Walt Disney exhibit illustrates the collective collaboration of geniuses

Last Thursday, 4,000 people piled into a priceless exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Featuring the story behind the stories that circled the world through Disney’s animation, this North American premier showing — with Montreal as its exclusive host abroad — originated at the Grand Palais in Paris. Titled ‘Once upon a time Walt Disney: the Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios’, it is a must for lovers of art in all its forms with Disney at the helm.

In Steamboat Willie, created in 1928, Mickey Mouse made his first star appearance. At the exhibit, this vintage film clip is shown on a huge pleated white curtain — the first film to greet the viewer as he enters into the world of Disney. That’s when you know what’s to follow will set you off down

memory lane, and it is a remarkably unique one, where historical sources — both pictorial and literary — were used to create Disney world innovation, resounding in scenic artistry.

The presentation featured story boards, books, films, paintings, drawings, photos, collectibles, even Walt’s winnings, including his1938 Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – complete with seven little Oscars beside the big one. It wasn’t only the animation clips that were a delight to behold, but most importantly, the archival treasure trove of films and century-old books that graphically and directly showed the viewer where Disney pulled his sources for inspiration. More than 500 pieces tell the story behind Disney’s classic pictures, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi and more.

“I think that the importance of this exhibit is to be able to see side-by-side, beautiful works of art that ended up being reinvented by Disney’s animators to produce the classics we’ve come to know,” said Roxana Irigoyen, from NDG, a television and film prop buyer who greatly appreciated the artistic treats she got in the exhibit. “I got to see some beautiful pieces from the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Mélisande by Marianne Stoker. It was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, among others.” Interestingly, that painting was made in 1895, and it took 36 years for it to make its legendary animation mark.

“I loved seeing all the art that came with this. It was fun to see these real pieces and how they ended up in film.”

Disney, aside from being a trained animator, was a collector, and it was his trip to Europe that empassioned him; he loved the German Expressionist filmmakers and even brought back many European illustrators (Albert Hurter) to work in his studio. He also brought back countless vintage books by the greats, including Brothers Grimm, Beatrix Potter, Aesop, works that featured illustrators Gustave Doré and Rackham as well as Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, illustrated by Attilio. These books were priceless in themselves.

Likewise, watch King Kong, made in 1933, and it becomes The Pet Store with Mickey Mouse; in 1936 Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin — another inspiration for The Walt — became Modern Inventions a year later. Fantasia drew on many sources. Take a look at the film Faust, made in 1926 , and then directly beside it is Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia (1940). The parallels are dazzling. This part of the exhibit continues with art, one of my favourite being the moody red gouache used in Fantasia’s The Rite of Spring: The Desert.

The stunning 15th Century black-and-white scroll of a forest scene ended up in Bambi.

NDGer, Yang Du grew up on Walt Disney in China. “I read a lot about Disney and how he first met Mickey Mouse. There were two mice at a farm he was living in. Mickey and Minnie were born. Seeing this exhibit brought everything in living colour to me. I learned so much. I myself love to draw in animation style, and I think it was Walt Disney that got me started.”

NDG’s Elizabeth Mostovac together with her young grandchildren Evan, six, and Sennah, eight, loved the film segments. “Mickey Mouse in all his forms delighted the kids. I really enjoyed the way the exhibit interwove Disney’s work and the stories and art that inspired him.”

Vanessa Hamilton, dancer and founder of the Montreal West School of Dance, made a comment as timeless as all those brilliant Disney films. “My mentors were Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham. Like Disney, they were not afraid to reinvent. They were not ashamed to take risks. They were inspired to go out of the box. That’s what I think Walt Disney did, and I greatly admire that.”

The grand finale for the exhibit is a1946 film collaboration between Salvador Dali and Disney. It is a remarkable piece of animation that foreshadows the sublime yet absurd realms that genius can attain. The effect is mesmerizing. Called Destino, the six-minute film is a masterpiece that reminds us that genius inspires other geniuses to carry on in new ways.

Indeed, Mickey will always be the most memorable mouse in history.


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