ANIMATION ART AUCTION INCLUDES 2,000 WORKS FROM THE STUDIO’S MOST SIGNIFICANT FEATURE FILMS, INCLUDING ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ ‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’ AND ‘THE LION KING’
By Christina Rees
There are now four generations walking this planet who associate the phrase “Disney animation” with a run of stunning feature films released between 1989 and 1999. The list includes The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas and Mulan, and while each is a complete work of art in its own right, their presence in the culture knows no bounds. They are touchstones. Boomers took their kids to these movies and loved them for their sheer artistry and storytelling. Gen X went to see them because they were blockbusters with killer soundtracks and visuals. Millennials and Gen Z not only grew up on them, but these films set their narrative and aesthetic standards. When a cultural force is this powerful and encompassing, its history can be divided into eras. This era of Disney animation is rightfully referred to as its renaissance.
From December 9-12, in The Art of All Things Disney, Heritage offers the most extensive collection of animation art from Disney’s renaissance ever brought to auction. The works include every aspect of the movie-making process: production cels and drawings, storyboard and original concept art, key master backgrounds, artists’ proofs, 3D maquettes and more. How did so many of these precious materials – from such a controlling studio – reach Heritage? Hats off to Disney’s Renaissance Boss.
“The highlight of this section is the Peter Schneider Collection,” says Jim Lentz, Heritage’s Director of Animation Art. “Mr. Schneider was the president of Disney Feature Animation from 1986 to 1999. His collection of production cels, rare studio artwork and pieces of Disney feature animation history is simply amazing.”
Some of the most memorable and beloved images from cinema are offered in Schneider’s collection: The Little Mermaid’s production cel of Ariel confessing her crush on Prince Eric to Sebastian; The Lion King’s artist’s proof employees-only presentation cel of Simba snuggling up to his dad, Mufasa; Beauty and the Beast’s presentation cel of Belle serenaded by her tabletop hosts with the song “Be Our Guest.” There’s even a Little Mermaid sheet-music hand-written score by Alan Menken, who won the Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for his music for the film.
“We are proud to be the first major auction house anywhere to salute these groundbreaking and magnificent animated films and their outstanding artwork,” Lentz says.
Given that this event spans four days and more than 2,000 lots, it’s not surprising that Disney’s renaissance is not the only Disney era represented in an auction titled “The Art of All Things Disney.” Disney of course kicked off its domination of animation art with its Golden Age: The breathtaking hand-drawn art and animation of Cinderella, Pinocchio, Snow White, Dumbo, Bambi – it’s difficult to describe the sheer impact of this level of artistry on the big screen for unsuspecting audiences at the time. Here Heritage offers a remarkable array of animation art by Disney’s original VIPs of the form, including original production cels from Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, Peter Pan and more, all hand-drawn and colored by Disney’s most celebrated artists. These are slices of history you can hold in your hand, bursting with charisma and lyrical beauty unmatched by any other studio.
Dec. 9-12, 2022
“The greatest artists to ever work at the Walt Disney studios are represented here,” Lentz says. He’s not only talking about Mary Blair (present in this event via original paintings from Sleepy Hollow, Song of the South, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and more from the Joe Hale Collection and Lee Blair Archive), but also Peter Ellenshaw (represented here by fine art, concept art and original art, including an atmospheric study for Mary Poppins), Harrison Ellenshaw, Eyvind Earle (check out this wonderfully evocative Lady and the Tramp street scene), Walt Peregoy, Paul Wenzel, Ralph Hulett, Kay Nielsen (see this Fantasia “Night on Bald Mountain” concept drawing), Fred Moore, and Carl Barks. In other words, this event is heaven for die-hard Disney aficionados who want the real deal: the art behind the art.
Another highlight of this auction is the art of Disney’s storybook collection. Over the years, Disney storybooks, adapted from the movies, were released in tandem with the films and, especially before home-video availability, gave both the movies’ masterful storytelling and the indelible animation a permanent place in countless households. There is a selection of animated-feature storybook art in this auction, and these essential and synthesizing illustrations are as much a part of our collective memory as the moving images they came from. When you think of Pinocchio smoking a cigar, you are as likely to be picturing an illustration from the storybook as you are a scene from the movie.
It would be odd to have an event featuring the art without also featuring the man behind this magic kingdom: Walt Disney himself. Disney fans love to collect Walter Disney’s distinctive (if not evolving) signature. This event showcases a number of lots that boast one of the most recognizable signatures in American history and includes Walt-signed artwork, contracts, checks, books and more. Adding Walt’s personal flourish to your collection is having a moment of his time in your possession.
There is so much more in this extraordinary event that it’s difficult to summarize. New and seasoned Disney fans will spot absolute treasures in this auction. Fans who long for original works going back to 1937’s Snow White to fans of 2010’s Tangled and beyond will find something to satisfy their longing for the best storytelling and most enchanting art from the studio that has captured generations of movie lovers.
CHRISTINA REES is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.