You’d be hard pushed to find anyone on the street who hadn’t heard of either the Surrealist genius Salvador Dalí or the master animator Walt Disney, but I’d be willing to bet that not many would know that the two actually collaborated on a project together.
In 1946 Dalí started work on a project for Disney, entitled Destino, alongside Disney studio artist John Hench, and it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Dalí had an innate interest in double images, which is evident in his paintings where swans are reflected in water as elephants and clocks melt in time. The opportunity to transport this metamorphosis into a moving frame really was the next step for this iconic artist.
However, Dalí only got to make the first 8 seconds of the film due to financial difficulties halting the project, and the rest was completed by Dominique Monfrey and Baker Bloodworth in 2003 based on Dalí’s initial sketches, visible in the credits of the film. For this reason, we see a Disney branded version of Dalí, whereby the trademark landscapes of Dali’s visions are imprinted upon by a Disney female figure and in Destino, inspired by Dalí and moulded by Disney we see faces melt, ballerinas come alive, a shadow morph into a dress and a head transform into a baseball.
Aspects of Surrealism had weaved their way into Disney films before, for example, the terrifying wood scene in Snow White, but even Destino can not be compared to other surrealist films being produced in the 1940s. Especially when compared to the grotesque Un Chien Andalou by another major player in the Surrealist movement, André Breton. In Breton’s classic film, eyes are slit open and ants crawl out of hands and whilst this is mimicked in Destino, the element of animation removes the harsh confrontation present in Breton’s film.
Unlike in most surrealist films whereby the chronological order of events is distorted, we move through sequences in Destino about love, life and time reaching a final climatic solution. Though the film touches on the theme of time with the appearance of the God of Chronos (Greek God of time) it is not a repeated or confusing timeline. Meaning can be extracted from the film about fate and love, but in pure surrealist films there often is little meaning or it is completely irrelevant to the sequence of images used to provoke emotion, rather than a narrative connection.
Destino is a fascinating endeavour lying somewhere between art and popular culture- though it is not a surrealist film it has elements of Surrealism and it’s an incredible blend of work that was happening at the time. Fortunately, we have the whole film today and as a starting point for looking at art in film, it’s not a bad place to begin.