For many, many years now, animation fans have known that Glen Keane, one of the greatest Disney animators from the studio's second golden age, has harboured ambitions to realise one movie in particular. Here's how he expressed his enthusiasm in a 1997 interview:
The subject of my personal project is very important, that's why I have not done it. It is to animate to the 9th symphony of Beethoven. I have been wanting to animate to Beethoven's 9th since I heard it. But it's such an incredibly amazing piece of music that I think I am intimidated by it.
An animated realisation of a symphony would, of course, be rather similar to the Fantasia films, at least in its underlying premise of setting toons to classic music. Of course, there would be none of the skipping from one composer to another, likely no interludes with addresses to camera, and there might even be a more singular style.
But, yeah, in many respects, this would be like taking another step along the Fantasia path. Indeed, Keane pitched Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's 9th, as a section of Fantasia 2000, but it was rejected in favour of using Beethoven's 5th in the film's opening.
Not many can imagine Disney rushing another film in this rather esoteric style into cinemas any time soon. Neither of the original films proved to be much of a success at the time of their original release, and Fantasia 2000 is still some way from being a gold spinner for the studio.
But personally, I could see John Lasseter and co. giving this kind of project their blessing if pitched a good, solid central thread, and perhaps some compelling characters that would hold it all together in a (fairly conventional) narrative fashion.
Keane was first talking about leaving Disney a good year or so before his resignation letter arrived, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he spent some of that time developing and pitching this project to the studio. Could it be that the catalyst for his eventual departure was Disney's decision not to give Beethoven's 9th the thumbs up?
Disney blogger Jim Hill has this weekend mentioned, in passing, some unnamed and unsourced "reports" that Keane has indeed left the studio to work on this particular film.
I read this reference on Hill's site yesterday, and set about digging. The "buzz" is definitely that Keane has decided the time is right, and he'd like to move forward on the film.
If Keane has another studio backing him, nobody could tell me which one, but those who had some understanding said that Keane wasn't "necessarily" looking for the film to be executed in "traditional" hand drawn animation.
There are some very carefully chosen words going around. Hopefully we'll see some of the facts nailed down soon.
In the meantime, let's enjoy some of Keane's work in pencil form. Here's a little of the climax to Beauty and the Beast.