Tag: disney animation art

Halloween 2021: Celebrating The Art of Disney Villains

It’s almost time for Halloween, and if your family is anything like mine, it’s at least equal to Christmas in importance and excitement. In our house, we have The 31 Days of Halloween. We watch a horror movie or a movie with a great villain, listen to soundtracks like Psycho, Halloween, and, of course, songs from Disney’s The Headless Horseman. This seems like a perfect time to consider a few of Disney’s villains. Villains have played an important part in my love of animation and appreciation for Disney films, and I’m sure some of you can say the same!

I remember back some years ago, before the folks at Disney figured out there were lots of villains fans like me. I would comb the stores all over the parks looking for merchandise featuring Chernabog (not a morning demon), The Evil Queen (a misunderstood crone), Cruella De Vil (I’ve got nothing. She’s bad. She wanted to make a coat out of puppies..) and Shere Khan (voiced by George Sanders, so of course I love him. Don’t be mad at him just because he’s a hungry tiger.)  It was extremely rare for me to find anything. Then Nightmare Before Christmas became retroactively popular, and Disney figured out there are scores of fans who loved all the (supposedly) bad guys and gals. 

Ever since I started selling animation in 1988, I’ve had loyal fans of villains. Some of them aimed to collect cels or drawings of every single one of them. Others had very specific favorites, and only collected them. Over the years, I’ve sold hundreds of cels and art of Disney villains. It became my specialty. Over the years, they’ve become highly prized, (as I expected), and finding good art in great original condition has become very challenging. Of course, I still try! 

What makes the Disney villains such a big deal? For one thing, they are always the character that gets the most story told in the least amount of time. These characters aren’t in a lot of scenes, but the ones featuring them are always some of the movie’s most important moments. In both storytelling and visual quality, they are always the most memorable.  

In Snow White, the scene when the Queen turns into the hag is a stunning piece of animation.  

Evil queen and witch from Snow White
An original illustration from Disney Publishing from the Villains storybook: The Queen Transforms. For more info or to buy, click on the art.

The hag isn’t in Snow White for very long, but she’s a gorgeous example of character animation. 

An original drawing of the wicked witch from Snow White. For more info or to buy, click on the art.

The witch, or the Queen as an old hag, was designed by Joe Grant. 

The witch was chiefly animated by Norm Ferguson, who was a supervising animator on the film. She was voiced by stage and screen actress Lucille La Verne, who also voiced the Wicked Queen. As someone who had been performing since 1876, performing Juliet and Lady Macbeth back to back at 14, it was her final film performance. 

Chernabog steals the whole movie in his sequence Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia.  

Chernabog is perfect for Halloween, because he is based on a Slavic god who rises from the top of Bald Mountain on Walpurgis Night (The Witches’ Sabbath) which might be on April 30th in Europe and Scandinavia, but the holiday mimics Halloween in the US. It is celebrated by dressing in costumes and conducting rituals to keep evil spirits at bay. In Finland there is much drinking, especially of sparkling wine, and the towns have a carnival-like atmosphere. 

A gorgeous drawing of the quintessential villain Chernabog. For more information or to buy, click on the image.

In Night on Bald Mountain, clearly there isn’t enough going on to ward off evil, since Chernabog calls forth his minions from the fiery pits of hell. He is definitely Disney’s most purely evil villain. The Night on Bald Mountain sequence was animated by Vladimir ‘Bill’ Tytla, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and my favorite Disney animator. Conceptualized by a mixture of talented artists including Heinrich Kley, Albert Hurter, and Kay Nielsen, who created the model sheet for Tytla’s animation. The animator was Ukranian, and well aware of the character’s mythology. He was once seen working on the animation in total darkness other than the fluorescent light of his drawing table. Bill Tytla, by all accounts, was an intense, serious man, and captured great emotions in his characters, which also included Yensid, Stromboli, and Dumbo. His last work was directing the animation on The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  

Just watch a video of his work, and you’ll understand why he’s a fan favorite:

Cruella is one of Disney’s ‘funny’ villains, but she’s still terrifying, not least because she thinks nothing of killing over a hundred dogs to make a coat. She is immediately unforgettable when makes her first entrance in the film, barging into Roger and Anita’s house. 

An original production cel of Cruella deVil. For more information or to buy, click on the image.
A Disneyland setup of Cruella and Horace Badun from 101 Dalmatians. For more info or to buy, click on the image.

Cruella originates from the 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith, which was originally serialized in Women’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery, with Perdita being called Missis. The animation of Cruella for the original animated feature was done by Marc Davis, from designs by Davis, Ken Anderson, and Bill Peet. Cruella’s half black and half white hair, black dress, and oversized mink coat are all from Smith’s novel. Her skeletal shape and a chain smoking were added by the Disney artists building her look. Her cigarette holder was modeled after the one Marc Davis himself used. The bright red of her coat was an Allusion to her demonic nature. Her character was inspired by actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis from All About Eve, and Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame. 

Here is a great little video profile on Marc Davis. 

She was voiced by the gorgeous Belly Lou Gerson, known for her voice work in the 40s and 50s, including on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and Lux Radio Theater. She was in the 1958 horror classic The Fly and guest starred in The Twilight Zone. Fans of the under appreciated animated feature Cats Don’t Dance will love knowing she provided the voice of Frances for the film. 

 These characters resonate with us for a reason. They represent archetypes known all over the world, many of which were examined and studied by psychologists and philosophers throughout history. Carl Jung is most famous for exploring and explaining archetypes, which allow us all to understand life through symbolism (and put people in neat little categories which can be damaging, especially to women.) He believed the path of life makes more sense and can be walked with more understanding and finesse if we know these timeless, recognizable categories in which the human psyche is driven to place everyone they encounter in their daily lives. Knowing what they are allows us all to play with them, lean into them, or mix and match them, should we so choose. They include The Innocent, The Everyman, The Hero, The Rebel, The Explorer, The Creator, The Ruler, The Magician, The Lover, The Caregiver, The Jester, and The Sage. These archetypes can even be leveraged or manipulated in branding and marketing, as explained HERE

Joseph Campbell talks about the eight types of characters in the hero’s journey in The Hero of a Thousand Faces. They include the hero, mentor, ally, herald, trickster, shapeshifter, guardian, and shadow. You can read more about there HERE. I’m sure you already know Star Wars was cribbed almost entirely from The Hero’s Journey, which you can see HERE. Most of the Disney villains represent the shadow, but might also have a second archetype, as the hag, who is both shadow and shapeshifter, does. 

One of Disney’s first focuses on the villains as a team was in 1981, for a special in The Wonderful World of Disney, which included the Evil Queen’s mirror, Captain Hook, Edgar from The Aristocats, Wille the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, Kaa from Shere Khan, The Evil Queen, Cruella, Madam Medusa, and Maleficent. Disney has created more than 127 villains in films, sequels, tv, video games, books, and theme parks. The more recent villains franchise is a collection with villains that have primary members, which includes the Evil Queen, Chernabog, Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Maleficent, Cruella, Ursula, Jafar, Scar, Hades, and Dr. Facilier. 

We have this piece, which was the basis of an early incarnation of the villains ‘team’, before Dr. Facilier (Disney’s first Black villain) had been introduced. It’s the color model for the Disney sericel, “Dungeon of Doom”. 

Original color model for Disney sericel, “Dungeon of Doom”, featuring the villains! For information or to buy, click on the image.

Of course there’s a sub-franchise called Disney’s Divas of Darkness, (folks in the know call it DDD for short). That includes Evil Queen, Lady Tremaine, Queen of Hearts, Maleficent, Cruella, Madam Mim, Madame Medusa, Ursula, Ysma, and Mother Gothel (who was inspired by Cher!).  Now THAT sounds like a garden party I’d love to attend. 

In my research for this blog, I found there is also a sub-franchise called Disney’s Sinister Cats. It includes bad kitties Lucifer, the Cheshire Cat, Si and Am, Shere Khan, Felicia (from The Great Mouse Detective) and Scar. Who knew? Now I need to find some merchandise from this. 

Of course there is a lot of of art created by Disney fine artists celebrating villains. You can find our collection of villains, from Disney and elsewhere, HERE

Restoration of Vintage Animation: The Basics pt. 1

In this blog, I’m going to start talking about restoration, my thoughts on it, what sorts of cels need it, and as much information as I can think of to spread around from my opinion and perspective…  As a dealer and lover of animation who has been around the “business” since there were only 5 galleries in the world some 25 years ago, I have certainly seen my share of damaged cels….Here are the categories of cels that need restoration:

  • There are cels that have been left in the closet of a house that has no air conditioning: the worst example of this was a cel of Cheshire Cat where the bright pink paint had seeped into the actual cel, and the paint had melted to make the poor creature look like he’d been smashed to death. Tragic. (No picture. No one needed a reminder of such ruin)
  • There have been cels that are from the era of “art corner”–these are the cels from Disney released at Disneyland–they are put on thin litho copy backgrounds and it is just about inherent to the era that the cels are stuck, often completely, to the background. Many collectors just leave them that way, since anyone who knows what they are looking at will expect the cel to be stuck. Fortunately, a friend devised a way to separate those cels from their backgrounds without destroying all the paint, and keeping the art intact.  YAY!!! He deserves an award! (no, he doesn’t do it for the general public…)
  • There are cels that are painted nitrate cellulose, and that “plastic” shrinks and expands with the moisture in the air and they look all shriveled and wavy. Often the paint cracks off because it is being asked to stay adhered to these wavy pieces of plastic. TOO MUCH STRESS! These pieces are often Courvoisier set ups, which were put together and sold by Disney in the late 30s and early 40s. There are also cels from Dumbo that crack from the kind of paint they used with the elephants. Rare indeed are the cels that are unrestored of the lead character or other elephants from that film.
  • There are cels that are from the 50s from movies where the paint they used is notorious for cracking. An example of this is the white on Alice in Wonderland. Her apron, her tights…these crack very easily. Since Alice and Cinderella fall in between the Courvoisier and Art Corner eras at Disney, they are often just loose cels someone saved. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few that are in perfect condition from that time period that I call “The Secretary’s Era”, because women who worked in the offices there and took art home sometimes painted over the back of the cel where the paint was with clear nail polish. I have never seen pieces that have nail polish with chipped or cracked paint. Those gals knew what they were doing!
  • There are cels that are from when Disney started selling art to the public through what they called “The Disney Art Program”. These cels have seals (a variety of them, actually) but they are often laminated on both the front and the back of the cel. So that means an extra piece of plastic is added on top of the cels with art on them. THESE ARE TICKING TIME BOMBS, says a chemist friend who has been working with restoration experts for longer than I’ve even been around animation.  Why? Because something happens with the chemistry of the paint and whatever they used to seal it all together. I don’t really understand it, but what I DO know is the end result is at some point the cels start getting bubbling, smell weird, and then shrivel up. I have heard of, and a few times seen firsthand that removing the layers on either side of the art saves the inner cel(s), but once it starts bubbling time is of the essence. For this reason I rarely sell cels from between 1971 and 1986 unless I can tell it is laminated only on one side or not at all.

Winnie the Pooh double laminated cel in bad shape...
Winnie the Pooh double laminated cel in bad shape…

Damaged double laminated cel--a rare example of a vintage piece sold from "The Disney Art Program" between 1973-1986.
Damaged double laminated cel–a rare example of a vintage piece sold from “The Disney Art Program” between 1973-1986.

  • Finally, there are cels that are simply not well taken care of–left in houses with extreme changes in temperature, or in a hot car, or in a pile of cels where they all get stuck together. Also, if an extremely hard winter (as we’ve just had on the East coast) has caused sharp changes of temperature and extreme cold, it can mean trouble for a perfect unrestored cel.

Unfortunately, (from my perspective), the world of animation doesn’t see any difference between art that is in original condition and art that’s been restored. This is good news for those who agree with this notion, but those who know me are aware of the fact that I would always prefer to carry and sell art in its original condition. I suspect those from Europe, or at least more often from outside the US, tend to be more committed to finding art that is in good original shape. When a collector with either perspective finds a great image of a key scene or moment from a favorite short or movie, however, if the art is damaged to the point of being visually distracting, restoration often becomes a necessity.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss how to proceed when cels are damaged, at what point a collector might decide restoration is necessary, and where information and help can be obtained.

Postscript: I was searching the web for Courvoisier cels that are cracked but in good condition, and I found no less than dozens of cels that I’ve had for sale and sold at some point, and remember what they looked like at the time, and now they are “perfect”