Disney at the Whitney? A tribute to animators

The name of Walt Disney is as solidly entrenched in American folklore as are those of Daniel Boone, P. T. Barnum, and Teddy Roosevelt. Disney's cartoon characters, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, etc., as well as his animation features like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Bambi," and "Fantasia," not only made him world famous, but also established him (and his studio) as the preeminent force in the field of animation.

But while his final products may have been well known, the creative and technical processes which made them were not. The general viewer, caught up in the antics of Pinocchio or Dumbo, knew next to nothing about what went into the animation films these characters appeared in, and that hasn't changed significantly over the years.

All the more reason, then, to welcome "Disney Animations and Animators," the first museum exhibition devoted to the how and the why -- as well as to some of the creative personalities -- of Disney animation, which has just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art here.

The exhibition offers roughly 1,500 drawings, painted cels, and backgrounds, as well as 115 films from the classic Disney period. Included among the latter are "Steamboat Willie" (1928), the first cartoon with a fully synchronized sound track; "Flowers and Trees" (1932), "The Tortoise and the Hare" (1935), and "Woodland Cafe" (1937) from the Silly Symphony series; "The Whalers" (1938) and "Three Little Wolves" (1936); as well as the animation features "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), "Pinocchio" (1940), "Fantasia" (1940), "Dumbo" (1941), and "Bambi" (1942).

These 115 films have been broken down into 21 separate film programs. There will be two viewings (at 1 and at 3:30) daily -- and an extra Tuesday's viewing at 6:15. (Because of extremely limited seating, the museum suggests that tickets for each program be picked up two hours in advance of screening).

These two hours, however, can very profitably be spent walking around and viewing the hundreds of rough sketches for various cartoon characters and for film projects. Also of interest are detailed studies for full sequences and for landscape and interior backgrounds, sequential groupings of drawings to indicate how motion was depicted, or depth and scale suggested -- as well as actual scale models, layouts, test reels, sketchbooks, and a few three-dimensional cartoon characters.

It's an intriguing, eye- opening, and highly entertaining show for anyone who has enjoyed any of the Disney films -- and I would think, a wonderful way to introduce children to some of the feature-length Disney films they may not yet have seen.

At the Whitney Museum through Sept. 6.

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