Everybody seems to know Disney as the maker of animated films which end in happily ever after. The exhibition at ACMI that I attended on the weekend offered fascinating insight into the concept artwork , creative process and the final creation of well-known and much loved Disney animated characters that was categorised into eight separate areas. It is apparent even the animation industry is going through a significant shift from 2D to 3D as the digital world becomes all pervasive as it ranged from Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme based animation to the new Tangled movie that is loosely based on the tale of Rapunzel.
1. The Introduction
This area was devoted to explaining who Walt Disney was and illuminating us as to what his vision was when he decided to use old folk tales, legends, mythology and European fairy tales as inspiration for his animated artwork. Even though he lacked any formal education , visits to the public library where he read books on animation turned out to be immensely useful as they imparted the knowledge he desired. As he expressed, ” all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
This is where the audience is introduced to Mickey Mouse who happens to be an original character created by Disney to rival Felix the Cat , created by Pat Sullivan, and who arrived ahead of the full length fairy tale features. Within the exhibition area, we are treated to a film clip about Mickey that uses the concept of Jack and the Beanstalk. This was during the time he created features like The Three Little Pigs, The Ugly Duckling and The Country Cousin.
2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White, the original tale which derives from the Brother Grimm version from Germany, has a special place in motion picture history.
- It was the first full length cel animated feature in the world of movies.
- It was the first animated feature film produced in America.
- It was the first animated feature that was produced in full colour.
- It was the first animated full length feature produced by Walt Disney.
The transformation of the Wicked Queen from her usual appearance to ugly hag in her underground laboratory was the most complex level of animation undertaken at that stage. To achieve the voice changes, the actress Lucille La Verne who voiced the Queen removed her false teeth was an interesting tidbit I picked up.
Cinderella was in the next section of the exhibit and as inspiration was taken from the narrative popularised by French writer Charles Perrault, the story is very similar. Interestingly, live action models were used for this film and they were responsible for heavily influencing many of Cinderella’s mannerisms, especially Helene Stanley.
She had an even larger influence on Aurora (Briar Rose), who is otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. The earliest Cinderella story however comes from China and actually originated during the Tang dynasty.
4. Sleeping Beauty
This is a favourite Disney film of mine as it has a magnificent villain in the form of Maleficent (which aptly means evil-doer). So perhaps those who believe these classic animations are simply kiddie films and lack symbolism are in the wrong. Much of the Disney canon utilises myth and metaphor to a deeper extent if you look beyond the surface.
Aurora also happens to be my favourite princess although not my best loved Disney character . That title goes to the lovely Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame based on the novel of Victor Hugo, also the author of Les Miserables. The artwork in Sleeping Beauty happens to be amazing which comes as no surprise as it was influenced by medieval European history especially in dress design with a touch of 1950s glamour (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) and then topped off with a dash of Persian design in background illustration.
What I noticed from most of these were that the villains were mostly older women who had issues with other women being younger or prettier or more resourceful. If symbolism is present, what does that mean?
But then we come to the story of Beauty and the Beast which is a different affair completely.
To be Continued…