Walt Disney’s Passion for All Things French

Walt Disney’s Passion for All Things French

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California presents the international travelling exhibition “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts”. From December 10, 2022, through March 27, 2023. This exhibition explores how 18th-century French and other European decorative arts influenced Disney films and theme parks.

The exhibition features more than 250 objects, including porcelain figurines, gilt bronze clocks, candelabras, Sèvres tower vases, as well as film cels and hand-drawn artworks by Disney artisans. “This exhibit is a fun way for visitors to learn about decorative art while gaining a deeper understanding of the Disney films they grew up with,” states Melinda McCurdy, the Huntington’s curator of British art.

Walt Disney’s fascination with European art and architecture provided him with a constant source of inspiration which influenced him throughout his career.  Disney’s classic films take place in fairy-tale castles and magical kingdoms, but all these creations had their roots in Disney’s real-life experience.

Disney arrived in France on December 4, 1918, one day before his seventeenth birthday. As he was about to complete his Red Cross ambulance training during World War I, the armistice was signed, bringing the conflict to an end. However, the Red Cross was still in need of ambulance drivers and he was stationed in France, eventually ending up in Paris. This key event in his early life proved to be a life-changing experience. Subsequent visits to Europe throughout his life embedded this connection to French decorative arts.

This fascinating exhibition provides a deeper understanding of the intersection between two very disparate cultures, 18th-century Europe and Disney’s animated films and theme parks. It explores how Disney animators borrowed heavily from European visual culture as well as the artistic environment of 18th century France, including Gothic Revival references in Cinderella, medieval influences in Sleeping Beauty and Rococo-inspired objects in Beauty and the Beast. To stage Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s team toured the castles of the Loire Valley. Indeed, the famous ballroom scene where Belle dances with the Beast drew inspiration from the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

“Both Disney animated films and Rococo decorative works of art are infused with elements of playful storytelling, delight and wonder,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of the Met. “Eighteenth-century craftspeople and 20th-century animators alike sought to ignite feelings of excitement, awe, and marvel in their respective audiences.”

Bridging fact and fantasy, this exhibit gives us a greater appreciation of Disney’s classic fantasy films. The Exhibition’s soundtrack embraces the fairytale atmosphere and brings back a fond nostalgia for all things Disney.

Marylou and George Boone Gallery at the Huntington
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA

Opening Hours: 10 am – 5 pm
Closed Tuesdays
Capacity limited daily.
Weekend reservations required; no walk-ins
Reservations strongly recommended for weekdays

Lead photo credit : © Disney

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A native of Los Angeles, Barbara is the France Today Ambassador for L.A. She graduated from UCLA with a BA degree in Political Science, and also received her JD degree from UCLA School of Law. While at UCLA, she spent her junior year in Grenoble, France. From that time on, she has been an avid and passionate Francophile. She has visited almost every region in France, and still pursues French language courses in Los Angeles. She has an apartment in Paris and continues to visit France every year.

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  • Martha Sessums
    2022-12-22 06:05:50
    Martha Sessums
    Hi Barbara. Nice story on the exhibit. I grew up in SoCal and my dad worked at Disneyland on the weekends so maybe my love of France and decorative art was initially inspired by Disney. 🤷‍♀️ Martha