Walt Disney didn’t always make good decisions. The 1940s proved that.
At the beginning of the decade, the Walt Disney Company was the most popular of the Hollywood animation studios, but they had mounting debts. Disney raised operating capital by taking the company public… and his problems began.
As a public company, his finances were subject to greater scrutiny. The massive disparity between what Walt and a few of his best friends were making and the wages paid to the remainder of the staff became known, and friction was generated at the studio. In 1941, a lead animator joined a union; he was fired by Disney, which prompted roughly half of the studio to walk out. The stock price fell. After months of negotiation he acceded to most of the animator’s demands and everyone was ready to get back to work. Mere weeks afterward, however, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.
Some skilled animators went off to war. Others stayed and made propaganda films, but they didn’t pay very well and Disney was already strapped for cash. After the war ended, Disney scrambled for something that would make him some money.
Salvador Dali seemed to have the answer.
Fantasia had been a massive success for the studio, and Disney decided to return to the concept of mixing music with visuals. One of Disney’s lead animators collaborated with the famed artist over the course of months to produce detailed storyboards for a project which was to be called Destino. Despite all of the work, and even a short example animation, when Disney saw the result he decided it couldn’t make money. The project was shelved in favor of what he thought would be a smash hit.
More than a half century later, Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney discovered the long-forgotten storyboards and notes while working on Fantasia 2000. Intrigued, he investigated… and discovered the original storyboard artist, John Hench, was still alive. With the aid of Hench and the journals of Dali’s wife, Roy was able to piece together the full intended sequence of Destino. It became a pet project. In 2003, after a team of more than two dozen traditional and computer animators had worked on it, the short film Destino was released… the long-lost collaboration between two of the twentieth century’s most famous artists, not completed during either’s lifetime.
As for the “smash hit” that Disney pursued instead? It was Song of the South, a movie that performed poorly in theaters and resulted in decades of racism allegations for the company.
Question of the night: Do you have a favorite 20th century artist?