Salvador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Destino: See the Collaborative Film, Original Storyboards & Ink Drawings

Unlike­ly col­lab­o­ra­tions in pop music abound: Run DMC and Aero­smith? It works! U2 and Luciano Pavarot­ti? Why not? Robert Plant and Ali­son Krauss? Sure! Any­one and Ker­mit the Frog? Yes. They don’t always work out, but the attempts, whether kismet or train­wreck, tend to reveal a great deal about the part­ners’ strengths and weak­ness­es. Unlike­ly col­lab­o­ra­tions in fea­ture film are some­what rar­er, though not for lack of wish­ing. I would guess the high finan­cial stakes have some­thing to do with this, as well as the sheer num­ber of peo­ple required for the aver­age pro­duc­tion. One par­tic­u­lar­ly salient exam­ple of an osten­si­ble mis­match in ani­mat­ed movies—a planned co-cre­ation by sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí and pop­ulist Walt Disney—offers a fas­ci­nat­ing look at how the two artists’ careers could have tak­en very dif­fer­ent cre­ative direc­tions. The col­lab­o­ra­tion may also have fall­en vic­tim to a film indus­try whose eco­nom­ics dis­cour­age exper­i­men­tal duets.

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured the ani­mat­ed short— Des­ti­no—at the top of the post. The 6 and a half minute film shows us what Dalí and Disney’s planned project might have looked like. Recre­at­ed from 17 sec­onds of orig­i­nal ani­ma­tion and sto­ry­boards drawn by Dalí and released in 2003 by Disney’s nephew Roy, Des­ti­no gives us an almost per­fect sym­bio­sis of the two cre­ators’ sen­si­bil­i­ties, with Walt Disney’s Fan­ta­sia-like flights smooth­ly ani­mat­ing Dalí’s flu­id dream imagery. Accord­ing to Chris Pal­lant, author of Demys­ti­fy­ing Dis­ney, work between the two on the orig­i­nal project also moved smooth­ly, with lit­tle fric­tion between the two artists. Meet­ing in 1945, Dalí and Dis­ney “quick­ly devel­oped an indus­tri­ous work­ing rela­tion­ship” and “ease of col­lab­o­ra­tion.” Pal­lant writes that “Disney’s desire for absolute cre­ative con­trol changed, and, for the first time, the ani­ma­tors work­ing with­in the stu­dio felt the influ­ence of oth­er artis­tic forces.” I imag­ine it might prove dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble, to micro­man­age Sal­vador Dalí. In any case, the fruit­ful rela­tion­ship pro­duced results:

Des­ti­no reached a rel­a­tive­ly advanced stage before being aban­doned. By mid-1946 the Dis­ney- Dalí col­lab­o­ra­tion encom­passed approx­i­mate­ly ’80 pen-and-ink sketch­es’ and numer­ous ‘sto­ry­boards, draw­ings and paint­ings that were cre­at­ed over nine months in 1945 and 1946.’

Roy E. Dis­ney dis­cov­ered Dalí’s Des­ti­no art­work in the late 90s, lead­ing to his short re-cre­ation of what might have been. Above, you can flip through a slideshow of twelve of those draw­ings and sto­ry­boards, cour­tesy of Park West Gallery, who rep­re­sent the work. The Des­ti­no mate­ri­als went on dis­play at the Draw­ings Room in Figueres, Spain. The exhi­bi­tion fea­tured “1 oil paint­ing, 1 water­colour, 15 prepara­to­ry drawings—10 of which are unpublished—and 9 pho­tographs of Dalí in the cre­ative process of this mate­r­i­al, of the Dis­ney cou­ple in Port Lli­gat in 1957, and the Dalí cou­ple in Bur­bank.” You can see many of those pho­tographs in the exhibit’s pam­phlet (in pdf here, in Span­ish and Eng­lish; cov­er image below), which offers a detailed descrip­tion of the orig­i­nal project, includ­ing its nar­ra­tive con­cept, a “love sto­ry” between a dancer and “base­ball-play­er-cum-god Cronos” meant to rep­re­sent “the impor­tance of time as we wait for des­tiny to act on our lives.”


Inspired by a Mex­i­can song by Arman­do Dominguez, Des­ti­no, on its face, seems like a very strange choice for Dis­ney, who gen­er­al­ly traf­ficked in more rec­og­niz­able (and Euro­pean) folk-tale sources. And yet, the exhi­bi­tion pam­phlet asserts, the co-pro­duc­tion made a great deal of sense for Dalí, “if we con­sid­er that one Dalin­ian con­stant is his bring­ing togeth­er of the elit­ist artis­tic idea and mass cul­ture (and vice ver­sa) […]. Des­ti­no becomes a unique artis­tic prod­uct in which Dalin­ian expres­sive­ness is com­bined with Disney’s fan­ta­sy and sonor­i­ty, mak­ing it a film in which Dalí’s images take on move­ment and Disney’s fig­ures become ‘Dalinised.’ ”

And yet, while both Dalí and Dis­ney worked excit­ed­ly on the project, it was ulti­mate­ly not to be, at least until almost six­ty years lat­er. Des­ti­no would have been part of a “pack­age film,” like Fan­ta­sia, a com­pi­la­tion of short vignettes. John Hench, a Dis­ney artist who worked on the project with Dalí, spec­u­lat­ed that the com­pa­ny “fore­saw the end” of such fea­tures. Pal­lant, how­ev­er, goes fur­ther in spec­u­lat­ing the film “would have resem­bled a poten­tial box-office bomb” for Dis­ney, who remarked lat­er that is was “no fault of Dalí’s that the project… was not completed—it was sim­ply a case of pol­i­cy changes in our dis­tri­b­u­tion plans.”

This cryp­tic remark, writes Pal­lant, alludes to Disney’s plans to focus his cre­ative ener­gy on “safe” fea­ture-length projects “to strength­en the company’s posi­tion with­in the film indus­try.” While such a deci­sion might have made good busi­ness sense, it prob­a­bly doomed many more Des­ti­no-like ideas that might have made the Walt Dis­ney com­pa­ny a very dif­fer­ent enti­ty indeed. One can only imag­ine what the stu­dio might have become had Dis­ney opt­ed to pur­sue exper­i­ments like this instead of tak­ing the more prof­itable route. Of course, giv­en the mar­ket pres­sures on the movie indus­try, it’s also pos­si­ble the stu­dio might not have sur­vived at all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Des­ti­no: The Sal­vador Dalí – Dis­ney Col­lab­o­ra­tion 57 Years in the Mak­ing

Impres­sions of Upper Mon­go­lia : Sal­vador Dalí’s Last Film About a Search for a Giant Hal­lu­cino­genic Mush­room

Alfred Hitch­cock Recalls Work­ing with Sal­vador Dali on Spell­bound

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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