Montreal Museum Presents Sources Of Inspiration For Disney Studios

The first exhibition to explore the artistic influences behind the work of the legendary Walt Disney Studios is on view from March 8 to June 24, 2007, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).

In addition to demonstrating the rich – and often surprising – aesthetic and iconographic sources of Disney’s animated feature films, Once upon a Time Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios also illustrates how Disney’s films, in turn, became and continue to be an extraordinary inspiration for artists.

Once upon a Time Walt Disney has been organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, where it was on view at the Grand Palais from September 16, 2006, through January 15, 2007.

The MMFA is the only North American venue for the exhibition, which has been undertaken with the agreement and full co-operation of the Walt Disney Company.

Once upon a Time Walt Disney concentrates on the animated films produced under Walt Disney’s personal supervision, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to The Jungle Book, released in 1967, almost one year after Disney’s death.

The 1,400 square-meters exhibition comprises some 500 pieces, including original studio works from private collections and the Disney archives – on public view for the first time – as well as paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, film clips, models, prints, illustrated books and other unique, rarely seen objects.

Together, these reveal that the inspiration for the Disney Studios animated films lies in an eclectic range of Western European art, from Medieval manuscripts to Surrealist art, as well as in European literary works, architecture, films, music and landscapes.

Some thirty modern artworks based on Disney characters, created by a diverse group of artists, highlight the ongoing influence of the Disney Studios on contemporary culture.

Chief Curator of the exhibition Bruno Girveau, head of collections, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, states, “The immense and longstanding popularity of Disney animation has had the effect of ensuring Walt Disney’s position as a paragon of popular culture.

Yet by bringing Disney into a museum, this exhibition gives him a place among the major fine artists of the twentieth century. Indeed, Once upon a Time Walt Disney reveals both Disney’s genius and his aesthetic roots in the history of Western European art.

Moreover, in demonstrating the continuing influence of Disney’s creations on contemporary art and culture, the exhibition reveals that, even today, Walt Disney continues to occupy a position that straddles both fine and popular art, neither of them diminishing the other.

The exhibition’s co-curators are Guy Cogeval, former director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Pierre Lambert, author and historian of animated film; and scholar Dominique Païni, who studies the relationship between art and popular culture.

The Montreal presentation of this exhibition is organized under the supervision of MMFA Director Nathalie Bondil. The exhibition has been designed by Atelier Mendini, the renowned Milan-based design and architecture firm.

Background: Walt Disney And The Disney Studios

Walt Disney (1901-1966), who stands among the most celebrated creative figures of the twentieth century, was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901. The fourth of five children, Disney spent the formative years of his childhood in the rural town of Marceline, Missouri.

It was here that he saw his first movie and also encountered other arts, quickly developing a keen interest in drawing, painting and comic performance. In 1923, Disney joined his older brother Roy in Los Angeles, where they rented a small office and established the Disney Bros. Studio.

The brothers’ work began with a series of updated fairy tales that foreshadowed the immensely popular animated feature-films of their later Å“uvre. In 1924-1925, fellow cartoonist Ubbe “Ub” Iwerks (1901-71) and other artist friends joined the Disney brothers.

By 1927, the studio had tripled its space and Disney’s team of animators had grown considerably. In 1928, Iwerks created the first sketches of what would become Mickey Mouse. Later that year, Disney produced Steamboat Willie, the first animated short with synchronized sound effects and music.

By the 1930s, the film’s star, Mickey Mouse, had become an international celebrity and the Walt Disney Company, as it was now called, had secured a two-year contract with Technicolor.

The first-ever Technicolor cartoon was Disney’s 1932 Flowers and Trees, which earned his company its first Academy Award for Best Cartoon Subject. One of the milestones in the history of the Disney Studios was a trip to Europe that Walt and Roy Disney made in 1935.

Their objective was to acquire the largest possible number of illustrated publications in order to build an archive of images to be used as source material for their drawings and cinematographic creations.

Indeed, the treasure-trove of imagery that they gathered from more than 300 French, German and Italian books, along with the look and feel of the landscape, architecture and historic sites that they visited in such countries as France, Italy, Switzerland, England and Holland, yielded an entire aesthetic that informed the early animated feature films.

The first of these features, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered in Los Angeles in 1937. Despite the Depression, Disney invested $1.4 million in this production.

Its international success provided the studio with the support to forge ahead with four other major productions: Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).

By this time, the Disney crew had relocated to the new Burbank Studio and had grown to include more than 1,000 animators, story writers and technicians. In July 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.

By the time Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, his studios had produced 18 full-length animated features, 493 short films, 81 live-action movies, 325 hours of Mickey Mouse Club television programs and 358 other television shows, and Disney and his team had received more than 950 honors and citations, including 48 Academy Awards and seven Emmys. —

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Written By James Huliq

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