how french rococo gave us american cartoons


Inspiring Walt Disney considers how everything Disney absorbed during these two visits had a pronounced influence on his animated films. It mainly focuses on Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast from 1991, firstly because both are based on fairy tales written in early 18th century France – by Charles Perrault (Cinderella) and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot from Villeneuve (Beauty and the Beast) – but also because these two films most clearly show the influence of French decorative art. An edition of Perrault is exhibited.

After combining Disney’s first short, The Clock Store (1931), in which a man and a woman repeatedly dance together and separately, with two porcelain figures modeled by Johann Friedrich Luck in 1758, the exhibition moves quickly towards Cinderella. Along with the transformation scene, it features the film’s gorgeous background paintings, each laden with garlands and sconces, but in a curiously 1950s palette.

Wherever you are, the music of Beauty and the Beast rolls through your ears, overlaying everything you see with an invincible combination of emotion and nostalgia. Disney would have liked that: it believed that all the senses should be activated while watching its movies, and it even experimented with scenting its movie theaters.

The show is presented as if each clock or figurine were used – a vase in a nook, a clock on a mantel, etc. On the hour, two of the clocks even strike, and the walls are lined with motifs representing the flowing scrolls and foliage of the rococo tastemaker Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier. It’s like wandering around someone else’s house unchaperoned – if that person was extremely wealthy.

A section on Beauty and the Beast shows how Mrs Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth – a teapot, candlestick and mantel clock respectively – are traceable to specific pieces. Elsewhere, there’s a close examination of rococo poster boy Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 1767 painting The Swing, which inspired the animators from Beast to Tangled to Frozen.

All in all, there’s just enough of each ingredient – ​​furnishings, design, figurine, moving image – to keep the exhibit satiated but still witty. I had wondered if anatomizing the genius of Disney wouldn’t lessen its magic. Fortunately, this is not the case.

From April 6 to October 16. Tickets: 020 7563 9539;


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William D. Babcock

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