Simanaitis Says

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WALT DISNEY had a way with fantasy. And so did artist Salvador Dali. Amazingly, these otherwise vastly different art icons worked together. In researching this, I learned of John Hench, a Disney legend, who played an important role in a little-known film that was 58 years from onset to completion.


Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, an exhibition at The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco.

The Walt Disney Family Museum, founded by Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s daughter, set Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, an exhibition opening July 10, 2015 and running to January 3, 2016. Then the exhibition travels to The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, in view from late January through June 2016.

It would seem that Disney and Dali had little in common. In “Of Course Salvador Dali and Walt Disney Had a Beautiful Friendship,” author Priscilla Frank observes, “One had a soft spot for anthropomorphized mice and stuttering ducks; the other for melting clocks and voracious ants. One said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ and the other: ‘I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.’ ”


Salvador Dali, left, and Walt Disney. This and other images from the Walt Disney Family Foundation.

Yet they were both highly creative artists. The exhibition contains storyboards, photographs, voice recordings and exchanged letters of mutual admiration. Dali admired Disney’s “Silly Symphony” series, especially its dancing skeletons. Disney read The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, the artist’s 1942 autobiography, and sent him a copy to autograph.


Dali drew this rendition of Don Quixote in a Disney copy of Macbeth. Image from The Columbian.

In 1945, Disney studio artist John Hench was assigned to work with Salvador Dali on storyboards for Destino, a short film with the flavor of the 1940 Fantasia. Also on the project was Donald W. Ernst, whose future credits were to include editing TV’s Gilligan’s Island and The Lord of the Rings movie.

No stranger to movies himself, Salvador Dali had already collaborated with surrealist Luis Buñuel on Un Chien Andalou, 1929, the debut film for both, and L’Age d’Or a year later. He also composed the famed dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 psychoanalytical thriller, Spellbound.


John Hench, left, who resembled his boss, Walt Disney, right. It’s said Hench got used to signing autographs for Disney admirers. Image from a Walt Disney Company promotional photo.

John Hench had been with Disney since 1939, a career that was to encompass more than 65 years. High points include being the official portrait artist of Mickey Mouse, lead developer of the hydraulic giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and designer of Space Mountain and of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdoms and Tokyo Disneyland. Hench also devised the torch for the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Storyboard planning of the film Destino began at something of a low point in Walt Disney Studios finances. After eight months’ development in 1946, the project was shelved. Even a 17-second sample devised by Hench failed to rekindle interest.

Fast forward to 1999. Walt Disney had passed away, age 65, in 1966; Salvador Dali, 84, in 1989. Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, unearthed the project and commissioned Disney Studios France to complete it. Destino had its premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France, on June 2, 2003. It has since had showings around the world.


Destino, 1945 – 2003.

Destino portrays the story of Chronos, the god of time, and his ill-fated love for Dahlia, a mortal. Set to the music of Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez, Dahlia dances through scenery that combines traditional Disney’s animation with Dali’s surrealism. At one point, for example, the shadow of a bell transforms into Dahlia’s ball gown. In another, Dali ants become bicyclists wearing peanut hats.


No, there never is Mickey with a melting watch. This is my homage to both Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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