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A surreal but true match

Dali and Disney? It really happened, though 'Destino's' finish comes decades later.

November 05, 2003|Charles Solomon | Special to The Times

"Destino," the fabled collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney, has finally been completed -- a mere 58 years after work on it began. That's something of a record, even in Hollywood, but given the towering talents involved, it's worth the wait.

The animated short has been the subject of speculation among animators for decades, as the pairing of the flamboyant Spanish surrealist and the Midwestern master of animation sounds so improbable. They met at a dinner party Jack Warner gave while Dali was working on "Spellbound," and their friendship continued even after the "Destino" project collapsed.

Originally conceived as a segment for one of the postwar animated musical collections of shorts called "package features," "Destino" is an adaptation of a ballad by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez. Disney planned it as a vehicle for South American performer Dora Luz, who sang "You Belong to My Heart" in "The Three Caballeros" (1945).

Dali spent eight months, from late 1945 into 1946, working with studio artist John Hench to create visuals inspired by the music. After financial problems halted the project, Hench made an 18-second test in hopes of rekindling Disney's interest: two distorted heads mounted on the backs of turtles slide toward each other; the space between them forms the figure of a ballerina with a baseball for a head.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 08, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 2 inches; 77 words Type of Material: Correction
"Destino" -- The information box accompanying an article about the animated film "Destino" in Wednesday's Calendar mistakenly said it would be shown Nov. 20 as part of the "Alice's Wonderland: Walt Disney the Independent" program at REDCAT in downtown L.A. In fact, the REDCAT screening is scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 23 as part of the "Where Worlds Collide: New Animation" program. Tickets for that program are $8, not the $10 that was listed in the box.

Walt Disney Co. Vice Chairman Roy E. Disney became interested in finishing "Destino" while shooting the live-action lead-ins for "Fantasia 2000."

"During the filming, I learned from one of the attorneys that we actually didn't have legal possession of the Dali art, because the contract signed in 1945 stated that it wouldn't become the company's until the film was made," Roy Disney says. "When I've told this story, some people think my motivation was to make a lot of money by acquiring the valuable artwork. The fun of it was the idea of finishing something that had grown to almost mythic proportions, and getting it out to the public."

In 1957, Disney visited Dali in Spain to discuss the possibility of collaborating on an animated version of "Don Quixote." His daughter, Diane Disney Miller, recalls, "Salvador Dali came to our home and rode Dad's train, and although it was the middle of summer, he was dressed in a black overcoat, with a collar and cravat. He sat on a little boxcar with his cane upright in front of him.

"Dad was delighted with Dali, with their friendship and with the kind of art he did. He also recognized Dali's fantastic draftsmanship and his imagination."

The reconstruction

But reconstructing their collaboration proved more challenging than Roy Disney expected: To fulfill the contract, the studio had to come as close as possible to making the film the artists originally planned, more than 50 years earlier.

"When we started the project, six or seven of us looked over all the surviving material, including photostats of the storyboards, but they weren't numbered," Disney explains. "There was a fairly clear beginning and a relatively clear ending, but what happened in between didn't make sense. One thing didn't lead into another, because we were reading the rows of drawings on the individual boards as you normally would, left to right, then down.

"At some point, [story supervisor] Don Ernst looked at three boards lined up in a row, and said, 'If you read them all the way across, then go back to the second row, it makes sense.' That was our eureka moment: A bunch of guys who didn't have a clue found their way in."

Further clues came from a journal that Dali's wife, Gala, kept during the production. "Apparently Dali would come home at night, tell Gala what they were doing, and she'd write it out as a narrative," Disney explains. "It stopped and started, because he'd change his mind about things, but it served as a guide."

The reconstructed "Destino" is a striking, dream-like collage of images without a conventional narrative. As a dancer moves through bizarre settings, she undergoes a series of transformations, becoming the shadow of a bell in a campanile and a dandelion puff. Her movements relate to dance and baseball, which Dali described as "an obsession." The backgrounds are filled with classic Dali imagery: forced perspectives, classical ruins, eyeballs, insects and the signature melting watches.

But producer Baker Bloodworth cautions that the animators had to add elements: "In his original painting of the Tower of Babel and Apollo, there's a big center space that's vacant. When the dancer character falls off the tower, we thought, 'What's she going to fall on?' Director Dominic Manfrey created a character holding this eyeball sack, which she falls into, gently bounces, then goes dancing off. It's a great Dali moment that is not Dali at all."

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