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Three Keanes help make Disney's "Tangled" a pretty keen animated comedy

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Three Keanes help make Disney's "Tangled" a pretty keen animated comedy

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There's this great little moment in "Waking Sleeping Beauty" (which - FYI - was just released on DVD yesterday) from 1980. Where a very young John Lasseter - armed with an 8mm sound camera - is filming an equally young Randy Cartwright as he wanders the halls of the Animation Building on the Disney Lot.

So after bumping into a robust-looking Ron Miller and then dropping in on a seemingly mute Tim Burton, who do Randy & John go to see but directing animator Glen Keane. Who - immediately after seeing that these two are armed with a movie camera - reaches over to the wall and grabs a picture of his then-newborn daughter, Claire to show off.

"Did you get a good shot? Does she look like me?," asks the proud poppa. An off-camera Randy volunteers that Claire has " ... the same kind of hair" as Glen. But then Cartwright & Lasseter lope out of  Keane's office in search of other WDAS employees to surprise with their camera.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I bring up this story today because ... Well, sometimes it's amazing to me how circular life can be.

I mean, here we are, 30 years later. And Claire Keane is no longer this cute little baby hanging on the wall of Glen's office. She's now a well respected visual development artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios who - while working side-by-side with her famous father on "Tangled" - came up with the painterly look of all those murals which decorate the inside of Rapunzel's tower.

"That was one of my father's ideas for this character. He saw Rapunzel painting the inside walls of her tower as a way to show the audience that - even though this character's body had been physically confined for 18 years - her creative spirit hadn't," Claire explained. "These paintings all over the walls were proof that Rapunzel's spirit hadn't been broken. That in spite of everything that life had thrown at her, this character was still passionate and resourceful. That Rapunzel hadn't yet given up on her dreams."

Claire Keane presents a "Tangled" themed bass at a Grammy
fund-raising event earlier this year. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Ms. Keane clearly put a lot of thought into the images that she placed upon the walls of that tower. Drawing much of her inspiration from the paintings of Marc Chagall and the freedom that she found in his canvases. But at the same time, all of the artwork that Claire placed on the walls of Rapunzel's tower had to show the audience - in a somewhat subtle way -- who this character really was. How she'd changed over time.

"That's why the murals that are lowest to the ground are more simplistic in design. You see, those are the murals that Rapunzel painted when she was just a little girl. Back then her painting technique wasn't all that advanced and the emotions that this character was feeling weren't all that complex," Claire continued. "Whereas the images that have been painted further up on the walls & on the ceiling not only reveal that Rapunzel's painting technique has improved, they also show her increasing sophistication. They reflect the more complex emotions & yearnings that this young woman has begun to feel."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, Claire has some experience when it comes to painting on walls.  Glen loves to tell the story of when his daughter was 18 months old and he put some crayons in her crib.

"(Claire) did a drawing of her mother. She did it upside down, but it had Linda's chin, her turned-up nose, her eyes, hairstyle and earrings," Keane recalled.

Now contrast that with the creative differences that Claire has been having lately with her own 19 month old daughter, Matisse.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"I keep trying to read her 'Rapunzel's Amazing Hair,' which is this 'Tangled' picture book that I created the illustrations for," Ms. Keane laughed. "But every time I try and open that book, Matisse immediately closes it. I guess she's not ready. Or maybe she just doesn't like my illustrations."

One hopes that - in time - Matisse will develop the same sort of caring artistic relationship with her Mom that Claire had with her Dad. How sweet he was, how quick to offer praise and/or constructive criticism of whatever drawings ("Typically they were princess dresses," Claire remembered) that his daughter brought him.

Now it's worth noting here that all of those years spent drawing princess dresses did eventually pay off for Ms. Keane. Given that Walt Disney Pictures eventually hired her to work with Mona May on the design of those fairytale costumes that Giselle wore in "Enchanted."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But for the most part, Claire has spent the past six years working with her Dad on "Tangled." And where others may have been frustrated by the multiple story changes that Disney's animated version of Rapunzel has gone through, Ms. Keane actually relished these challenges.

"Every time the story would change, it meant that you'd get one more shot at redesigning these characters, refining the story," Claire said. "You'd get one more chance to make the picture better. And given how well 'Tangled' eventually turned out, all that hard work and struggle clearly paid off."

When you hear how upbeat & passionate Ms. Keane is ... Well, is it any wonder - much in the same way that Glen drew inspiration for Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" from his wife, Linda - that this master Disney animator used Claire to ... Well, I'll let Glen himself explain.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

 "Claire reminds me of the character of Rapunzel; she has always had an irrepressibility, which is my word to define Rapunzel."

By the way, Glen didn't stop with Claire when it came to using family members for artistic inspiration when it came to "Tangled." You know that infant version of Rapunzel that you see towards the very start of this film? Keane has openly admitted that he based the look & behavior of that cute little character on his granddaughter / Claire's daughter, Matisse.

Anyway ... What's next for this irrepressible visual development artist? Claire is actually already working with Ron Clements and  John Musker's (who - FYI - makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo appearance in Randy Cartwright & John Lasseter's walk-thru film of the Walt Disney Animation Studios circa 1980) next project.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And as for Claire's father ... Well, this master Disney animator is being honored by the American Cinematheque on December 11th. This tribute will include a screening of "The Little Mermaid " as well as a visual presentation which will highlight Glen's 35 year career as an animator. Keane will then be interviewed by animation historian Charles Solomon with a Q & A to follow.  And just in case you're wondering ... This event IS open to the public and tickets are still available.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Glen is having his first-ever gallery show. Now through January, over 60 pieces of Keane's personal work as well as pieces that he created for Walt Disney Animation Studios will be on display at the Arludik Gallery in Paris.

Which is the exact same city where Claire Keane studied art at the École Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques-Penninghen.  

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You see what I'm saying about how circular life can be sometimes?

Your thoughts?

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  • This guy does not get enough credit.  With the whole animation world going "Lasseter  Lasseter Lasseter Lasseter Lasseter," I cherish every new interview and bit of news from Keane.  This guy truly has magic in his art, and I would have loved to see the film directed by him still.

  • I'm so happy Tangled worked out so well. I think it's a good little movie - no Beauty and the Beast, to be sure, but a happy, lavish and lush feast for the eyes. Kudos to the WDAS team. You did Walt proud.

  • I enjoyed Tangled much more than B&B- I squealed many times (more than the kidz in the audience) do to cuteness overload! I saw a lot of "Into the Woods" but it was it's own movie...Happiness!

    I've been waiting for 'Waking Sleeping Beauty" for nearly a year now- finally saw it...I am so relieved that I never worked or would want to work for Disney...I love the art but it's very uncomfy to see all the Egos and naughty business whatnot- ACK!...I'll stay in my safe lil' studio...and if someone what to play nice- I let em in ; )

  • For the last sentence, I guess Claire studied in Paris because Glen Keane was working there for Tarzan... So life can be circular but logical as well! And you have no idea how happy I was to see the Paris exhibition. I really loved these experiments and feelings on the paper. If I had enough money I would have bought one for sure! I was also delighted to discover Claire Keane's work with Tangled.

    Sorry for spelling mistakes! And thank you for this great article!

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