Wednesday, August 1, 2012

All Around the World: Wish Upon a Star

The Walt Disney Family Museum
Asheley Gao

            The opening ceremony of 2012 Summer Olympics showed a great chunk of time to British children’s literature by creating an epic battle between the inflatable representations of villains and dozens of flying, identical Mary Poppins. As if a thirty-foot tall Lord Voldemort is not scary enough, The Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil joint forces to haunt the dreams of the poor children who live in the hospital. Even though the director of the opening ceremony, Danny Boyle, picked the most representative evil characters in British literature, he must have had a horrible time making their inflatable images as recognizable as possible while not getting sued by Disney (or Warner Brothers). The names and stories of these villains were created by the words of brilliant British authors; their images, however, became universally recognizable under the paint brush of Walt Disney and his studio. We are so accustomed to these characters that, even without a context, we can call out their famous lines or their theme songs from the Disney movie. This kind of magic does not happen easily, not with modern technology, and definitely not when Walt Disney first opened his studio almost a century ago.The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio of San Francisco brings the audience back to the beginning when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit introduced the magic charm of Disney to the world.

            Unlike Disneyland, this museum evolves around the history of the Disney family instead of the famous works. Starting from the life of Walt Disney’s father to the death of Walt Disney himself, the exhibitions document the family’s struggle to invent, develop and prosper in animation industry. The first floor gallery displays numerous early sketches of Walt Disney including the first theatrical release under the name of “Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio”, Alice’s Day at Sea. The second floor gallery may appear more familiar to the audience since it introduces the behind-the-scene process of some early Disney classics, for instance, Steamboat Willie, Three Little Pigs, and Fantasia. As the company gradually expanded, Disney family extended their business into other industries including theme parks, resorts, and cable TV, becoming quite successful under the leadership of Walt Disney through his death in 1966.

            The museum decides to display an interesting time period for the Disney family, a time period that is mostly unknown to even the most ardent Disney fans. From 1923 to 1966, Disney revolutionized the world of animation one movie at a time, with each frame meticulously drawn by hand and each sound carefully synchronized. There is a wall on the second floor gallery that is dedicated to Steamboat Willie, displaying the original sketch of each scene in that movie, where Micky Mouse first made his appearance. The lush, rich, tapestry-like colors were applied through the tip of the paint brush, scene by scene, in Disney’s studio. The fairytale series, including Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty pushed Disney to unprecedented fame as well as established a high standard that is difficult to reach for future productions. When One Hundred and One Dalmatians was released, Disney presented to the world its first movie that was not just a fantasy. Walt Disney had to let go of the romantic style that he loved so much and welcome a more modern and abstract approach to the characters and the background. The paint was thinner, the set design more asymmetric and random, and the music was more jazzy than the usual orchestrated symphonies. Even though so many traditional elements of Disney animation were abandoned in this movie, the extreme attention to detail remained unchanged. While other companies wouldn’t even bother to animate an animal with a pattern on its fur, Disney studio decided to make one hundred and one of them come to life. Each Dalmatian puppy has thirty to forty spots on average, which means there are at least three thousands spots moving simultaneously in one scene. Walt Disney took this project at the very late stage of his career; witnessing the coming of Xerox technology, he had to let go of some of his finest inkers in the studio and attempted new techniques, including the screen technology which combines real people with cartoon characters in Mary Poppins.

            The museum explores no further than the death of Walt Disney in 1966. It preserves the most original and traditional Disney elements which enchanted the audience long before the invention of computers, electronic sound mixing and other modern technology which we take for granted. It reminds us of a time when magic was made under the tip of a paint brush instead of a click of the mouse. Many were saddened by the release of Tangled as it marked the end of an era for 2-D Princess Fairytale series. Unfortunately, the most recent Disney Princess production, Brave, did not help to regain the magic of any previous fairytale either. Even though Disney (and Pixar) invented three softwares just for the flaming locks of Merida, its technological progress failed to save the weak and problematic plot which lacks the originals' creative spark. If there comes a day when the audience wants an escape from this technological saturated animation market, they can always find their way back to this little family museum in the Presidio woods where the magic all began.

The Culture Columnist, Asheley Gao:

My name is Asheley Gao and I’m a junior at Cal, majoring in History of Art and minoring in French. I grew up in Asia, the land of dragons and jasmine green tea, as a kid with too much imagination. Indulging myself in exploring different cultures and what they have to offer (art, movies, cuisine, you name it!), I’m on my way to becoming a woman whose country is the whole world. Along with all the excellent writers at Unleashed, I would love to share with you my adventure and take you all around the world.

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