Unseen treasures from the golden age of Disney revealed for first time

Sketches and scenes from classic animated movies, including The Jungle Book and Fantasia, unearthed in studios archives

A lost world of Disney is to be made public for the first time, including images that, when added together, show Donald Duck dancing with giant cigars, and sketches for a film about the American folk hero Davy Crockett.

Film historian Daniel Kothenschulte has collated celluloid images from hundreds of Disney projects that, for various reasons, never saw the light of day. Having been given unrestricted access to the Disney Archives and Animation Research Library, his discoveries are to appear in a major book entitled The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 19211968.

Kothenschulte told the Observer: You open up pastel drawings that are still rolled up, and all this coloured dust appears on the table. A wonderful moment. The Donald Duck film was developed pretty far. There are beautiful colour storyboards, pastels that give you a view of the whole film. Those have never been published anywhere.

Kothenschulte was also given access for the first time to Thomas Hart Bentons 10-page treatment for a never-made Davy Crockett film, with sketches of fantastic swamp creatures drawn in 1946. This is a wonderful thing that nobody has ever seen except for the archivists at Disney, he said. Its not just the images that have never been seen; nobody knew what it was about. It was just known that a Davy Crockett project was in development.

In the book he writes: Benton shows himself here as a true storyteller who uses the opportunity to pay homage to his second-greatest artistic passion early American folk music. The script begins in a swamp landscape, out of which alligators emerge and begin to tap dance to Johnnie Queens Clog. The song grows wilder and wilder as the alligators transform into ring-tailed roarers. In a sketch, Benton depicts one of these creatures out of American folklore, which he describes as half-alligator, half-horse, and half-devil.

Speculating on why the project was shelved, Kothenschulte pointed to a letter from Benton that suggests it was too extravagant, although Disney himself was an enthusiastic backer. Other ideas that fell by the wayside include a feature film on Hiawatha, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellows epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Kothenschulte described the surviving storyboard as monumental. Other unpublished imagery includes a scene from the short film, Little Hiawatha, in which the main characters canoe is wrecked on forbidding rocks.

The holdings of the Animation Research Library extend to some six million artefacts, of which Kothenschulte estimates less than a million have been scanned or catalogued so far. I was able to get access to things that other scholars didnt, or maybe they didnt ask the right questions. Its not an archive that you can just move in and touch things. You have to wait for them to come up with a box, or maybe 10 boxes if youre lucky.

With 1,500 illustrations and essays by Disney experts, the book covers each of the major animated films made in Disneys lifetime, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Jungle Book. Kothenschulte said: With every film, we have examples that have not been published before. We have 50 or 60 unpublished drawings from The Jungle Book.

Walt

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Walt Disney with sketches from the 1942 film Bambi. Photograph: 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

He also expressed excitement about seeing beautiful storyboard illustrations of planned extensions to Disneys musical masterpiece Fantasia: None of this was made into a film. This was my greatest joy to see. Single images have appeared in print, but the whole sequence has not. But he added: Its also disappointing to see what they dont have any more. In the past, they didnt see a purpose in saving cels [celluloids] and backgrounds, so they would discard or sell them.

Kothenschulte is also publishing the full transcripts of story conferences held by Disney with his staff. This is something very rare, said Kothenschulte. Other studios dont have this. Walt Disney liked to have everything documented. He had stenographers present during all these story meetings, which could go on for hours, just making up ideas.

Walt was the key story man, as you can see, but everyone had an opinion. It was a very open discussion.

The books introduction is by John Lasseter, the Oscar-winning director of Toy Story, the worlds first feature-length computer-animated film. Lasseter, who is now Disneys chief creative officer: People sometimes describe something as Disney as if it were a single look and style, when in truth the look of the studios work was continuously evolving.

The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 19211968 will be published by <a href=”https://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/film/all/01150/facts.the_walt_disney_film_archives_the_animated_movies_19211968.htm” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Taschen on 1 October

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/03/unseen-treasures-golden-age-disney-revealed-first-time

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