REVIEW: Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts, Wallace Collection

Having originally been on display in New York’s Met Museum, this fascinating and joyous exhibition wonderfully combines the worlds created by Disney and the European world they were inspired by.

Cinderella, 1950, by Disney concept artist Mary Blair. Photograph: Lucasfilm Ltd

Focusing on the worlds created for Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, this dazzling and intricate exhibition really captures the detail as to how Disney and his animators were inspired by 18th century French artefacts and designs to bring these classic fairytales to life and is a must see for those who love Disney, fascinated by the animation process or simply want to see how pieces of film history came about.

Bringing together rococo works of art, created for the European elite and 20th century animated films created for the wider public might seem a bit far fetched, but the further you delve into this exhibition – the closer you can see how much influence one had on the other. In particular, seeing early concept drawings of the architecture to create the haunting castle that was to become the Beast’s home and the drawings in which animators described and examined the way in which particular objects would look like as humans are particularly fascinating to study.

Concept art for Beauty and the Beast (c) Lucasfilm Ltd./Disney

While much of the exhibition’s focus is on Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, references to other Disney films are dotted throughout the exhibition – for example it was a delight to see the drawings for the magic carpet from Aladdin and the variety of ‘expressions’ and moods the animators clearly had fun in coming up the concept for. Elsewhere, there is a lovely reference to the Wallace Collection’s own Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s suggestive painting The Swing (1767-8) – which was used to inspire a few sequences in Disney films – but was only finally used in the 2013 film Frozen.

The exhibition has a nice balance between focusing on the Disney aspect and highlighting how an anthropomorphic quality can be discovered in many of the Rococo objects displayed – including milk jugs, gorgeously designed tables and mantel clocks. There is a real sophisticated elegance to the whole exhibition and the way in which it is displayed. Through each object and drawing selected, you can see how Disney’s fascination with European culture had a strong influence on his early work – that then continued long after he died to continue to inspire the company.

A particular highlight is seeing the 24 individual hand drawn images of Cinderella being transformed from rags to a beautiful ballgown – a sequence that lasts for a few seconds on film – but incredibly took a lot of time and patience to achieve in terms of concept. The attention to detail and artistry on display is truly incredible. Elsewhere, I adored Mary Blair’s concept art for Cinderella which is bold, colourful and unique – even if her figures didn’t quite work for the final film.

Overall, there is much to delight and appreciate in this exhibition – which is ideally placed in the Wallace Collection,having many delightful objects of its own that make the collection itself feel like an extension of the exhibition itself. There is certainly no denying the skill and artistry that is on display in Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts that will dazzle you from start to finish.

By Emma Clarendon

Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts is on display at the Wallace Collection until the 16th October.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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