Christian Animator Leaves Disney to Focus on the Good, True, Beautiful
By Cooper Dowd, Staff Writer
Former Disney animator Glen Keane directed OVER THE MOON and saw it as an opportunity to present something that would bless viewers.
“Well, for Glen Keane Productions, we want to make films that are good, true and beautiful,” Keane said. “Those are defining characteristics of what we’re doing. And I really do believe that we are in partnership with blessing, that what we do, can touch people’s lives in ways that we aren’t even aware. We need to do [and] to be the best at what we do. If you’re an artist, if you’re a director, if you’re a musician, you grow in your skill and you put every ounce of energy you have into honing and refining this skill.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and other personal struggles, Keane is thankful that, “Of all years …this is the year this movie was made.”
Although the movie marks Keane’s first directorial role, he worked as an animator on classic Disney movies such as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN. After working with Disney for roughly 37 years, Keane felt called to pursue storytelling outside of the company.
“Well, I had spent a career at Disney doing so many different characters like Ariel, the Beast and Aladdin,” Keane told Movieguide®. “But at a certain point, I felt like something else was calling to me, but I didn’t know what it was. And I’d never find it if I didn’t step out of what was a really wonderful career and comfortable place.
“So I did, I left Disney,” Keane continued. “And the amazing thing is that what I found myself doing was taking the things that I learned at Disney and bringing them to new places; taking animation to stories and places that really were going to define a new way of thinking about animation. And Netflix has become this amazing new crossroads of animation for people from all around the world with creative freedom. But what you need are great stories.”
Keane calls himself a child at heart, and it is his goal to tell stories that encourage children and families through biblical themes. Keane believes that great storytelling requires great stories and also a person’s resolution to be the best at what they do.
It should be noted that while there are many family values in OVER THE MOON, the movie contains significant worldview problems.
OVER THE MOON follows a 12-year-old Chinese girl named Fei Fei, who faces the hardship of her mother’s death. She decides to construct a rocket to the moon to prove to her father that the fairytales her mother told her as a kid are real. Keane said that he felt born to bring the character of Fei Fei to life.
“When reading the script, I felt like Fei Fei was a character that I just knew and I could not wait to crawl into her head and animate her,” Keane recalled. “Even though I wouldn’t be the animator I’d be the director. But still, I guess, to bring her to life was my goal.”
Keane continued: “There’s this wonderful 12-year-old little girl in China and she [has] razor-sharp intelligence. She’s scientific, she knows about physics and everything that she needs to build a rocket to the moon. That’s kind of like her dad, very scientific. And then her mom is somebody who sees with her heart and her imagination and is giving Fei Fei this faith. And you have this girl who is going to be both sides of that. And I just felt like I was born to direct this movie.”
Despite the heavier themes of loss, Keane is adamant about the uplifting themes of healing, friendship, and family that permeate the story and the power that can have in a child’s life who is watching the movie.
“Think about the kids in the world today, and how many children go through not only the loss of a parent, by death to an illness but by divorce and dealing with change and loss,” Keane said. “I know that little kids are gonna relate to that true feeling from Fei Fei. Because Fei Fei is not an animated character to them. They are relating to her, She’s real. Everything that Fei Fei goes through, they go through together. So she is taking them on a journey of healing, and how to move through pain; [and] that is just illustrated in such powerful ways.”
At the core of Keane’s love for animation, storytelling, and encouraging children is a deeply rooted faith in God.
The Gideons International reported on Keane’s journey to faith, after he witnessed fellow animator, Ron Husband, reading his Bible during lunch breaks at Disney: “Glen had never seen anyone willingly read a Bible, and he was impressed with the dedication of this man. When the time came to split the trainees into pairs, Glen was matched with this same man—Ron Husband, or ‘Huz’ as he was known.”
Husband shared the Gospel with Keane, who recalls the moment he decided he wanted to follow Jesus.
“I remember like it was yesterday walking across the crosswalk reading John 3:16, and by the time I had reached the other side, I believed the words were real. I knew right then I would trust in Jesus, not in myself, for the rest of my life. I walked back into the studio an entirely new person,” Keane told Gideons International in an interview.
Keane’s faith immediately showed in his work. While animating the “transformation” scene in THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Keane relied heavily on his own conversion experience.
“When I was creating the transformation scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast, I had 2 Corinthians 5:17 written on my sketches. I really wanted to capture on paper the emotion of a new creation—of having this prince inside wanting to break free and bring redemption to the old creature,” Keane said in an interview.
Though there are also redemptive elements in OVER THE MOON, it is not appropriate for young children. Check back to movieguide.org for the full review in the coming weeks.