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Cast and Crew Reflect on 'Little Mermaid'

8 Sep, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

The crew who brought Ariel to life celebrated Disney's Oct. 3 release of The Little Mermaid on DVD at a special opening night screening in Hollywood Thursday, Sept. 7.

Little Mermaid writer-directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson, Ariel reference model Sherri Stoner, supervising animator Glen Keane, and Alan Menken, who wrote the film's Academy Award-winning score and song “Under the Sea.”

They waxed nostalgic in a panel discussion prior to the screening, showed clips from the making-of footage on the DVD, and treated the audience to a live performance of “Part of Your World” from Benson and Menken.

“Long before the Pirates ever roamed the Caribbean, long before there was a little lost clownfish named Nemo floating around, there was The Little Mermaid,” said Don Hahn, longtime Disney animation producer. “It's a film that changed the way we look at animated features.”

The Little Mermaid, originally pitched to Disney in 1985, was a blending of two different eras in Disney animation, directors Musker and Clements said.

It was right around the time that Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and crew took over management of the studio. They tapped the animation crew for new ideas, even as they moved the animation team off the Disney lot and to a warehouse in Glendale, California.

Clements was browsing a bookstore one day and read a copy of Hans Christian Anderson's original (and decidedly gloomy) Little Mermaid fairy tale.

“It just seemed perfect, it was so theatrical in a way,” he said. “Of course, it's a story that starts out sad, gets sadder and then she dies at the end, so of course we had to change that.”

Musker laughed: “Yeah we would have had a roomful of sobbing little girls in every theater if we hadn't.’

The Little Mermaid was the first fairy tale the studio had attempted since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. It was the first film from the studio in a long time that featured human characters, and the first Disney adventure set almost entirely underwater, which brought about a unique batch of animation issues, Musker said.

The directors were able to blend a modern look, a contemporary storyline, as well as an unheard of redheaded princess into the film, with homage to the creative vision of animators who had worked on other Disney fairytale classics such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Some of these creators were still working for Disney at the time Clements and Musker and the younger crew of animators were coming up the ranks.

The packed audience Thursday — peppered with Disney fanatics and little girls crowned in glittering tiaras and wearing their favorite Princess costumes — cheered the Mermaid creators and special guest in the audience Roy Disney. Hollywood's noted El Capitan theater will show the movie throughout September.

There's something about Ariel, the character that just struck a chord with the audience. She's feisty, she's gutsy, she's modern and has a real sense of humor, Musker said.

“Ariel did things that Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty never would never do,” he said.

And Disney's only underwater princess is standing the test of time, Musker said.

“I think the music was a big part of that,” John said. “And the father-daughter storyline, it was very relatable, and it still is very relatable.”

Both directors were part of the digital and audio restoration process for the DVD, and provided interviews for the making-of footage on the DVD.

They both hope traditional animation can make a resurgence amid the brave new world of computer-generated animation.

“There's a real glut of CGI right now,” Musker said.

But the medium of the animation, is just the paintbrush for the story,” Clements said.

“There are so many mediums, CGI, cut-out animation, puppet animation, and traditional drawing,” he said. “That's something Disney has always done so well; we're hoping it will come back.”

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