When 2-year-old Gabriella Angelina Bommino died of leukemia, her parents despaired that “we would never know what our daughter would look like when she was older.” Through the work of Disney animators, however, the Bommino family did get to see an artist’s impression of what Gabriella would have looked like as a teenager. The studio introduced a hearing-impaired character in its cartoon series with a tribute to the little girl who may have been mermaid Ariel’s biggest fan. “We didn’t have a name or a face for the character, and when we heard about Gabriella, it all fit together,” Mermaid writer and producer Patsy Cameron said. Using a photograph, animators took the girl’s features and made them those of Ariel’s new friend, who was named Gabriella in her honor. The Bomminos, devout Catholics, see the event as “a way the Lord is showing us what she would look like.”
For five months, while she endured painful bone-marrow tests and treatments, Gabriella watched Mermaid 3 or 4 times a day. It so happened that she was being treated at Children’s Hospital in San Diego and that Cameron had done volunteer work there as a teenager. Cameron decided to visit the hospital and called the Child-Life Program offering to bring copies of a children’s book she’d written and Mermaid mementos. “I immediately thought of Gabriella,” Child-Life program specialist Kathy Blue said. “I watched the movie so many times with her. She knew all the lyrics to the songs and could sing along with them and would dance to the tape.” By the time Cameron arrived at the hospital, however, Gabriella had been sent home to spend her last few days with her family. She died shortly after.
“That Friday she came home, the Make-a-Wish Foundation had a party for her, with everything to do with Mermaid--every gift you could imagine,” Bommino said. “She continued to watch the tape over and over again. She sang and danced every day up until a week before she passed away, but even then she would still try to sing along.” Meanwhile, Cameron and her partners, Tedd Anasti and Jamie Mitchell, were so moved by Gabriella’s story and her affection for Mermaid that they decided, with the Bomminos’ permission, to incorporate her in their series.
THE LITTLE MERMAID SERIES (1992-94).
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