Review
Once Upon a Time: Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios
Marco de Blois · Translated by Saskia Latendresse · March 12, 2007 | [Note: This review is of the original French edition of the book, Il était une fois: Walt Disney.]

First presented at the Grand Palais in Paris in fall 2006, the exhibition Once Upon a Time Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios makes its way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it will undoubtedly create quite a buzz. It is indeed a rare occasion when animation films—let alone Disney—get the limelight in a museum.

The exhibition's companion catalogue is a luxuriously illustrated book whose scholarly analyses invite us to re-examine the Disney aesthetic through its relations with European fine arts. This work of aesthetic analysis contains numerous references to art history, making it a precious tool for understanding the originality of Disney productions. This type of comparative approach is still relatively uncommon in the field of animation. In this regard, the text by historian Robin Allan, "Disney's European Sources," constitutes the backbone of the book. Allan is the author of Walt Disney and Europe: European Influences on the Animated Features Films of Walt Disney, published in 1999, and his contribution to the study of Disneyan art seems to have greatly inspired the exhibition organizers.

Once Upon a Time: Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios
Written by Bruno Girveau
Prestel Publishing, 2007
Originally published in France in 2006
360 pages

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The catalogue presents Disney in a sympathetic way, as an astute businessman who stopped drawing and directing early in his career in order to devote himself entirely to producing films. He had the acumen of surrounding himself with talented craftsmen who, under his supervision, helped create a distinctive aesthetic that became the studio's trademark. Young creators such as Wolfgang Reitherman, Gustaf Tenggren, Mary Blair and many others, whose names are known only to animation specialists, had the sophistication and knowledge of fine arts that their boss lacked. A true leader, Disney managed to capitalize on their skills, encouraging his employees to instill the best of themselves into their work. He also looked after their continuing education. To illustrate the point, the book tells of an important event in the studio's history: during a 1935 trip to Europe, Disney bought about 350 art books that were integrated into the company library. Filled with illustrations by the greatest European artists of the time, these books vastly fuelled the imagination of the personnel. It's interesting to learn that the loan cards have been preserved, allowing historians to accurately identify the graphic models used as reference by certain craftsmen.
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