Dreams Come True: Disney At ACMI

For so many of us, Disney films defined our childhood. The animated films were our introduction to the land of fairy tales (albeit bastardised versions of the originals), and in some (naïve) instances, our first insight into the notion of ‘true love’.
The ubiquity of Disney, and in fact, the ubiquity of anything, can often lead to the under-appreciation for something. At the time we experienced our first Disney film only the storyline mattered, or the characters, or the wonderfully melodious songs, such that the laborious process of bringing the whole feature together was often overlooked. However, a few numerical facts might remedy that.
Before the digital age, many old-school Disney films often required 24 sketches to create one second of film. This meant that an entire movie could consist of up to a million sketches - hand drawn, no less. Bambi, for instance, created footage that stretched 6,259 feet. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Walt Disney Research Library hosts up to 60 million artworks.
In November, Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairy Tales will be coming to ACMI. After 70 years of animated films, Disney will be showcasing some of their most prized artworks dug up from their archive vault. The exhibition, conceived by Chief Creative Officer of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter, made its debut in New Orleans to raise money in aid of Hurricane Katrina victims.
Dreams Come True is an exhibition about the art that was used to create the fairy tales,” says Lella Smith, archivist and curator of the exhibition. “It is a story that has never been told like this because no one has ever gone back and looked through traditional tales, and compared the Disney version to the traditional version.”
In preparation to Dreams Come True, Smith and her team spent months researching different interpretations of classic fairy tales. Cinderella, for example, had roughly 1,500 different tellings. “That really just fired my enthusiasm for the project because the stories were so different, and for people to criticise Walt Disney for making changes was kind of laughable,” says Smith. “It was really the fairy tales that seemed to capture Walt’s imagination, especially when he moved into the feature films. They were the easiest to use because they had fully developed plots, and they had good villains and lots of interesting characters,” explains Smith.
“I began to research why some of the changes were made by Walt Disney by looking through documents and archives, and then we began to look through the art.” To date, Disney is one of the only major studios that still have hard copies of art works in store. The large archive contains many works that never made it to film. Thus Dreams Come True is probably best described as an exhibition that features a collection of ‘DVD bonus extras’, so to speak, from all the Disney feature films.
“We wanted to tell the stories through the art, and the art is exquisitely beautiful,” says Smith. “It doesn’t look like the cartoons; you may have Snow White as a redhead or a blond. In one of the pictures in the exhibition we call her goldilocks Snow White because she had long, blond hair. You’re going to see lots and lots of art that shows the development of the characters, the location, the lighting; you’ll see backgrounds that were used, as well as backgrounds that were not used. You’ll see a couple of stories that didn’t end up in the show…You’re really going to get exposed to a lot of the art that goes into making up the film.”
Smith will also be presenting two talks at the ACMI: one on the Disney Animation Research Library, and another in which she’ll discuss her curatorial focus. “Roy Conli, the producer of Tangled is coming along with Glenn Keane who was the supervising animator for Tangled,” says Smith. Both Conli and Keane will discuss the process of creating the many memorable characters and moments in Disney films.
Tangled, the latest but yet to be released Disney film is a retelling of the tale of Rapunzel. Though you won’t get the chance to see the film itself, patrons can witness the art of Tangled at Dreams Come True. The film, though created digitally, pays tribute to the old artistry of fairy tales like Cinderella. In fact, Tangled has become Smith’s new favourite Disney film. As for her favourite pieces from the exhibition: “I think it’s probably the art of art director, Eyvind Earle, the art director on Sleeping Beauty. I think those are the most beautiful pieces in our collection,” she says. “I think Walt Disney’s desire was to celebrate the beautiful artistry… His whole thing was to make the films beautiful and appealing to families. I think you would be astounded at just how beautiful the art is and how unusual it is. It won’t look like the final films. It will be like classical art.”
Disney’s Dreams Come True exhibition opens at ACMI on Thursday November 18 and will run until Tuesday April 26. Tickets are $12/$16 and you can buy them online at acmi.net.au.