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“The Art of The Princess and The Frog” takes you behind-the-scenes on Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation

“The Art of The Princess and The Frog” takes you behind-the-scenes on Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation

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Okay. I know. It’s verging on panic time when it comes to holiday gifts. Especially if you’re still looking for something for the Disneyana fan on your Christmas list. You know, the one who’s always so difficult to shop for?

Not to worry, though. The always reliable Jeff Kurtti (i.e. the guy behind “Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park,” “The Art of Disneyland,” “The Art of Walt Disney World,” “Treasure Planet: A Voyage of Discovery,” “The Art of Mulan,” “The Art of the Little Mermaid: A Disney Miniature,” “A Bug's Life: The Art and Making of an Epic of Miniature Proportions” among other Disney-related titles) has a new book out. One that literally hit store shelves last Tuesday.

The ARt of the Princess and the Frog book cover
Copyright 2009 Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

And given that this 160-page hardcover celebrates Walt Disney Animation Studios’ return to hand-drawn animation, I guarantee that the Disneyana fan on your holiday shopping list will be thrilled to find a copy of  “The Art of The Princess and the Frog” (Chronicle Books, December 2009) under the tree.

Princess Tiana concept next to frogs on a  a mirrored dresser
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, one of the main reasons that Disneyana fans will delight in receiving “The Art of the Princess and the Frog” is … Well, to be blunt, Jeff’s written quite a few of these making-of books. So he now has a knack for unearthing unusual pieces of production art. Take – for example – this early, early version of Tiana that “Princess” co-director John Musker drew. Back when the film’s title character was supposed to be a seamstress, rather than being a waitress who dreamed of someday owning her own restaurant.

Drawing of Princess Tiana in a yellow dress
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Jeff also shows you how Disney artists will often struggle to get a handle on a character (EX: Kevin Gollaher’s version of Tiana depicted above. This character design was reportedly rejected because it made Tiana look too attractive toward the very start of this animated feature. And given that Ron Clements & John Musker didn’t want their princess & prince characters to start falling for one another ‘til the end of this film’s second act … Well, it just wouldn’t do to have Tiana looking too beautiful towards the beginning of “The Princess and the Frog”).

Prince Naveen concept drawing
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of Prince Naveen … Given that this is the first Disney Princess movie set in 1920s America, finding a way to make a prince look believable in this particular setting proved to be a challenge. But as visual development artist Sue Nichols put it:

“I had a lot of fun with Naveen. He is supposed to be very handsome and suave – there is a very specific look of a debonair man in the 1920s. I was going off of a lot of the 1920s movies where a dapper look is very different than what dapper would look like today.”

Drawing of manservent Majo rDomo Lawrence
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

That’s the advantage of having someone like Jeff Kurtti write your making-of volume. Given that he’s written so many of these behind-the-scenes books before, Jeff can build on his previous interviews with these animators & artists. Get them to share information that they perhaps wouldn’t tell other authors.

Plus given that Kurtti is a Disney historian himself … Well, only Jeff knows enough about the Studio’s earlier animated features to realize that Tony DeRosa drew at least some of his inspiration for Lawrence, Prince Naveen’s not-exactly-loyal manservant from the evil coachman in “Pinocchio.”

Concept drawings of Mardi Gras floats
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

And given that fans of production histories just love learning about things that didn’t actually make it into this final version of the film … Well, Kurtti’s a clever enough guy to not only include concept art for the “Little Mermaid” –themed float that does appear in “The Princess and the Frog” but also drawings of “Aladdin” & “Hercules” –themed floats (Which – as any good Disney dweeb will tell you – were also animated features that were directed by Musker & Clements) that didn’t make the cut for this movie’s Mardi Gras sequence.

Concept drawing of Charlotte dresssed in red
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

It’s Jeff’s great eye for detail, his ability to draw great stories of his interview subjects that make his making-of books so much fun to read. I mean, only Jeff Kurtti could ever get Nik Ranieri to admit that he drew inspiration for the character that he animated for “The Princess and the Frog” (i.e. spoiled southern belle Charlotte La Bouff) from his own family:

“I have five kids under the age of twelve and four of them are girls. So you can’t help but have a wealth of inspiration for a character like young Charlotte. My youngest daughter Lily is just like her. She’s very much a little princess.”

Princess and the Frog character size comparison
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Kurtti also makes sure that you get to see a lot of the nuts-and-bolts stuff associated with the production of a new animated feature. Everything from a size comparison chart (Which helped give the artists & animators who were working on “The Princess and the Frog” a size of how big Louis the trumpeting-playing alligator …

Randy Cartwright version of Ray the lightning bug
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc, Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

… was in comparison to Ray, the lovelorn Cajun firefly) to the stylized storyboards that Eric Goldberg and his team created for Tiana’s dream sequence, “Almost There.”

Storyboards created by Eric Goldbergs team for Tiana's dream sequence in Disney's Princess and the Frog

So honestly, folks … If you’re almost done with your holiday shopping (except for a Christmas gift for that Disneyana fan on your list), you just can’t do any better than “The Art of The Princess and the Frog.” Though it’s not even been out in stores for a week now, I guarantee that this new Jeff Kurtti book will bring years of joy to the animation enthusiast in your family.

And speaking of holiday shopping … If you plan on picking up your last few Christmas gifts via Amazon.com, could you please do JHM a favor and – before you begin bargain hunting – click on the above banner?

If you do that … well, Jim Hill Media then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a most generous way to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you’ve read on this site over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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  • PingBack from http://www.findmeabout.com/2009/12/21/about-princess-disney/

  • While I truly appreciate Jim's effusive praise, and will take credit for being a passionate animation fan and reasonably informed about the subject, my conscience dictates that the art selection credit be more fully attributed to Glen Nakasako of Smog Design, Inc., as well as the creative team of the film itself. I would love to be as smart as Jim makes me out to be! Thanks, Jim, for the swell write-up!!

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