I was browsing through the book section at the art supply store over the weekend, and I came across a book of animation drawings from the Disney animated features. I was flipping through the book, and when I got to this image of Ariel, I sort of smile and let out a laugh. Without even looking at the credit for the image, I knew immediately who had drawn it and which scene it was from. Funnily enough, I have had in my possession for a long time copies of the drawings from this sequence, given to me in one of the animation classes that I had taken.
Sometimes I will talk about The Little Mermaid. People know that it’s my favorite Disney cartoon from the 90′s. And if they keep having the conversation with me, I will tell them that this movie was the reason that I made up my mind to study art once I enter college. I had known my entire life, like most artists, that I will somehow end up becoming an artist. But as you grow older, as much as you carry that dream—and what you might believe as a calling—with you throughout those formative years, at some point you say to yourself that it might not be better to pursue other career paths. If not from a practical, financial point of view.
That conversation was probably lingering somewhat in my head around the time before this movie came out. I had gone through a big transition with my migration to the States from Thailand. Things that I had always known, the way that I was doing things, all of it was based on a different place, a different culture, a different way of doing things than where I ended up. And as much as I knew that I wanted to pursue art (and I did continued to do so), I couldn’t quite figure out how to go about walking that path.
Seeing The Little Mermaid changed that. It wasn’t so much the story, or the catchy soundtrack that caught my attention. What I saw were more specific. And that specificity was Glen Keane’s renditions of Ariel in the movie.
Keane is the son of Bill Keane, the creator of the classic comic strip Family Circus. Comparing the drawing styles of father and son, and you wouldn’t realize that there was that connection. By the time Keane worked on Ariel, he had done several other features for the company, most notably, personally, was Rescuers Down Under, still one of my favorite Disney cartoons.
I remember when I first saw The Little Mermaid, I specifically took note of the sequence in which the above drawing came from. I have always thought that Keane’s drawings in this sequence were the best renditions of Ariel in the entire film. Keane’s rendition of Ariel in the film always made her seemed more mature than any other drawings of her in the film. There seemed to have been an understanding on Keane’s part of the real psychology of the character. That this wasn’t somehow just some naive young girl who was foolishly chasing after something without any real understanding of what she was doing. Keane based the model of the character on his wife, and perhaps that made the connection to the character even more real to him.