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A Long, Long Time Ago: DISNEY: MAGIC OF ANIMATION The Exhibition

25 October 2019

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A Long, Long Time Ago: DISNEY: MAGIC OF ANIMATION The Exhibition

Photo opportunity display inspired by the art of Steamboat Willie (1928)

The hype was real. 

During the media preview, Mary Walsh, the Managing Director of the Disney Animation Research Library, teased about the secret repository that houses almost 60 million pieces of concept art and drawings that date back to the first ever Disney animated short released in 1928. 

The Executive Director of ArtScience Museum, Honor Harger, also talked about how the museum is dedicated to merging concepts of art with science – perfectly embodied by the technicalities of animation in Disney. There will be interactive displays, they said! Disney: Magic of Animation will be the first time that concept art from an unreleased Disney film will be displayed! 

Naturally, everyone was bubbling with excitement. With some adorned in Mickey Mouse ears and Elsa costumes, everyone couldn’t wait to dive into the magical world of Disney that we know and love. 

Traditional animator’s table at the entrance of the exhibition (Photo credit: Marina Bay Sands and Disney)

Then… a table. Okay. It was emphasised that the curatorial team had to come up with a controlled narrative to organise the exhibition, considering the massive resources they had on hand. What they decided was to show the evolution of Disney animation from the first synchronised sound cartoon Steamboat Willie (1928) to the upcoming renowned fantasy sequel Frozen 2 (2019). 

Sure! The now prestigious mega-corporation started out with humble origins. This paper and pencil set up was where all the magic happened. There were still many galleries to visit and many Disney films to uncover. Onwards we trode. 

 Gallery 5: Bringing People Together (Photo credit: Marina Bay Sands and Disney)

I guess it’s safe to say that if you went into Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition, hoping to get a piece of Disneyland – with blaring music and gorgeous backdrops – you’ll most likely find yourself disappointed. There were still ‘Instagram-worthy’ opportunities, of course, with blown-up pictures and an immersive Frozen 2 forest experience. 

But ultimately, most of the exhibition was of framed paintings and artworks on walls. For the young at heart who grew up catching all of the Disney animated feature films, it will be a nostalgic trip down childhood memories. For the younger kids who are only aware of Frozen’s (2013) ‘Let It Go’ and its renditions, the displayed concept art that traced the beginnings of the production company may be less exciting. 

Though this does not negate the wonder and charm of what goes behind the scenes. Yes, there are impressive projections of snippets from Disney films that are carefully sprinkled around the exhibition to ensure that it’s not just artwork after artwork. Much thought has also been put into the interactive activities as well, to demonstrate and allow visitors to participate in a specific aspects of animation. The interactive bits do not just cater to younger audiences; everyone is able to enjoy doing foley or bringing expressions to inanimate objects. 

Moana (2016) Colour Script

Ultimately, the focus of Disney: Magic of Animation is the often-forgotten, nitty-gritty bits of animation that lie underneath all the magic and wonder. Many of the galleries held detailed storyboards and colour scripts that showed how meticulously each scene was planned and how the distinct colour palette of each film was created. As the exhibition breaks down the films to remind us of every painstaking effort to create just one shot, you’ll come out of the exhibition with new-found admiration for the work of animation. 

My favourite parts of Disney: Magic of Animation are the ones that showed the different conceptions of the characters we are now so intimately familiar with. With all the variations that went through the brain-storming process, a minute shift or a slight change in angle could have led to a red-headed Snow White or a Sleeping Beauty drawn in the style of Alice in Wonderland (1951). Make sure to follow a guided tour if possible, because the descriptions of the art pieces are pretty bare and the fun stories are the ones imparted in person.

And not forgetting the exclusive preview of concept art from the much-anticipated Frozen 2, Disney: Magic of Animation truly brings new perspectives to their classics. The exhibition carefully balances magical wonders with enlightening information, giving depth to and more reasons for appreciation of the world of Disney. Aspiring animators and Disney geeks, this one’s for you. 


Organised by Walt Disney Animation Research Library and ArtScience Museum, Disney: Magic of Animation will open on 26 October 2019 and will run till 29 March 2020. Find out more information and book your tickets here!

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