A Look Inside The Met’s Disney Exhibition

Disneyland Paris

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, Disneyland Paris, 1988 – Frank Armitage – Gouache and acrylic on board 45 x 21 in. – Walt Disney Imagineering Collection © Disney

This is The Met’s first exhibition on Walt Disney’s cartoon film history, but it is not the first time artwork from The Mouse House has hung inside the most prestigious museum in the world.

Walt Disney’s first film was Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, released in technicolor in 1937. A feature length animated film in technicolor was a daring enterprise no other studio had attempted before. It’s easy to understand the hesitation. To convince the human eye, any fully animated feature film would require 24 individually animated frames for every one second of film. Over the course of Snow White, that amounted to half a million hand-painted images.

Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present) Covered vase in the form of a tower, ca. 1762 Soft-paste porcelain
20 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. (52.1 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm.)The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA, The Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. Image courtesy of the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California

In 1938, following tremendous commercial and critical success, an animation cell depicting two vultures from Snow White was donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Suddenly, a piece from a Walt Disney cartoon hung alongside the greatest masterpieces ever created by the greatest artists who ever lived. No board members quit in protest but a debate was sparked which still rages today: Is Disney art?

Sleeping Beauty by Eyvind Earle_Disney

Sleeping Beauty, 1959 – Eyvind Earle (American, 1916–2000) – Concept art – Gouache on board – 12 × 30 in. (30.5 × 76.2 cm) – Walt Disney Animation Research Library © Disney

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The exhibit feels comfortable and contained and tight as winding corridors guide us through time. We begin our journey with home movies from a 17-year-old Walt Disney, an army pilot stationed in Paris. In that same instant, we brush past his ornate collections of miniatures and thumbed-through antique books of colorfully illustrated fairy tales. We traverse through his early trials and animated experiments, onward to his first major success, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. From there, we hop through time until we conclude our brief journey at the Academy Award Winning film, Beauty and The Beast.

Beauty and the Beast, 1991 -Mel Shaw (American, 1914–2012) Concept art – Pastel on board – 16 1/2 × 23 3/8 in. (41.9 × 59.4 cm) – Walt Disney Animation Research Library © Disney

Inspiring Walt Disney, The Animation of French Decorative Arts at The Met is the perfect way to add substance to the conversation of what defines art in a meaningful way without becoming too glib. It allows us all an opportunity to take a more nuanced glance at the tastes and inspirations which led to Disney’s work and cultural impact. In his catalogue of work, even when teapots aren’t singing, furniture breathes. And we witness a persistent child-like desire fixated on revealing a soul to more than what we’re willing to acknowledge. Learn more about the exhibit here.


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