Even as original Disney animation sketches fetched thousands of dollars at Sotheby’s this summer, Walt Disney Pictures was drawing up an unusual plan to help hype the November release of its newest cartoon feature, Beauty and the Beast. ”There’s all this interest in animation art,” says Beast’s producer, Don Hahn. ”So we thought, why not show it as an unfinished piece, with some of the animators’ rough pencil drawings? It’s a chance for the audience to see it takes three or four hundred artists to handcraft these things.”
An early-draft sneak peak open to the public is unprecedented for Disney, as is the venue they’ve chosen for their rough Beast: this month’s New York Film Festival, traditionally a showcase for art-circuit fare. ”It’s a bold move,” says program director Richard Pena, ”but Disney knows that The Little Mermaid had a lot of grown-up fans.” Like Mermaid, Beast unfolds to a sophisticated, Broadway-style score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, a selling point Pena thinks Disney can use ”to pique even more adult interest.”
The intense publicity push is part of studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg’s ambitious animation schedule calling for major new releases each year. Next fall brings Aladdin, Menken and Ashman’s final collaboration, and though Disney won’t divulge details about subsequent projects, you can bet that an auctioneer’s gavel will someday fall on drawings used to create them.