Suspended Animation #402“Walt brought in H.G. Wells, who lectured on story development, and Alexander Woollcott, who was a great short story writer,” Disney artist Mel Shaw remembered. “He even had Frank Lloyd Wright to the studio to talk about inspiration and art. Walt was really imbuing all of us with something that made us feel we were part of a movement that could be considered a Renaissance in the animated cartoon business.”
On February 25, 1939, at 11 a.m. in Projection Room IV, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited the Disney Studios to talk to several Disney artists. Among those in attendance were musician Leigh Harline, storymen T. Hee and Otto Englander, animator Bill Tytla, and John Hubley.
Wright brought along a copy of the 1934 Russian animated film, The Tale of Czar Durandai directed by Ivan Ivanov-Vano (with a music score by Dmitri Shostakovich) to help inspire Disney’s artists to think a little differently about combining music and animation in a more abstract approach. Wright who was very pro-Russian had visited Russia the previous year and obtained a copy of the cartoon.
Here are some excerpts from Wright’s observations, in particular about the approach to Fantasia:
“Walt Disney is something unique. He is what he is. I think that he happened to stumble upon the future development of the cinema. I don’t think it was his fault. He happened in on it with this peculiar gift of his, which I think is precious. It shouldn’t be violated.
“He shouldn’t become too art conscious. That is what makes me feel that Mr. Stokowski is coming in here with this type of music, which is picture music, to have you extra-illustrate the music. I think you should have the type of music that was in the Russian cartoon. The music was abstract, just as it was abstract drawing—the whole theme was an abstract thing.
“I was regretting that you take picture music and illustrate it rather than doing something with music—having the two things made one. Haven’t you got some guys to write the music? Even though it is crude and simple, it would be good.
“You shouldn’t take Clair de Lune and these things which are not good music anyway. I don’t care what Stokowski says. I wish he were here. He knows better. He’s got some Russian blood in him himself. I can’t believe he would imagine that you seriously are doing your best when you are merely extra-illustrating pictorial music.
“In this film [the Russian cartoon] you must have seen perfect correlation between music and design. The whole thing is design—instinctive design, which is perfect design. There is no reason you boys can’t do that. If you drive a modern car in front of a Colonial house, you insult either the car of the house every time you do it.
“There will always be those people [who like old fashioned music]. They are dead people. They live in the past, not in the present or the future. They are gone. We should treat them tenderly and with consideration, and have the caskets ready.
“But you fellows—there has never been anything like this. You’ve got a clean spread. If you get it all mixed up with these sentimentalities, God help us. The more nearly you can strip the things you’re doing clean, and establish this simple child-like correlation between things and make a child-like thing out of it and not get too sentimental about it, the better, I think.
“There’s one thing that distresses me in your productions, and I think people think the same about it—one can emphasize the senses quite with impunity. It’s desirable. The moment you emphasize sensuality it becomes disagreeable. There is a touch of what I would call vulgarity that creeps into your films sometimes. I guess it’s box office and it gets a horse laugh from the worst element in the audience. I think you should be a little shy of that. Old Gray Head speaking.
“When I was here before, I told Walt Disney that the introduction of the two condors was the thing that was, to me, the most remarkable thing of the film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). It prophesied something greater that might come. Didn’t they give him the prize in the East, and didn’t they mention the fact of the two condors?
“The thing you are in is as fresh as a daisy. Don’t let it get bawled up with those sentimentalists. Tell Stokowski if he can’t come in and write music for you that has the proper quality and appropriate to the thing you’re doing you don’t want him at all. Stokowski isn’t running the show, is he? Put him on the spot.
“When you take music as one thing, your animation is another, your story is another thing, there you’ve got a division that is fatal right at the beginning. It’s unison between the three and making those three one that is the only road to anything you might call worth the name of art or worth the name of entertainment.
“You would be surprised and I have been continually surprised at the amount of intelligence possessed by people you wouldn’t think had it. You would be surprised how ‘almost as intelligent as we are’ most people are. I have great faith in that.
“Why have you got modern architecture today? It isn’t an accident. Somebody stood there. Somebody asserted the fact of the thing. It’s no different from you. We’re all alike. Our reactions would be very similar to almost anything. It takes a little character and guts and a stand-by to see it through. That’s all.
“People are very much, as people, like sheep. If you begin to temporize and pat them on the back and cater to their idiosyncrasies, you’ll never get anywhere. This commercialization of things, commercialization of everything, I think that’s what the matter with the country.
“The public doesn’t know what it wants. If the public is paying your bills, it’s entitled to have you stand up to the thing you do because you alone know. The public doesn’t know. I think you’re going back on your public when you try to find out what the public wants and give it to them. No public knows. As compared to the fine thing they might have. They don’t know what they miss. Show them that thing which they miss. Explode once or twice and see what the reactions are.
“Don’t let this idea ‘Box Office’ and this idea of what pleases people bother you. Concern yourself with the best and finest thing, by God, that you know and do it to the top and give it to them to the hilt and you’ll go places and you’ll never lose.
“If the moving picture industry, acquired by Paramount and MGM and Fox had had that faith in life, and had that faith in the American people the cinema wouldn’t be going down and out now. You’re going up. That’s what makes the difference.
“Wherever you’re playing best together—having fun and putting in the music where it belongs in the picture—getting the effect, you ring the bell. That’s what is going to make your success. Where you’re trying to be artistic and thinking of the fellow in front and trying to please him you’re going to lose out. I’ll bet my head on it. I know from my own experience. It’s a veteran sitting here talking to you. I’ve been there.”