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Throughout his life, Walt Disney drew on French culture and heritage when making his animated pictures. In New York, an exhibition opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looks for the first time at the influence of European decorative arts on the cartoons that marked our childhood.
"Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts" features 60 works of 18th-century European decorative arts and design, including tapestries, Boulle clocks and Sèvres porcelain. They are presented alongside hundreds of production drawings and works on paper from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library, the Walt Disney Archives, the Walt Disney Imagineering Collection and the Walt Disney Family Museum.
The exhibits let Met visitors explore the many references to European visual culture that are hidden in Disney animated movies. For example, Walt Disney peppered "Cinderella" with numerous nods to neo-Gothic architecture, while "Beauty and the Beast" drew inspiration from the Rococo style.
An entire section of the exhibition is devoted to this Disney Studios animated classic. Walt Disney had proposed adapting the fairy tale, presented in its first modern version by the novelist Suzanne-Gabrielle Barbot de Villeneuve, from the 1940s. But it was not until 1991 that "Beauty and the Beast" was released in theaters. "Inspiring Walt Disney" displays a selection of preparatory sketches for the film, as well as clocks, candlesticks and teapots from the 18th century, evoking the characters of Lumière, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts. These objects illustrate how Disney's animators, and Rococo artists, sought to breathe life into what is essentially inanimate.
"Both Disney animated films and Rococo decorative works of art are infused with elements of playful storytelling, delight, and wonder," said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. "Eighteenth-century craftspeople and 20th-century animators alike sought to ignite feelings of excitement, awe, and marvel in their respective audiences. Through exquisite objects and Disney artifacts, this exhibition will provide an unprecedented look at the impact of French art on Disney Studios productions from the 1930s to almost the present day."
Walt Disney had a very personal relationship with France, one of the homelands of his ancestors along with Ireland. His repeated trips to Europe not only strongly inspired his audiovisual creations, but also sparked his passion for collecting and building miniature furniture and dollhouses. A selection of these miniature objects will also be on display, along with personal films of Disney and his family visiting Paris and Versailles.
Visitors to New York's Met can catch "Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts" December 10, 2021, to March 6, 2022.