Wonderful worlds of Disney

Texas museum draws in Disney fans with magical new animation exhibit

Texas museum draws in Disney fans with magical new animation exhibit

Snow White forest
Snow White is one of the movies in the exhibit.

For those planning a road trip to wonderful worlds, a summer exhibition at the Arlington Museum of Art is peeking behind lens of iconic Disney animated movies to reveal how the magic is made.

"Disney Art from Private Collections" features about 250 original animation sketches and cels, storyboards, character studies, and concept drawings from Disney animated films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Bambi, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Aladdin, and more.

Presented in partnership with longtime Walt Disney Animation Studios artist and Disney legend Andreas Deja, the exhibit is on display now and runs through September 4.

All the pieces on display are from the private collection of Deja, a trove that includes decades of work by three of Disney’s most talented and prolific animators: Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Deja himself. According to a release, Deja oversaw the creative development of such memorable characters as the villainous Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin, and Scar in The Lion King.

A concurrent exhibit at the museum displays more of Deja's original works, including independent projects such as an upcoming short film Mushka "about a young girl and her tiger, animated in a colored pencil style," the release describes.

“When the Arlington Museum of Art asked me if I was interested in an exhibition that would feature my work from the Disney Studios, as well as some personal art, I felt flattered and excited,” Deja says in the release.

Visitors can expect to feel immersed inside the world of Disney, says Chris Hightower, president and CEO of the Arlington Museum of Art.

“We want 'Disney Art from Private Collections' to fill visitors with the same kind of wonder and joy they feel for their favorite Disney films,” Hightower says in the release.

To create a unique, engaging experience, he adds, the museum is "borrowing from" techniques animators use when they’re telling a story. "Throughout the exhibition, we’ll share backstories, build in elements of surprise, create drama, and give visitors ways to interact, play, and learn,” he says.

While the exhibit is on view, the Arlington Museum of Art is also conducting related programs, events, and activities for children and adults — including a Disney animated film series.

Downtown Arlington has also launched a campaign called "The Magic of Downtown," which includes Disney-themed cocktails, trivia nights, bar crawls, theatrical productions, and more across downtown venues. The next event is a "Princess and Villains"-themed bar crawl, taking place at 6:30 pm Saturday, July 9 through downtown Arlington.

“We’ve really been inspired by the team at The Walt Disney Family Museum,” Hightower says. “They’ve helped us imagine our own wonderful world of experiences right here in North Texas to accompany the 'Disney Art from Private Collections' exhibition.”

As for the exhibition inspiration itself, Deja has been a lifelong fan of Disney animated films, he says, and was hired by Disney in 1980.

"In his early years at the studio, he sought mentorship from seven of the then-living 'Nine Old Men,' who were hired by Walt Disney himself and rose to high levels of artistic leadership within the company," the release says.

So he not only learned from the best but garnered interest in collecting their work.

“It is my great pleasure to exhibit the work of Disney animators who came before me,” Deja says. “Artists like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston have inspired me my whole life through characters they animated for classic films like Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and The Jungle Book. Their original drawings give viewers an insight into the depth of their character analysis and draftsmanship.”

Now, he hopes others will be inspired by the works on display. 

“Traditional animation requires a great number of drawings for the purpose of bringing a character to life,” Deja says. “No computer will help you in this quest; it is only you and many blank sheets of paper. The artist’s goal is not only to move drawings, but more importantly, to move audiences.”

Tickets to the exhibition, $5-$20, can be reserved through through the museum’s website