Inspiring Walt Disney Now Open at The Huntington

Growing up I loved watching Disney animated films. They were so colorful and entertaining and I loved being immersed in their magical worlds, but I never really thought beyond what was on the screen. I never once considered the inspiration behind them beside the classic fairy tales they were based on. As it turns out, they were inspired by quite a bit more than that. Take such classics as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty both which were significantly influenced by18th Century French decorative art. Little did I know. Luckily, I was recently enlightened when I toured the new exhibition, Inspiring Walt Disney, currently on display at The Huntington.

Inspiring Walt Disney

Inspiring Walt Disney : The Animation of French Decorative Arts is presented by three preeminent institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Wallace Collection in London and The Huntington. Joining forces they pulled pieces from their collections (along with various Disney archives) that directly influenced Walt Disney and his animators. Pedigree like that ensures wonderful pieces are displayed, including several owned by Disney himself.

Inspiring Walt Disney

In 1935, Walt Disney traveled to Europe and purchased over 300 illustrated books for the studio library, a handful of which are on display. Their colorful, fantastical imagery certainly evokes several Disney animated works, particularly Sleeping Beauty, and it appears his investment was a good one.

Sleeping Beauty

Another of his passions was miniatures, he amassed a collection of over 1000 pieces, a few of which are on loan from the Walt Disney Family Museum and the tiny armoires, kitchen utensils and plates bring to mind a certain animated feature from the 1990’s.

Disney miniatures Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was particularly inspired by the Rococo period which is no surprise as Walt and his brother Roy extensively studied the palace of Versailles. In the exhibition, the Huntington has cleverly paired rococo pieces with the film’s concept art and the similarities are uncanny.

Beauty and the Beast Beauty and the Beast

Perhaps, the most awe inspiring works on display are two pairs of 18th century Sèvres tower vases. Intricately designed and exquisitely manufactured it’s certainly surprising that they were merely intended to hold potpourri. The two pairs are the only existing pieces and their display together marks the first time they’ve been reunited since their creation 250 years ago.

Inspiring Walt Disney

Not only are they beautiful on their own but they almost seem as if they were designed by Disney animators. Just looking at them invokes such classic features as Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and Tangled.

Beauty and the Beast

The Disney animators are well represented in the exhibition. In fact, I expected the decorative arts to dominate but there is an equal amount of concept art on display including notable pieces from Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle.

Mary Blair

Inspiring Walt Disney is on display through March 27, 2023 and is the perfect event to kick of the Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary celebration. Featuring notable historic decorative pieces as well as significant animation artifacts it’s an exhibition not to be missed.

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