When I was younger, I loved to draw. I’d make my own comic books with cartoon characters I’d imagined in my head—granted, they were almost always stick people with spiky hair. My parents noticed my love for art, and enlisted me in a cartoon-drawing course at our local community centre. Every Sunday, I’d go to class and learn to draw some of my favourite characters like SpongeBob Squarepants and Homer Simpson. Much like a real art course, Disney Art Academy teaches artistic skills and presents them in an easily accessible format.
In Disney Art Academy, players join a summer camp-esque art club to learn how to draw their favourite Disney characters. I’ll be honest: No matter how much I loved my Disney childhood, the premise of tracing and colouring Disney characters sounded boring. If executed improperly, this game could have been boring; but I actually caught myself smiling while colouring Mike Wazowski’s egg-shaped body, or learning shading techniques by blending the blues of Sadness’ hair.
Disney Art Academy makes learning complicated techniques and styles simpler through a series of lame jokes and Disney fun facts (like character origins). Before beginning each lesson, the professor will usually give a brief history or drop a fun fact about each character, and then explain why that specific character is good for learning a certain technique. While Frozen’s Olaf was great for learning facial expressions, he isn’t exactly colourful. Most colour blending lessons focused on more vibrant characters like Finding Nemo’s Dory. Each lesson was engaging and easy-to-learn, and the final products were usually reminiscent of some of my favourite Disney characters. My Cheshire Cat’s smile was a little too jagged though…
…But I can go back and fix it at any time. If I’m not satisfied with my artwork at the end of a lesson, I can take the picture over to the free drawing mode. While free drawing, all tools and abilities are unlocked, so it’s easy to make any character to look exactly how you want them to, for better or worse.
Perhaps the best feature of Disney Art Academy is how uncompromisingly encouraging it is. No matter how terrible your rendition of Mickey Mouse is, your professors will praise your work. Better yet, the other students in the club are awful. Even if your artwork of Stitch looks like a 50-shades-of-blue potato (like mine did), I can almost guarantee the other students’ work is much worse. In the more difficult lessons, this can be a much-needed confidence boost.
However, therein lies a major flaw: a lack of constructive criticism. There’s no grading or rating system, so whether your Nemo looks like a melted creamsicle or the most handsome clownfish that ever lived, you’re going to get a “good job!”
While the encouragement is welcome and necessary for the intended audience, it’s no excuse for the lack of progression and improvement that is woefully lacking in the professor’s feedback. While the do-no-wrong attitude certainly makes me feel like a modern-day Walt Disney, it doesn’t give me a reason to go back and improve on previous works. The creative freedom present in Disney Art Academy is wonderful and refreshing, but it feels like there is no reason to try and improve. There should be a balance between positive reinforcement and constructive criticism, but Disney Art Academy hasn’t found it.
Despite the lack of meaningful instructor commentary, the game teaches various artistic terminology and techniques in a gradually challenging way. The lessons tend to baby players at first, often over-simplifying artistic concepts. As the lessons become more complicated, new tools and techniques gradually become available, and necessary. My favourite example of this is using and combining character expressions. The professor, with the help of a rather gleeful Olaf, teaches players that there are four key character expressions: happy, sad, angry and surprised. Any other facial expressions are just a combination of them. It’s fun facts like this that kept me pressing onward in the main campaign, because I was actually learning.
While Disney Art Academy is lacking in structure, it is certainly a fun experience. On the New Nintendo 3DS XL, it feels like I’m using an actual artist’s tablet, and I can be as precise as I’d like to be when perfecting the details of Disney’s characters. Disney Art Academy truly shines the moment it all comes together. After seemingly pointless detailing and random brush strokes, my smiling, leather-clad carrot-looking sketch started to look like Toy Story’s Woody. I’ll admit that I felt pride when I finished some of the harder lessons, and it made me understand how each small change helps develop a portrait. For the artistic lessons and fun, Disney-themed content this game offers, it’s a much more cost-effective and accessible alternative to a community centre art course.