2 Jan

With a long history of blockbuster-style outreaches going back to the King Tut exhibit in the 1970s, the New Orleans Museum of Art is currently drawing families (and a few serious art students) from across the South for a show devoted to one of the greatest myth-makers of all time. The current Dreams Come True: Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio, running through March 14, makes a convincing case that there’s plenty of art behind the entertainment. 

The exhibition of sketches, drawings, paintings and actual bits of animation going back even earlier than Walt Disney’s first animated feature – which was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 19XX, of course – also brings together some clever syncronicities. New Orleans is the only city in North America to get the collection, featuring more than 600 rarely seen original artworks that brought legendary fairy tales to the screen, including Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The show also just happens to coincide with the opening of Disney’s new animated feature The Princess and the Frog, which just happens to be set in a luminous New Orleans filled with Jazz in the 1920s. 

“Change and adaptability have been essential characteristics of classic fairy tales as they have moved from their oral roots to written versions to cinematic revisions,” explains Lella E. Smith, creative director of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. “Walt Disney felt it was possible to translate the ancient fairy tale into its modern equivalent without losing the lovely patina and the flavor of its once-upon—time quality.” 

In addition to the omnipresent Disney party line about dreams coming true, the show is also (especially for lovers of American cinema) a mini-history of animation process. Though hardly aimed at film geeks, the various written narratives posted beside art make it clear just how many roads animation has traveled since “Uncle Walt” began sketching in the 1920s. The sheer look of the recent fairy tales – like Beauty and the Beast, for instance – makes it clear that the impact of computer imagery has spilled over from now-partnering Pixar and its non-fairy tale creations like Toy Story into the Disney bread and butter. 

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter themed rooms showcasing artwork related to specific animated features. Arranged chronologically by year of release, the rooms will feature, in order: Silly Symphony shorts, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog. Short film clips will accompany the artwork to demonstrate how individual sketches and paintings lead to a finished cinematic masterpiece.

One additional element that sets Dreams Come True apart from the typical art exhibit – or even the typical museum show – is the huge amount of collaborative effort involved. Artists work alone, typically, that loneliness and the resulting megalomania being a large part of the myth that surrounds so many legendary artists. There is no working alone around animation, with the millions of individual images required by the finished product. If anything, collaboration at places like Disney and Pixar has only increased over the years, as the more “artistic” specialists had to find ways to work creatively alongside others whose mastery was primarily technical. It’s almost a shock, therefore, to see a sketch for Beauty and the Beast, credited in museum tradition to “Andreas Deja, German, born 1957,” or a gouache for The Little Mermaid credited to “Glen Keane, American, born 1954.”

If the Dreams Come True has a message – a kind of gentle axe to grind – it’s reminding us with and without subtlety that the work of Disney animators over the greater part of the 20th century does indeed qualify as real art – even when it was the otherwise dreaded “art by committee.”  

“Disney understood that the screen version must perceive and emphasize the moral intent and values upon which great persistent fairy tales are found,” offers Smith. “The challenge is to give visual form to the characters and places that comprise the story.”

Founded in 1910 by Isaac Delgado, the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Part at the end of broad Esplanade Avenue houses more than 30,000 art objects encompassing 4,000 years of world art. Works from the permanent collection, along with continuously changing temporary exhibitions, are on view in the Museum’s 46 galleries Wednesdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Thursdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Disney exhibition and other current and upcoming NOMA shows, go to www.noma.org.


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