We all know and love the Disney versions of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Snow Queen’. But Walt Disney’s links to HC Andersen go much deeper than a couple of feature films, according to researchers Sara Bruun Jørgensen and Anne Høgedal from SDU’s HC Andersen Center in Burbank, California.
The two gained unique access to the private archive at the Disney Animation Research Library, which contains more than 65 million drawings, storyboards, models, dolls and more from the Disney Group’s productions. It’s used primarily as an internal resource for Disney cartoonists and is closed to the public.
Overwhelming amount of material
“There was an overwhelming amount of Andersen-inspired material in there: sketches, drawings and storyboards for unfinished film adaptations of HC Andersen, detailed drawings of buildings in Odense and scenarios from Andersen’s life, and unfinished projects on ‘The Fir Tree’, ‘The Emperors’ New Clothes’ and ‘The Nightingale’,” said Jørgensen
Though the researchers knew there would be Andersen-inspired material in the archive, they were shocked by the extent. It was clear that Disney had been fascinated by HC Andersen’s life and work since the 1930s.
Fascinated by fairy tales
Walt Disney was a fan of European fables and fairy-tales and collected art books featuring HC Andersen tales, Aesop’s fables and the Brothers Grimm’s stories to inspire his cartoonists, who in the early years were primarily Europeans.
During a trip in 1951, Disney also took inspiration from Copenhagen’s historic theme-park Tivoli for his own park Disneyland in California, which he opened four years later.
However, Andersen’s brutal endings have always presented a challenge for Disney and most have had their morbid conclusions edited out. Ariel commits suicide in the original version of ‘The Little Mermaid’, while the Disney version ends happily when Ariel gets her prince.
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