One was a surrealist painter who gleefully participated in self-induced paranoid states in order to access subconscious truths; a flamboyant Spaniard who subscribed to anarchism, communism, and the power of a well-groomed mustache; the eccentric genius behind The Persistence of Memory who endures in our collective memory of artistic demigods.
The other was a Chicago-born animator turned media-mogul revered by children and adults across the globe; a man who dabbled in anthropomorphous mice, narcoleptic princesses, and flying elephant calves; the creative architect behind sprawling theme parks that are a study in lurid excess and juvenescent dreams.
Both, Salvador Dali and Walt Disney, were larger-than-life personalities seemingly separated by radically different sensibilities. And yet, 72 years ago (in 1945), they embarked on a historic artistic collaboration. Destino, as the project came to be known, linked together the bizarre surrealist images of Dali with the fantastical animated narratives produced by Disney.
The resulting six-minute film “tells the tragic love story of Chronos, the personification of time, who falls in love with a mortal woman as the two float across the surrealist landscapes of Dalí's paintings. The poetic, wordless animation features a score by Mexican composer Armando Dominguez performed by Dora Luz."
Destino, however, is anachronistically removed from both artists’ lifetimes. Though production began in 1945, it was abandoned less than a year later due to Studio changes following World War II. It was actually completed in 2003, after Roy E. Disney – Walt’s nephew – found the 22 paintings, 135 story sketches, and 17 seconds of film left over from the forsaken pursuit of decades prior.
Not wanting history to glaze over the historic collaboration, Roy enlisted director Dominique Monfery, and producer Baker Bloodworth, to bring his uncle’s unique vision to life. John Hench, who was the original story-boarder and unofficial liaison between Dali and Disney, also re-joined the crew.
The short finally premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and was later screened at the New York Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, and others. But, what exactly was Disney’s original intention for the film, since he was the one who seems to have proposed the collaboration?
Disney was reacting to some of his critics who, at the time, suggested “that his films all too often sacrificed genuine artistry at the altar of marketability – favoring tradition and safety over innovation and experimentation.” He wanted to “enhance the profile of the Studio in the discerning eyes of the art community.” So, he “effectively extended an invitation to the world of surrealism in the hope that it might earn the Studio highbrow acknowledgement.”
And there’s no doubt about it, Dali was a master of innovation and experimentation. His creative process entailed deliberately succumbing to episodes of paranoia in order to cleanse his psyche of stale beliefs and gain a fresh perspective derived from the universal subconscious:
“The subconscious has a symbolic language that is truly a universal language, for it speaks with the vocabulary of the great vital constants, sexual instinct, feeling of death, physical notion of the enigma of space—these vital constants are universally echoed in every human. To understand an aesthetic picture, training in the appreciation is necessary, cultural and intellectual preparation. For Surrealism the only [prerequisite] is a receptive and intuitive human being.”
Dali defined Destino as, ‘a magical exposition of life in the labyrinth of time.’ This would effectively accomplish the purpose of surrealist art, he claimed, because it would provide audiences with the ‘first vision of "psychological relief."'Dali’s depiction of Destino, however, was markedly different from Disney’s own pitch to audiences who characterized the film as ‘a simple love story—boy meets girl.’
This divergence between the two collaborators reveals the subtle, but persistent tension underlying their project, even though Destino’s ultimate success lies in its ability to strike a balance aesthetically, philosophically, and practically. The final product is a blend of marketing with metaphysics, a cohesive story with disjointed images, as well as a short-lived strategic partnership with a lifelong friendship
Perhaps this is possible because despite outward appearances Dali and Disney were, at their core, more similar than they were different. Notably, these similarities were highlighted in an exhibition, Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, which ran during the first half of 2016 at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Both men were “visionary artists…sustained by the simple kinship of two small town boys on a never-ending quest to broaden the horizons of art.” Both were single-minded workaholics. And both believed that animation enhanced art and allowed for limitless possibilities because of the power, control, and consistency that it offered.
Through Destino, Dali’s “vocabulary of great vital constants” is translated into the medium of animation, his “signature incongruities”, which include “crawling ants, colossal statues, shadowy vistas, a baseball ballet and, of course, melting clocks” move from the canvas to the screen.
Furthermore, whether he acknowledged it or not, Disney’s work was influenced by surrealism. “Spontaneous subconscious association, anti-logical juxtaposition of imagery, unconnected gags and dream logic abound in the work [of early American animators].” And critics agree that Disney’s "Pink Elephants on Parade sequence in Dumbo (1941) is one of American Surrealism's most sublime moments.”
Still, despite these underlying similarities, compromise was required to finally merge Dali's and Disney’s sometimes-contradictory ideas about artistic direction. Dali’s vision was ultimately manifested, at least in part, by the decidedly un-Disney use of “frame-to-frame transition.”
“Rather than adopt wholesale a fluid imperceptible frame transition, Destino, in parts, unwinds, via brief dissolves from contiguously related stills…This visual motion has the effect of creating a lazy, dreamlike quality…[which] is particularly surrealist, given that it forces the viewer to consciously accept two momentarily competing images.”
On the other hand, in order to fulfill Disney’s conceptual framework, Dali’s “loose roadmap” had to be reinterpreted in order to “create a cohesive whole instead of just a series of surrealist images.” A coherent narrative was (and is) “a Disney requisite,” a philosophy that is contradicted by Dali’s repeated assertions“ with regard to Destino, ‘If you understand this, then I’ve failed.’”
In the end, these compromises resulted in a timeless piece of art that appeals both to those who “prefer nostalgic, critter-filled tales with reliably happy endings” as well as those who are drawn to “avant-garde renderings of giant masturbating blobs.”
The inherent tension of Destino’s narrative – the impossibility of a lasting love in a world dictated and limited by time – mirrors the tension between Dali’s peculiar surrealism and Disney’s whimsical animations. And, just as a sense of balance in Destino is restored when the lovers are immortalized into stone, balance between the artistic directions of Dali and Disney is achieved through the spirit of compromise.