The Unlikely Partnership of Disney and Dali

by | Mar 26, 2018 | Disney Entertainment, Disney History, Lists and Trivia

Walter Elias Disney, more commonly known as Walt Disney or even “Uncle Walt”, hailed from the midwest. Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol, known to most as Salvador Dali, was born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. One made animated films for families about princesses, dwarves, and an array of singing, dancing animals. The other painted melting clocks and an assortment of gloriously strange images that seem to have leapt out of a fever dream. The idea of the two working together seems improbable, like the comedic plot to a buddy film but, in the mid 1940s, it happened. The project, titled “Destino” took 58 years to complete, debuting in 2003, long after both artists had died. Here’s a look back at the improbable project and friendship that led to its creation.

1. Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism
In 1936, both Dali and Disney were featured in an art show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City titled, “Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism”. Several pieces of Dali’s work were featured, along with cels from Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs”.

2. Heading to Hollywood
A year after the show at MoMA, Dali traveled to Hollywood intent on exploring the world of film. He wrote a letter to a friend proclaiming, ““I have come to Hollywood and am in contact with the three great American Surrealists – the Marx Brothers, Cecil B. DeMille, and Walt Disney.” However, the two did not meet until several years later.

3. The Letters
Though the two would not meet until 1945, they began a correspondence in 1944 which continued over the years. The letters detail their thoughts on their work, but also touch on more ‘mundane’ subjects, like their mutual passion for fishing.

4. Jack Warner
Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, of the Warner Brothers, threw a party in 1945 which both Disney and Dali attended. It marked the first time the two actually met. Dali was in town to work on a project with Alfred Hitchcock. Dali later discussed their meeting in a letter he sent to Disney stating that he was, “encouraged by the route of our common destiny”. He also stated that, “the night of our meeting I spent almost entirely without sleep”.

5. Destino
In January of 1946, Disney hired Dali to work on an animated short. The film was to be titled, “Destino” after a Mexican ballad by Armando Dominguez. Besides the two men’s mutual respect for each other’s art, it has been suggested that Disney wanted to work with Dali to legitimize his work, to show the artistic innovation found in films like Fantasia and to silence the critics who dismissed his films as “just for children.” Disney did openly express a desire to work with more “serious” artists when he said, “Like the Night On Bald Mountain sequence Kay Nielson designed for Fantasia, I want to give more big artists such opportunities. We need them. We have to keep breaking new trails.”

The film told the story of Chronos and his love of a woman named Dahlia. Dali described the film as, “a magical exposition of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time,” while Disney described it as, “just a simple story of a girl in search of her real love.”

Dali worked with John Hench on the project and completed over 200 story sketches. Unfortunately, the project was never completed. About 18 seconds worth of film were created and then the project was shelved, never to be revisited in the men’s lifetime.

6. Finishing the Project
Over half a century after the project was shelved, Roy E. Disney decided to bring it back to life. French animator Dominique Monfery directed the film. The journals of Dali’s wife, Gala Dali, were used to help the creators understand Dali’s vision, along with input from John Hench. The finished film debuted at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June of 2003 and was nominated for the Best Animated short film in the 2004 Academy Awards.