Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kley-Mation: The Walt Disney Family Museum to Exhibit Early Animation Influence

Jugend Titelblatt by Heinrich Kley
"Without the wonderful drawings of Heinrich Kley, I could not conduct my art school classes for my animators." --Walt Disney

Maniacal demons, dancing elephants, skating alligators.

Scenes from Disney's Fantasia? Close, but not quite.

They're all from the creative and prolific imagination of artist Heinrich Kley, a German painter and magazine illustrator whose work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was among the many notable influences for Walt Disney's young team of animators in the 1930s. Following a trip to Europe in 1935, Walt famously returned to his studio with 350 assorted books and artworks he collected on his travels, many of which were Kley's. Disney would use the material to educate and inspire his staff for decades.

In turns dark, satirical and whimsical, Kley's art depicts fantastical scenes of heavy industry and anthropomorphic animals, of nubile women and tortured high society types. His pen and ink drawings, in particular, are dense and full of movement with a vivid animated quality. Watch the Dance of the Hours or Night on Bald Mountain sequences from Fantasia and you'll see Kley's unmistakable style at play. You'll also find it in other Disney animated films including Pinocchio, Dumbo and The Jungle Book.

Dance of the Hours (l.) and Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia

Walt was an avid collector of Kley's work and, next month, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco will display 29 drawings from the collection alongside more than 25 pieces of concept art, sketches and maquettes from Disney animated films. It will be the first time Disney's Kley collection has been shown in the United States. I've already marked my calendar.

Chernobog concept art, Fantasia
The Kley exhibit will be on display from May 11 to September 17, 2012. For more information visit the Walt Disney Family Museum at www.waltdisney.org


Want to dig even deeper into the art that inspired the Walt Disney Studios? One of my favorite coffee table books is Once Upon a Time Walt Disney, a magnificent collection of Disney animation, concept drawings and the (mostly) European art that inspired it. The book contains plenty of Kley's work, as well as that of Beatrix Potter, Salvador Dali and many other accomplished names. You'll also find a wealth of material from well-known Disney artists including Mary Blair, Kay Nielsen, Claude Coats and Eyvind Earle.

Once Upon a Time Walt Disney is derived from the art exhibit of the same name that appeared in the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2006 and 2007. It's available on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'War Horse' Gallops Onto Blu-ray

Steven Spielberg (r.) on the set
with Jeremy Irvine (Albert Narracott).
Anytime you can get a glimpse at how Steven Spielberg goes through the creative process of making movies, it's worth the price of admission.

Even if it doesn't involve one of his best films.

That's not really a knock on the Oscar-nominated War Horse, producer/director Spielberg's latest live-action adventure available this week on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. When your resume includes Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Schindler's List, your other works tend to pale in comparison.

War Horse is a well-crafted film full of sweeping vistas that would do John Ford proud and intense war scenes every bit as harrowing as Spielberg's own Saving Private Ryan. It's saddled, however, with an improbable boy-meets-horse, boy-gets-horse, boy-and-horse-are-separated-and-endure-the-hellish-horrors-of-World-War-I, boy-reunites-with-horse story line. There are a few too many convenient twists of fate that take the courageous thoroughbred Joey from English moors to French battlefields and back again. There's also an overindulgence by Spielberg in every visual movie cliche at his disposal. There's not a dramatic rainstorm nor majestic sunset in War Horse he doesn't love. It's all beautiful and evocative, to be sure, but it's also old Hollywood film making by rote. It compels and entertains, but stops short of being truly inspiring.

British soldiers charge into battle in War Horse.
Still, there's plenty about War Horse to admire, from a thrilling and ultimately disastrous charge by British cavalry against a German encampment to a tense battlefield meeting between two enemy soldiers to save an injured Joey (if there's one theme to take away from War Horse, it's that it really sucked to be a horse in WWI). These scenes and many others are explored behind the scenes in the fascinating documentary War Horse: A Filmmaking Journey. This hour-long bonus feature on the 4-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack takes you chronologically through select scenes, offering revealing insight into the making of the film. We get plenty of input from Spielberg's creative team, including producer Kathleen Kennedy and director of photography Janusz Kaminski, but the best moments belong to Spielberg, whether we're watching him on-set framing a scene or giving on-the-fly directions to his talented cast. It's watching the master at work and is the best thing to recommend about this Blu-ray package.