The missing link between Disney and Dali's "Destino"

2015-12-04 | The Orange County Register

Dec. 04--ORANGE -- Once thought to be lost, an art historian says he has discovered seven-decade-old artwork from a project between artist Salvador Dali and Walt Disney.

Ron Barbagallo, a classic animation art conservationist who once worked as Roy Disney's personal art conservator, believes the collection of 72 hand-drawn story sketches and 13 storyboards form the missing link of "Destino," a short-lived animation project between the two iconic artists in the mid-1940s.

SOURCE: See the lost Dali and Disney "Destino" art work on the Animation Art Conservation website.

The film wasn't made by The Walt Disney Co. until a dozen years ago.

Recently, Barbagallo talked to an art class at Chapman University about his findings.

He explained that the lost artwork, which he estimated to be worth about $5 million and is owned by a man he won't reveal, may provide new insight on the ill-fated project and Dali's original vision for the short film.

"Dali had a very definite narrative for this thing," said Barbagallo, 56, who lives in Toluca Lake. "It's just not all in the 2003 short."

Dali scholars have yet to examine the artwork to confirm its validity.

Barbagallo is now the director of the Animation Art Conservation, which conserves classic animation art. He regularly gets emails and phone calls from people claiming to have found a piece of animation history, leaving him skeptical overall after too many disappointing "finds."

That skepticism was curbed when a loud "thud" at his doorstep announced a large package had arrived containing copies of the story sketches and storyboards he has determined are indeed tied to "Destino."

Poring over the collection, Barbagallo says he realized he was looking at not just lost art, but Dali's artistic vision of "Destino" as well. Disney possesses 135 of the drawings, compared to the 72 in the lost collection. The sketches are collaborations between Dali and Disney artist John Hench, Barbagallo figures.

A Disney official declined to comment.

Barbagello said the former owner, now deceased, was a sound artist working for a company renting space from The Walt Disney Studios in the mid-1950s and ate at the campus cafeteria where drawings from "Destino" were regularly on display.

A cafeteria worker was told to change the display, saving a portion of it and tossing the rest in the trash. The sound artist overheard and requested to keep the disgarded drawings and storyboards.

Barbagello said the owner of the collection passed away about two years ago, leaving the "Destino" treasure hidden in a closet inside a home willed to his partner. The partner was cleaning out the home when he discovered the trove and nearly threw it out. But it was saved when a friend of the family identified the works as Dali's and began to look into their value.

The collection was brought to Barbagello's attention.

Dali, Disney, and 'Destino'

Walt Disney and Dali had long admired each other's work. A well-known surrealist painter, Dali was known as an eccentric who once gave a lecture in a diving suit and created portraits of melting clocks and dream-like paintings.

After reading Dali's autobiography, Disney, who hand-built an animation empire, sent him a fan letter, asking for an autograph and inviting the Spanish artist to the studio. Dali admired Disney after watching a "Silly Symphony" film.

"They formed a friendship," said Ted Nicolaou, guest curator of "Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination" at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. "They admired each other from afar. Dali considered Disney as one of the top three American surrealist artists along with Harpo Marx and Cecil B. DeMille."

Just after World War II, Disney commissioned Dali to work on a short film. Disney tabbed his artist John Hench to work alongside.

"Disney wanted a film, a kind of dance of love in an abstract background," said Nicolaou, who also produced a feature-length documentary, "Dali Disney: A Date with Destino."

The project began in 1946 but Disney was financially reeling, and Dali's vision for the story was far more grandiose than the proposed six-minute run time. Nicolaou said Disney reached his final straw when one day he went to the studio and saw Dali, newly fascinated with the poses of baseball players, add them into a sequence in the film.

Disney pulled the plug. The sketches were probably placed in the so-called morgue -- a dank storage room in the studio's Ink and Paint building where they kept artwork. Later, they were apparently displayed in the cafeteria.

In 1999, Roy Disney hired Dali experts and animators to cobble together what was left. The film was finally released in 2003. "Destino," an abstract love story, received an Academy Award nomination for best animated short film.

The lost artwork

Using the discovered lost storyboards and drawings, Barbagallo assembled a 12-minute, filmed rough draft, in a style he says was Dali's vision.

The new version often moves in step with the 2003 film, but is greatly extended and differs wildly in its final 7 minutes. The story manages to be much more straightforward and emotional, owing to extra scenes making for smoother transitions coupled with an altered ending that sends a powerful message of love.

Barbagallo said the animation techniques needed to produce Dali's version would have been impossible at the time. Even if they could be done, such a project would demand years and millions of dollars, he said.

Nicolaou, the guest curator, said he has not seen Barbagallo's version of the film but has reached out to him. He said that it's plausible that Barbagallo's collection could be lost artwork from Dali and Hench.

"I can't validate or not validate it," Nicolau said. "I know Ron. He is a serious art restorer. I have no reason to doubt the voracity of what he's saying. To me the art looks similar to the art that exists, but until I see it I can't validate it. I think the hard part is trying to differentiate which ones are Dali's and which ones are Hench's."

"Destino" art has gone missing before.

One batch was recovered in the 1970s when an art dealer approached Dali to validate the work. The Disney Co. threatened to sue claiming it was stolen property. Disney got it back.

"Salvador Dali and Walt Disney are among the most iconic artists in the 20th century," Nicolaou said. "Any work or collaboration between the two of them has added value -- not just Dali (or) Disney but both of them -- and therefore, this would be a spectacular find."

Mike Van Eaton of Van Eaton Galleries said for hardcore Disney fans and animators "Destino" artwork would be a Holy Grail and could fetch a lot of money.

Barbagallo struck an agreement for reproduction rights and hopes to produce a book or documentary on the discovery.

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