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Toon Tuesday: Disney’s “Dreams Come True” now drawing to a close at the New Orleans Museum of Art

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Toon Tuesday: Disney’s “Dreams Come True” now drawing to a close at the New Orleans Museum of Art

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To hear Lella Smith, Creative Director of the Animation Research Library, tell this particular once-upon-a-time, it was John Lasseter who actually came up with the concept for this one-of-a-kind celebration of Disney fairy tale art.

John Lasseter, John Musker and Ron Clements
(L to R) John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar & Walt Disney
Animation Studios; and John Musker & Ron Clements, co-directors of
“The Princess and the Frog.” Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

"New Orleans is John's favorite city,” Ms. Smith explained. “And after Hurricane Katrina as well as all the hospitality that the City of New Orleans showed the ‘Princess and the Frog’ creative team while they were down there doing research, he wanted to show his appreciation, give something back. Which is when John came up with the idea of putting together the 'Dreams Come True' exhibit.”

Mind you, the ARL has previously loaned out some of its animation treasures (And given that this Glendale-based facility currently has over 60 million pieces of Disney-related artwork in storage … Well, they do have a few to spare). But never before have this many pieces (i.e. 600 sketches and animation stills) been on display all in one place.

Catalog cover for the Dreams Come True Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio exhibit at the NOMA
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And when it came down to selecting exactly which pieces of art would be featured in the “Dreams Come True: Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio” exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art … Well, to quote Lella:

“It was hell. We initially selected 1300 pieces to be in this show. But then we kept winnowing them down, trying to focus in on what this exhibit was really about. Which was celebrating the fairy tale films that Walt Disney Studios had produced over the past 80 years.”

Which – for the “Dreams Come True” exhibit – meant that Smith and her team had to go all the way back to the Silly Symphonies. Digging down deep into the ARL’s flat files to unearth drawings & artwork from 1933’s “Three Little Pigs” and 1939’s “The Ugly Duckling.”

The wolf from the Disney Cartoon 3 Little Pigs
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But there’s more to the ARL’s “Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio” exhibit than just artwork from the Studio's celebrated shorts & features. Lella also made an effort to use this exhibition to address a complaint that academics have continually made about Disney’s animated features.

“There have always been those who complained about the Disney version of fairy tales, how the Studio supposedly tried to change things, clean things up for the movie version of these classic stories,” Smith said. “Well, I re-read all of these fairy tales as I was prepping this exhibit. And let me tell you that – for each of these stories – there were already multiple versions out on the marketplace before the Disney version ever came along. And each of these fairy tales’ storylines would change depending on which author was telling the story, what decade that book was published in, even which company was publishing what edition of each book. So Walt Disney wasn’t the first person to ever make changes to these fairy tales. The times – more importantly, the social mores of that particular time period – determined how that fairy tale was told.”

Disney fairy tale illustration
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

More to the point, Lella defended many of the changes that the Studio made as it was producing movie versions of this classic stories.

“Take – for instance – Cinderella. In a book, you can go on for pages about how good & kind & gentle this character is. But in a movie, you actually have to show the audience how a character behaves,” Smith continued. “So when Disney showed Cinderella interacting with her animal friends, feeding the birds, freeing the mice from those traps, that goes a long way toward establishing the type of person Cinderella really is. Which is why the audience was pleased when all of her goodness & kindness was ultimately rewarded.”

Mary Blair concept art - Cinerella's coach awaits
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of goodness and kindness … If you were to ask Ms. Smith what her favorite aspect of this “Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio” exhibit was, she wouldn’t point to any one piece of artwork. But – rather – she'd talk about the community outreach program that The Walt Disney Company created in order to help support this particular exhibit at the NOMA.

“Disney put the funding in place to bring 12,000 school children in from the New Orleans area to come see the ‘Dreams Come True’ exhibit,” Lella explained. “The Company paid to have them bussed in, covered the cost of their admission. And given that many of the schools down there don’t have any money in their budgets for extra-curricular activities … Well, this was the first field trip that many of these kids had been on since 2005. And the NOMA staffers just raved about how great it was to have kids in the museum again.”

Tiana looks out at the stars and dreams of her future in Disney's "The Princess and the Frog"
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Ah, but like with all good fairy tales, this magical experience must come to an end someday. And when it comes to “Dreams Come True: Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio,” this NOMA exhibit – John Lasseter’s present to the City of New Orleans -- must close on March 14th.

But the good news is – once it completes its run at the NOMA – “Dreams Come True” is then headed down under. Where a slightly revamped version of this traveling ARL exhibit (which will then feature a brand-new gallery that celebrates WDAS’ now-in-production version of the Rapunzel fairy tale, “Tangled”) will set up shop at a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Australia. And then – from there – this “Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studios” will make its way to Japan, China, Korea, even Edinburgh, Scotland. Until finally – just in time for “Snow White” ‘s 75th anniversary celebration – “Dreams Come True” will return to where this cinematic story first started out. Which – as far as The Walt Disney Company is concerned – is Los Angeles, CA.

Dwarfs discover Snow White sleeping in a story sketch from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But if you really can’t wait ‘til 2013 to see all 600 of these amazing drawings, paintings and animation cels Ms. Smith and her staff at Disney’s ARL found in their flat files, you have just 20 days to make your way to the New Orleans Museum of Art. That’s where Nancy and I are headed this coming weekend. So that we can then see “Dreams Come True” before this one-of-a-kind exhibit heads overseas.

We hope to see some of you folks there. In the meantime, for further information on NOMA and/or its “Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from Walt Disney Studios” exhibit, please click on this link.

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