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European art inspired Walt Disney

Rarely do popular and highbrow culture collide, but exploring their links is the aim of a new Paris exhibition -- starring Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other Walt Disney favourites.

india Updated: Sep 19, 2006 20:13 IST

Rarely do popular and highbrow culture collide, but exploring their links is the aim of a new Paris exhibition -- starring Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other Walt Disney favourites.

Original Disney studio drawings feature side-by-side with the mostly European art works, from the gothic Middle Ages to surrealism and even German expressionist cinema, that helped to inspire them.

"It's extremely visual, regardless of the type of source, because there is cinema, there is painting, there is sculpture, there is photography, there is literature also," organiser Bruno Girveau said.

About 500 items are on display until mid-January at the prestigious Grand Palais gallery, which has previously displayed the works of masters such as Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet.

Walt Disney himself gave up drawing from the mid-1920s but his talent lay in his intuition for both choosing his artists and finding literary and artistic sources for his films.

Like the "conductor of an orchestra", according to Girveau, Disney recruited some of the best European illustrators who had emigrated to the United States, such as Albert Hurter of Switzerland, or Sweden's Gustaf Tenggren.

Trained in the art schools of their native countries, they brought their culture to the studio's early films, particularly "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937 and "Pinocchio" in 1940.

European literature provided subjects for many Disney films.

On a visit to Europe in 1935, Disney collected more than 300 illustrated books whose images were meant to inspire the studio's productions.

The treasure trove included French, English, German and Italian works, such as fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm of Germany, French author Charles Perrault and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" from Britain.

Drawings by Gustave Dore and other artists were also included in the collection, sent back to California and much of which is still kept in Walt Disney offices near Los Angeles.

Movies also proved a source of inspiration for Disney.

The parallels are clear in the flickering black-and-white snippet of Charlie Chaplin's mishaps in the 1936 movie "Modern Times" and Disney's "Modern Inventions" a year later.

And architecture and landscape were also key for Disney films' decor.

Through turrets, magic woods and sinister castles, the visitor discovers that Pinocchio's village was inspired by a mediaeval Bavarian city, and that 15th-century Chinese painting inspired forest scenes.

"He was present at all stages of creation," Girveau said of the legendary American film producer, who died in 1966, going down in history as the first person to bring animated film to a universal audience.

Even in the development of characters, Disney played an active role.

For the witch/queen in "Snow White", Disney suggested the queen be a mix of Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf, according to the exhibition.

In the end, she resembled American actress Joan Crawford, while her silhouette was apparently derived from a statue at the entrance to Naumberg Cathedral in Germany.

Disney studios gave Girveau access to its archives, lending works for the exhibition, which moves to Canada after its French run, and has been financed by the Paris-based Reunion des Musees Nationaux.

The exhibition also reveals that Disney collaborated with Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, which resulted in a six-minute film, "Destino."

First Published: Sep 19, 2006 20:13 IST