Animation has decided to move away from the fairy tales that cemented the studio as royalty in the 20th century. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs back in 1937, to the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, 1992’s Beauty and the Beast, to their latest picture Tangled (a new take on Rapunzel, due to be released in Australia January 6, 2011); Disney films have been an integral part of childhood for generations. Now that’s set to change with a move away from the ‘Princess’ movies into stories with wider appeal; 2008’s Bolt being a great example of breaking the Disney mould and pleasing critics and audiences alike.

The timing of this news is interesting given the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne has just opened the doors on its latest exhibition Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairy Tales. I attended a one-off Masterclass with Disney producer Roy Conli and Disney animator Glen Keane following the launch of the exhibition. While Conli discussed the general tasks of a producer and gave a very thorough walk-through of upcoming film Tangled, it was animator Glen Keane who had the audience’s undivided attention.

The name Glen Keane might not ring a bell to most people but I’m sure his work will. He was the key animator on Ariel in The Little Mermaid and on the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He’s been at the studio since the early 1970s and has worked on both 2D and CG animated films. While admitting he’s never felt he belonged at Disney, he discussed the pros and cons of both forms of animation and expressed a desire to help move 2D animation in new and exciting directions.

Keane began sketching on a blank sheet of paper – an overhead camera allowed us to see – and a bunch of scribbled lines magically transformed into characters many have known and adored since an early age. Showing us a rough cut of the musical sequence Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid, he began singing the song in lieu of an audio track. What followed was a hilarious and memorable moment when the audience was asked to sing along to what is perhaps the most complex song in the entire film. A handful of brave souls joined in and while they couldn’t match the vocal talent of Jodie Benson (the voice of Ariel), it proved how dear this classic Disney film is to many people’s hearts.

To say that the world doesn’t want Princess films anymore is a sad thing indeed. 2009’s The Princess and the Frog was a wonderful return to hand drawn animation, yet despite praise from critics, it could not match the box office success of other animated films that were aimed at both adults and children (notably from Disney’s overachieving younger sibling, Pixar). Pixar has revolutionised animation as Walt Disney did himself back in the 1920s and 1930s. The success of Pixar films as entertainment for the whole family, or even those without a family – many adults enjoying the films minus the children – has seen a shift in what audiences want to see in an animated film.

We could never go back to being an audience who wants to see, say, a Cinderella or a Sleeping Beauty (heaven forbid a 21st century girl is shown that all she needs is a prince to come and sweep her off her feet). But there is a fine line between “getting with the times” and maintaining tradition. There is value in these classic fairy tales, there are lessons and morals, battles of good versus evil and the essential ingredient to all classic Disney films: a memorable soundtrack.

In the Masterclass Glen Keane was asked a question by a recent animation graduate – how can he get a job at Disney? Keane said the best thing you can do is be yourself and show yourself in your work. There are many people out there who can do the same thing; they can imitate a style or someone else, but there is only one you. Be yourself and you will stand out.

It seems Disney could use some of this advice. For the revolutionary studio that inspired so many it seems rather than continue to be itself it has decided to imitate others. While we have an amazing back catalogue that children will continue to revisit and love, Disney will be untrue to itself if they don’t return to fairy tales at some time in the near future.

Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairy Tales runs from November 18, 2010 until April 26, 2011. You can buy tickets here.

2 Responses to “>And they lived happily ever after: Reviewing the ACMI Disney Masterclass”

  1. >A world with no more Princess movies! What are your thoughts on the release of Whinnie the Pooh in 2011?

  2. >Personally I think the recent low turnout for movies like the princess and the frog movie has less to do with what kids want these days and more to do with the fact that Disney had already changed its formula by then. My kids still love the classics, Sleeping Beauty is their favourite movie, but by trying to reinvent themselves within the 2d fairytale genre they have changed their basic and successful formula. Besides that, I had friends comment about scary voodoo scenes in the movie which will manage to alienate a fair few parents and communities in itself.

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