Exquisite destiny

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Destino (which is Spanish for “destiny”) is a cinematic legend I’ve been hearing about for years: a collaboration between Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, and the father of good ol’ American fantasy storytelling, Walt Disney. The two began their infamous animation project, Destino, in 1946, but it was never finished and was kept in the Disney vaults for more than half a century. Whether due to movie industry labor strikes or Walt deciding the endeavor was just too weird, the project was halted; Disney said money was tight. In 2001, Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, vice chairman of Disney at the time, resurrected the project, which includes 15 conceptual paintings by Dali and 135 story sketches.

In essence, Destino is a love story in perpetual metamorphosis. It’s only seven minutes long, but a damned fantastic seven minutes. It begins with a woman emerging from a rocky Dali-esque landscape in toned-down Disney nudity (I don’t believe I saw any nipples, but the scene went pretty fast). The woman is drawn to a male presence that at first appears as a stone Chronos, the Greek god of time. Like Dali’s melting clocks (and you get to see a couple), time and form are liquid, always in rapid flux. Disney’s John Hench, Dali’s assistant on Destino, is responsible for giving continuity to the outrageous, irrational images of Dali, a guy who actually looked like a cartoon character with a crazy waxed moustache that reaches for the sky.

Constructed by French animators under the direction of Dominique Monfery, the primarily 2D animation was molded around original Latin music by Armando Dominguez with romantic vocals by Dora Luz, true to the musical style of 1945, when it was recorded. Dali’s heightened colors and slick painted surfaces merge perfectly with animation’s similar bent. It’s Dali’s imagery let loose on the big screen that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more. This is a one-of-a-kind experience, as though one is peering through a window into Dali’s living dreams. The woman merges her shadow with the shadow of a bell, and then slips into it like a dress, her head becoming a white dandelion puff, which disperses its seeds into the wind. Two heads of fate — huge profiles, flattened and distorted, with bulging eyes and wicked smiles, sit on top of turtle shells cradling a baseball between their foreheads, which becomes the head of a ballerina.

Some of you may recognize imagery from that notorious 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) written by Dali and directed by Luis Buñuel. Like Un Chien, ants crawl out of the palm of a hand, but this time, they morph into a swarm of men riding bicycles with loaves of bread resting on their heads.

It’s too bad high corporate drama surrounds this little jewel. Last November, Roy Disney resigned from his family’s namesake in protest over company CEO Michael Eisner, asking shareholders to vote him out. Roy believes that under Eisner’s leadership, “... the Company has lost its focus, its creative energy, and its heritage.” In his eyes and in others’, Eisner has turned a wonderful world of children’s entertainment into one of the ugliest big businesses on Earth, and it looks like things are getting worse. In the wake of Roy’s resignation, Eisner has decided not to continue Disney’s partnership with Pixar, and is in the process of dismantling its 2D animation studios (the artistic medium of Destino) in favor of 3D animation.

Already, Destino has won best short film at the Melbourne International Film Festival and best animated short at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, along with myriad nominations. Who would have guessed its recent Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film would upset the Disney machine, already in a state of extreme upheaval? Disney execs are cringing at the possibility of Destino winning and Roy Disney voicing his anti-Eisner thoughts live to 200 million TV viewers, a view Dali would most likely be in tune with. Even back in 1968, money-mongering’s deleterious effect on creativity was a growing concern to the artist. In his playful manifesto, “My Cultural Revolution,” under the heading Justice, Dali calls for the “Activation of cybernetic-research commissions for the resurrection and glorification of great thoughts that have fallen victim to materialism.”

Destino is aptly, and prophetically, titled. It’s as if the ghosts of Walt and Salvador were the film’s two heads of fate, coming back to bite Eisner on his greedy ass. This is a taste of classic Disney, a crooning, twisting song sung to the eyes, a vacation from rational thoughts. Like most vacations, it’s far too short.

 

Destino will be shown as an opening attraction with The Triplets of Belleville at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak) starting Friday, Feb. 13. Call 248-263-2111 for more information.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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