If an animated movie is beloved, there's a good chance Glen Keane had a hand in bringing it to life. A bona fide Disney Legend, Keane has worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, among others, before venturing out to direct Netflix's Over the Moon.
In 2018, he won his first Oscar with Kobe Bryant for their animated short, Dear Basketball. It is a storied career that's spanned nearly half a century, but whose inspiration began much, much earlier.
"When I was a kid, I would do drawings not so much to do a drawing on paper but to make the paper, in effect, go away," Keane tells A.frame. "I wanted to create a world I could step into, that I could live in and imagine was real. I love each one of these five films because I can't help but become lost in them. They capture my imagination and inspire me."
Below, Keane reveals the five films that have most influenced his animation.
I often dream of flying, and it's just the most wonderful experience. When Peter Pan steps out the window with Wendy and the boys and you hear, "Zoom, zoom, zoom, when there's a song in your heart...," my heart sours. I absolutely love flying over the clouds of London towards Neverland. I am transported to a childhood Adventureland. To me, that movie captures everything that I love in animation.
It is the music, Mary Blair's colors, and above all the masterful animation of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men at the height of their powers. It takes you to a fantasy world that feels true and real and believable. That was the same with The Little Mermaid, of Ariel longing for the impossible, and Fei Fei going to the moon [in Over the Moon]. It's been such a big part of my career. This is the quintessential magic of childhood movies.
My family and I moved to France for about four years and the experience of Amélie captured the magic of that time for me. There's something about what [Jean-Pierre] Jeunet did in creating the fantasy world of this girl. It really is a world through Amélie's eyes. It's very much about animating or living in the skin of somebody. I feel like I really know that girl. I know who she is, how she feels, her perspective.
There's this incredible, wonderful moment of Amélie touching people, realizing that she has an impact on others. She takes the hand of a blind man and starts describing to him everything that's happening—the people that are arguing about flowers over here and whatnot—and then goes on down the sidewalk. And Jeunet moves the camera so it's looking straight down on the blind man as he looks up, and light shines out from his thankful heart. I just love the freedom of storytelling that Jeunet had in that film.
My dad was a cartoonist and he did a comic strip called The Family Circus based on our family—I was the kid Billy in that comic—but he always said, "I'm not trying to do something really funny. I'm trying to do something that people identify with and go, 'Oh, I know what that's like!'" His cartoons are on so many refrigerator doors around the world, and for him, that was better than any museum because people connected with it. Totoro was like that for me.
Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece is a tour de force of the infinitely thin veil separating the world of reality from that of the equally real world of a child's imagination. He took simple things and celebrated them. There's a moment where a 13-year-old girl and her little 5-year-old sister are waiting to for a bus—turns out, it's a crazy cat bus—but as they're waiting, it starts to rain. The girl opens her umbrella, and her little sister's on her back and sliding off her and she has to scoot her up without waking her, and you're hearing the drip, drop of the rain on the umbrella. It's such an incredibly real moment. The love between these two sisters. It's something you identify with and go, 'I know what that feels like.'
It took Frédéric Back five years to animate this short 20-minute-long film about a man who brings back a desolate region in France by planting seeds. The villages that had been abandoned come back, water starts flowing again, and it's really a film about transformation and the impact we can have on the world around us. But he did it in such a beautiful way. He animated it all on tiny little frosted cells with Prisma color, and it looks like a Monet painting. It's one of the greatest works of animation art in history.
No one really knows that much about it now, but I guarantee in 200 years, this will be like Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre. Frédéric Back became a hero for me. I visited him up in Quebec and talked to him about animation and he was always saying, "Glen, there's got to be a way for artists like you to express themselves personally in animation. It's not about selling a movie. This is about communicating your soul." That's what that film is for me. It's a reminder of what I want to be as an artist.
Man, Baz Luhrmann is so bold and inventive in the way he takes a real place like Paris and makes it become a fantasy. He has such freedom of creative license. If he wants his main character to stand on a rooftop and to be singing and have the moon sing back to him, he does it. And I just thought, animation really should have that kind of freedom. It felt more like an animated movie than animated movies. I was absolutely inspired to follow that course myself.