The Little Mermaid 50 Day Challenge: Week One

Today we’re excited to announce a brand-new segment by Zachary Kenny. Zach has offered to contribute a fifty-day challenge leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Little Mermaid. Every week we’ll be spotlighting a brand new piece of artwork from Zachary until the film’s anniversary on November 17th! 

Zachary Kenny- This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the Walt Disney Company’s biggest accomplishments. It’s maybe not as big as the release of Snow White or the opening of Disneyland, but it’s what helped Disney out of a bad rut the company was in & helped give birth to the Disney Renaissance. What is it? The 1989 animated musical fantasy film, The Little Mermaid.

This was not only the first taste of Disney I ever got, but was also the first ever film that I ever saw in theaters. It was during its re-release in the ‘90s when I was about 4 or 5. Once I saw it, it became one of my favorites (still is) & as I grew older, I began to appreciate it more & more.

So for its’ silver anniversary, I decided to do a 50 Day Drawing Challenge, starting September 29th & ending on the film’s release date, November 17th. Also, instead of just sticking just to the film, I’ll also be drawing behind-the-scenes stuff, the cast & crew, original/abandoned concepts, other movie/TV appearances, attractions from the parks, etc. They’ll all be hand-drawn but the finishing look will vary. Some will be fully-colored, some will be pencil sketches, some line art, some black-and-white, you get the idea. Also for the descriptions, some will have in-depth reasoning behind their history, some just may be short because… it’ll just be a simple drawing that practically explains itself.

So, let’s dive under the sea to celebrate The Little Mermaid being a part of our world for 25 years!

Day 1: Hans Christian Anderson

DAY 1, Hans Christian Anderson

To start off, why not start off with… the beginning? Here we have the man who made the entire story possible to begin with, the original Danish author himself, Hans Christian Andersen. Writing away, possibly at the spot he got the inspiration for the story.

The look of Hans in this is based off how he looked from The Little Mermaid TV series episode “Metal Fish” (fun fact: he was voiced by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill), but obviously some color enhancements (more natural & not over-the-top colorful like the show). The look/colorization/shading of the background is based off the original film poster & the mermaid is based off the Little Mermaid statue in Denver.

Day 2: Walt’s Original Concepts

DAY 2, Walt's Original Concepts

Back in the early ‘40s, while the Disney Company was upgrading to their new, one of Walt’s many film concepts was a biography on Hans Christian Anderson. It was to feature live-action people with animated inserts, much like Song of the South, but without live actors interacting with the animated parts. It would’ve been made, if it hadn’t been for 2 reasons. One was Walt knew audiences wouldn’t be fond of H.C.A.’s tragic endings & trying to rewrite them would be difficult. Two was because this was when WWII was starting & most of Walt’s animators were going to war. So it was shelved. What’s interesting is that later on, the Disney company would still make animated adaptations based of Hans’ works. Not just the film we’ll be highlighting for the next 50 days, but also the last Silly Symphony short was “The Ugly Duckling”, “the Steadfast Tin Soldier” was a segment inFantasia 2000, a twist on “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “the Little Match Girl” as a stand-alone short and, of course, Disney’s new highest-grosser from last year. So for this, we have a disgruntled Walt, based off this picture by one of his animators, surrounded by the original concepts that were made for specifically the Little mermaid segment, which by the way, ARE the real pictures. Ultimately, the biography was never made, even after the war was over. Or, did it… ?

Day 3: Directors Ron Clements and John Musker

DAY 3, Ron & John

Jumping forward a couple decades later, up to 1985, during production of The Great Mouse Detective, 2 of Disney’s supervising animators, Ron Clements & John Musker, found the original Little Mermaid book in a bookstore. They both thought it had potential for a film & told the idea to Jeffery Katzenberg if they could make that their next film. He said no, thinking it would cause confusion with the sequel they were making to Splash, which was released a year before… until he flip-flopped the next day & said yes.

Soon later, the staff found some Little Mermaid concept art by Kay Nielsen & some script drafts so Ron & John started that as a new draft, but it had to be shelved because of Oliver & Company & Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But after Oliver was released, Michael Eisner, head of Disney at the time, promised that The Little Mermaid would be the next film they’d be making. Ron & John would later on direct some other-well known Disney films afterward, like Aladdin, Hercules & The Princess & the Frog. And, interestingly enough, they both had cameos in each of those films.

Day 4: Butler Sebastian

DAY 4, Sebastian's Concepts

Development of a character varies from just the writing what they’ll be like. Thousands upon thousands of design artists can make loads of designs for how the characters should look before everyone finalizes what he or she should look like in the end. One of the concepts they had was that Sebastian was originally the sea king’s English-butler crab & his name was Clarence. Guessing by this, he probably would’ve been the underwater equivalent of Grimsby. While coming up with changes to the script, one of the songwriters, Howard Ashman (who we’ll talk about later) brought up the idea to change him into a Jamaican Rastafarian crab & making him the king’s composer & conductor. Some of the designs they at that point were probably a little too stereotypical, at least in my opinion that is; with dreadlock hair, hippie glasses, a tie-dye color scheme, thicker/fuller lips like how African Americans are drawn in animation, etc. He also looks as if he would’ve been much bigger & looked more… “flat”, like real crabs; no neck, symmetrical claws, complex thick leg shapes, etc. Then they finally came to the finalized version with the Sebastian we know & love today.

Day 5: Ursula Concepts

DAY 5, Ursula’s Concepts

Ursula also went through a lot of design changes during the film’s development. The main issue they had was “what sea creature should she be”? In both the original story & the first concepts, she was a somewhat mermaid, just more hag-like. Then they designed her after Joan Collins, but then thought a fat villain would be a better contrast to our main skinny heroine. They then planned out having her be other types of fish, like a rockfish & a lionfish, but those didn’t look right either. Then after seeing a documentary about octopi, they decided that would be perfect, especially with the tentacles & imposing appearance. Her human-based half was inspired by drag queen Divine. One of the designs they almost had for the final product was her face based off Ratigan from the Great Mouse Detective. They had planned for Glen Keane, who animated Ratigan, to be Ursula’s main animator, but soon they switched him to Ariel & had Ruben Aquino do Ursula (We’ll be talking about both these guys next week). She also would’ve had tiger-like stripes on her tentacles which, I think would’ve liked with either way.

Day 6: Harold the Merman: 

DAY 6, Harold the Merman

One character that the directors really liked but didn’t make it was this one named Harold. He was in one of the early scripts that would’ve been seen as a foreshadowing to show what could’ve happened to Ariel by making a deal with Ursula. Harold’s backstory was that he wanted to impress the ladies so Ursula gave the little nerd muscles & strength. All he had to do was bring Ursula back a fresh water lily within three days or else. Harold can’t find any & finds out Ursula tricked him (they aren’t in season), but he still signed the contract. He begs he needs a little more time, but Ursula declares his time’s up & transforms poor Harold into a polyp. BTW, all of this would’ve just been as an explanation, not the entire thing as like a B-plot.

Day 7: Alternate Ending

DAY 7, Original Ending 2

This is by far the BEST deleted sequence that wasn’t used in the film. & by that, I DON’T mean it’s best that they didn’t use it. To say it’s sad they didn’t use it is BEYOND an understatement! & no, it’s not what you think it means. It’s not an ending where Ariel dies like the original book. What’s so great from this ending than what they used for the film’s ending? Well, you can read the ending here on Disney Wiki.

Be sure to check back next week for more of Zach’s 50 Day Mermaid Challenge!