If you're an artistic soul, there's a good chance the Art Academy series has something to offer. These titles have been a great resource for learning artistic techniques and offer a digital atelier for you to explore your creativity. Years of entries have allowed the series to hone an already strong foundation upon which to create all sorts of neat lessons. But, as any artist knows, painting fruit bowls for days on end can only do so well at drawing a crowd.
That's where licensing comes in. Disney Art Academy's stable of iconic characters are a great asset to get more people interested in learning about how to 'do' art. There's a real satisfaction in mastering how to draw these pop-culture titans, so if they can get butts in seats then all the better for art. Come for the Mickey, stay for the shading techniques.
The core of Disney Art Academy is the same as that found in other titles in this series; there are dozens of lessons to dive into that explore a wide range of topics. Many are fundamental techniques that can be applied to all sorts of art but are more easily demonstrated through specific components of Disney animation, like how facial symmetry or the use of angles can convey specific meaning in the subject. Completing lessons unlocks more stuff for Free Paint, a mode where you can do whatever you want with your canvas. If you're particularly proud of a piece, you can export it to your SD card or upload it to Miiverse for the world to see.
The artistic tools themselves are intuitive and do a good-enough job of bridging the gap between pen and stylus. The "undo" feature is a life-saver, the outline overlay options let you control how much guidance you want, and zooming in and out helps you juggle the details and the bigger picture. Of course, as the 3DS stylus is just a chunk of pointy plastic and the screen can't detect pressure, you won't get the same level of fidelity as you would with dedicated digital art hardware. What's here is probably about as good as can be reasonably expected for 10+-year-old tech and great work can certainly be done (take a browse through the Miiverse community to see some examples). The techniques you learn can be applied to virtually any visual art, so if you're itching for more control then you can carry over what you've learned to your medium of choice.
There's a loose narrative wrapped around everything to provide context which, in true video game fashion, is absolutely ludicrous. The island you're visiting is having an art show, but the show is apparently in real bad shape with nothing to display. So, naturally, it's up to a seeming novice to doodle the entire exhibit. Those are some pretty desperate organizers, and we pity the attendees for ponying up cash to see our rudimentary Donald Duck paintings.
Along with your instructor and avatar are two kiddos who ask tons of questions and make goofy jokes. We're cool with the questions because they're usually about techniques and mirror the sorts of things you might actually want to ask a real-life instructor. At the end of each lesson, the kids show off their own work of "art" with usually disastrous results. If anything, those works help make us feel a lot better about our lazy-eyed Ariel. Ridiculous scenario aside, the story is more distracting than anything if you're just in it for the art – the dialogue otherwise is forgettable and utterly skippable, and boy howdy is there a lot of it between (and during) lessons.
Your instructor is a helpful and informative guide during lessons, and will demonstrate step-by-step how to nail a given technique before handing over the brush to you. You can hammer through this advice if you're already comfortable with the technique or simply want to get on with it, but you can't request they just stop bugging you. Free Paint is void of these distractions, but there isn't much getting around it as you need to complete lessons to unlock more stuff there.
Disney Art Academy is a solid and inviting way to learn the fundamentals of artistic techniques. There's a real attraction in learning how to master these iconic characters – and while this title may primarily appeal to kids, there's certainly a lot to love here for grown-ups ready to supplement their adult colouring books with something that covers earlier steps in the creative process. The tools on offer may not be of the highest fidelity thanks to outdated hardware, but they are intelligently crafted to be more than adequate for exploring creativity or sparking a love of art. That's a net-win in our book.