Disclosure: Disney paid for my flights, lodging, and expenses for this trip but all opinions are 100% my own.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen The Little Mermaid. It has always been one of my favorite Disney movies. I was in High School when it came out and there was just something about Ariel’s curiosity and determination to be who she wanted to be that resonated with me. Now that I have two daughters, I have watched it many more times as it is one of their favorite movies, too. Both of my girls say that Ariel is their favorite princess. All this The Little Mermaid watching helped me win a prize in a The Little Mermaid trivia contest at the event I went to last month when I went to The Little Mermaid Dinner event. When I found out that Disney was releasing a diamond edition of The Little Mermaid (Three-Disc Diamond Edition) (Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy + Music) (1989) and that I would be meeting Writers/Directors of The Little Mermaid, John Musker and Ron Clements, plus Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel) I was beyond excited. I was almost afraid to tell my daughters because I knew they would want to come in my suitcase with me.
It was fun to watch John Musker and Ron Clements interact with each other like a married couple, finishing each other’s sentences. They have been working together on many projects for over 30 years after all. It was interesting to learn that they really had no idea just how big of a hit The Little Mermaid was going to be. Both John and Ron told stories of when they first realized what a hit The Little Mermaid had become.
Ron shares how, “When we’re working on it, the public doesn’t see it very much. Not even our own families for the most part. So it wasn’t until we started to have public previews and we saw the reaction we got some sense of that, in fact. But as you’re doing it, we were the audience for the movie, really. You’re just trying to make a movie that you think — that we would like to see and you hope somebody else will like to see it to. So we didn’t really anticipate it. But there was a lot of pressure that there’s almost like, “Are we gonna be able to get the film done in time?” And it’s almost that’s so consuming just, just trying to get the film done in time that you’re so preoccupied that you, you forget about anything else besides getting the film done. So it’s kind of, “Whoa, not only did we get it done but people really like it!”
John’s personal story gave me goose bumps as he shared what happened the Halloween after The Little Mermaid came out. “The other thing when I really felt like I realized that we had made an impact that might last, the following October, after the movie had come out [KNOCKING] knock on the door, you open it, you know, “Trick or Treat!” and there’s a little girl dressed as Ariel. I thought, “We made it into the popular culture! We crossed over! This is not even one of my own children! This is a stranger!”
Ron said, “Along those lines I remember I went back home over the holidays that year and we had relatives and they’re like, “You’ve gotta see this! You’ve gotta see this!” And they bring in their kids and the kids are singing the songs and they know all the words to the songs. And it was like, “Well, that’s, kind of interesting.” I don’t remember anything quite like that before. So that made it seem like the film had some impact.
Not everyone thought that The Little Mermaid would be a big hit initially. Someone told them, “We don’t expect it to do as well as OLIVER & COMPANY because, you know, it’s, it’s a girls’ movie and girls’ movies don’t do well.” And John though, “It’s a girls’ movie? We didn’t even realize while we were working on it. I’m a guy. I like this movie, you know. So we were glad that he was wrong.”
Ron shared, “What they didn’t foresee though, was that it would have a fair amount of adult appeal along with kids appeal and even be a date movie. I think that took everybody by surprise, that it sort of broke through. We were really happy that it broke through and became more of a family film. And even a film that people saw on a date and young people saw without their parents. That was kind of a first for an animated film.”
Both Ron Clements and John Misker’s careers took similar paths. John grew up thinking he might want to be an animator. Then he kind of lost interest as he got older and segued more into comic books. He wanted to work for Marvel Comics or be an editorial cartoonist on a newspaper. He did editorial cartoons and then he came back around to animation in college. When he originally sent over his portfolio to Disney he was rejected because he didn’t have any animal animations. So John went to the zoo in Chicago. It was winter time and it was freezing while he was drawing animals, so he wound up going to the Natural History Museum in Chicago and drew from the dioramas there. When he sent Disney his portfolio drawings and they rejected his portfolio, they said his drawings of animals were too stiff. John was like, “They’re stuffed! I drew them exactly like they were!” But John didn’t give up. When Disney was starting a character animation program with Disney veterans teaching it he sent his same portfolio to them and got accepted. He studied there for two years with the “nine old men” of Disney as his teachers and John Lassetter as a classmate.
Ron drew a lot as a child. He was a big fan of animation and a big Disney fan. When he was nine years old he saw PINOCCHIO came out of the theater thinking, “That’s what I wanna do. I wanna be involved in animation in some way.” He didn’t really know that much about it, so he went to the library to try to find out everything he could about how animated films were made and how it was done. He checked out The Art of Animation by Bob Thomas over and over and over again. He also learned from the veteran “nine old men” when he joined the talent development program at Disney.
It was interesting to learn from Ron that around the time of Walt Disney’s death, they weren’t sure if Disney was going to continue making animated movies. A lot of the artists were in their 60s. They were approaching retirement and there was a question of whether they might just kind of let animation kind of go away. But JUNGLE BOOK turned out to be a huge hit. It was like one of the biggest Disney movies in, in years. So because of the success of THE JUNGLE BOOK they decided, “Well, maybe we should keep animation going.”
As a HUGE Disney fan, I am certainly happy that THE JUNGLE BOOK did so well and Disney continued to make animated movies. The Diamond Edition of The Little Mermaid will be available October 1, 2013.