204. DESTINO (2003)

“A magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time.”– describing Destino

“A simple story about a young girl in search of true love .”– describing Destino

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DIRECTED BY: Dominique Monfery

FEATURING: Vocals of Dora Luz

PLOT: Essentially plotless, but the loose narrative involves a nude woman wandering the desert who comes upon a pyramidal statue with a male figure embedded in it. A bird bursts from the statue and it comes to life. The woman and man try to approach each other but walls and other surreal obstacles constantly grow between them, until the woman is transformed into a ballerina with a dandelion head, and then into a bell housed in a tower.

Still from Destino (1946/2003)
BACKGROUND:

  • After making the (flop) Fantasia, was still looking for opportunities to incorporate high culture into his animated projects. In the 1940s visited Hollywood frequently; fascinated by stars and by filmmaking, and constantly promoting himself, the Spanish eccentric struck up friendships with many Tinseltown luminaries, including Disney. The two men hit it off and conceived the idea of a collaboration on a short film (which would be part of an anthology feature film similar to Fantasia). Dalí worked closely with Disney animator John Hench,  who translated many of the Spaniard’s sketches and ideas into ready-to-film animation cels. The project was begun in 1945 and continued for eight months, but only 17 seconds of footage was actually created before it was scrapped.
  • Secondary sources report that the male statue is Chronos (presumably the god of time) while the female character is named “Dahlia” (a feminization of the artist’s name).
  • The official explanation for Disney’s decision to shelve the project was that the wartime vogue for “package pictures” had passed, and Disney’s distributors were requesting full-length features. The documentary Dalí & Disney: A Date with Destino suggests that Walt may have found the film too “bananas,” citing a report that he blew up one afternoon after seeing that Dalí had stopped painting pictures of ballerinas and had begun drawing baseball players instead.
  • Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew and a Disney senior executive, was looking for material to provide extras for the DVD release of Fantasia 2000 when he discovered the unused material for Destino in a moldy corporate storeroom. He decided to reconstruct the film from the existing storyboards and leftover concept art, largely so that the Disney Company would gain property rights in the underlying artwork. Fortunately, John Hench was still alive at the time to provide guidance for the reconstruction.
  • This was animator Dominique Monfery’s first work as a director.
  • The short briefly played theaters as an unlikely introduction to the comedy Calendar Girls.
  • Destino was nominated for an Academy Award for best short animated film in 2004, but—incredibly, given its provenance and historical value—it did not win. (‘s excellent Harvie Krumpet got the nod instead).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The most impressive of many gloriously hallucinatory moments is the seventeen second sequence that John Hench animated to try to convince a faltering Walt Disney to go ahead with the project. Two grotesque faces, with bulging eyeballs and tattered skin pulled taut and held in place by crutches, are perched upon two turtles who slowly bear them together. In the negative space formed when their noses touch, a perfect, pearly ballerina appears.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dandelion-headed dancer; baguette-wearing bicyclists; ballerina-head baseball

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Destino is Salvador Dalí’s only moving canvas. A slight breeze from Walt Disney Studios nudges it ever so slightly off its already tilted axis. This dream of a Disney princess trapped in Dalí’s delirious desert is something we will not see the likes of again in our lifetimes.


Promotional clip about Destino from the Dalí Museum (in Spanish and English)

COMMENTS: Salvador Dalí was a genius. This fact may seem elementary, but Dalí’s reputation has sunk somewhat over the years.  As the favorite painter of college freshmen and acid freaks, Dalí is partially a victim of his own popularity; hipsterish art historians would prefer to champion a more obscure Surrealist, like Rene Magritte, Man Ray or Max Ernst, to demonstrate their breadth of taste. When he was alive, Dalí did his best to alienate the avant-garde with his shameless self-promotion, naked lust for money and fame, embrace of Franco’s fascist regime, and scandalous re-conversion to Catholicism. A scene in the 2008 “historical” film Little Ashes, where an earnest Frederico Garcia Lorca meets a buffoonish older Dalí who no longer resembles the idealistic anarchist the poet fell in love with, reflects a common narrative about the provocative artist: his early genius was ruined by his hunger for money and adulation. Some film historians have downplayed Dalí’s contributions to Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or, the two experimental Surrealist films he collaborated on with Luis Buñuel. (Certainly, Buñuel’s subsequent achievements in cinema far outshone Dalí’s rare dabblings in the medium).

Regardless of a certain amount of backlash against Dalí, the fact remains that as a painter he is peerless. Technically, he is astounding. A prodigy on the scale of Mozart, Dalí was producing professional quality canvasses at the age of six, and by eighteen had mastered realism, Impressionism and Cubism, before setting out to become the world’s most prolific and popular Surrealist painter. He even contributed to the aesthetic philosophy of Surrealism with his theory of the paranoiac-critical method,” which describes and recreates the way the human mind automatically draws links between unrelated objects. This method appears in his work as optical illusions and hidden images found within the negative space formed by other objects.

Destino was sketched out in 1946, when Dalí was at the height of his artistic powers. His unique aesthetic and personal symbolism was fully formed, but he had not yet slid into repetition and self-parody. Dalí fans will immediately catch references to the painter’s favorite obsessions, beginning with that eternal Spanish desert landscape, Dalí ‘s psyche, on which all of the painter’s oneiric recombinations play out. Viewers will catch multiple glimpses of crutches, clocks (unmelted), and ants crawling out of a hole in a statue’s hand (a direct quote from Un Chien Andalou). The project is no simple recapitulation of Dalí’s favorite themes and images, however. The fluidity of animation allows the paranoiac-critical method to express itself in new but explicitly Dalíesque ways. On a static canvas, the painter might have presented a ballerina hiding in the negative space formed by two grotesque faces; but seeing two turtles carry the heads together to birth the dancer is a form of Dalían magic that could never exist except on film. Dalí (and his collaborators) play with the concept of morphing in ways he could not directly explore in painting, even in a series of canvases. A woman takes the shadow of a bell and wraps it around herself as a dress. Before our eyes, ants disintegrate into gears, which turn into bicyclists. A dancer spouts a dandelion head, and the spores that drift off themselves become tiny dancers. Adding the element of time to Dalí’s paintings catapults the Surrealist’s cosmic imagination into the fourth dimension.

Other than supplying the technical means for the painter to materialize his dreams, Disney adds little to the project, making this more of a Dalí solo project than a true collaboration. Destino may have been too bananas for Walt in 1946, but his nephew respects the great Surrealist’s vision in the 2003 reconstruction. The professionalism of Disney’s animation department does degrade Dalí slightly (but only slightly). The finished project looks just a little too clean and digitized. The turtle-face-ballerina image, the only segment which survives from the 1946 sessions, is more complex, earthy, textured and “dirty” looking—more like a Dalí canvas come to life—than the visuals created in 2003. It’s impossible not to see Pocahontas or another Disney princesses in the face of the female protagonist, who looks like a cartoon and not like one of Dalí’s photorealistic females. There is a brief computer-generated segment, as the statue turns human, which is presented in black and white, with hot glowing tendrils that bind the man to a clock. The imagery fits, but the style, while very pretty, is not very Dalí. In general, however, Disney Studios has the good sense to try to channel the spirit of the dead Spaniard, without imposing their own populist aesthetics on it. They even kept the original music, a melancholy Mexican ballad with the feel of a Portuguese saudade (although they debated re-recording it in  a crisp new rendition, which would have been a terrible mistake).

In the end, although challenging in form, Destino is surprisingly romantic in its emotional effect, which should have pleased Uncle Walt. It is, as he surmised, the story of a girl searching for love, though it is not as “simple” as he may have liked it to be. Dalí’s synopsis of the scenario—“a magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time”—is surely more accurate, but Walt cuts to the heart of the matter. Destino is a love story. The woman wanders the wastes looking for a mate. When she finds the only other candidate besides our statue, his face melts off when she tries to kiss him. She dances to attract a man; her movements are both naturally innocent and seductive. Her grace brings a statue to life, and their attraction is immediate and primal. There is continual frustration and obstacles to their union, however. A labyrinth springs up between them when they seem about to meet. The statue has a dove embedded in its breast, which leaves a hole when it breaks free. In the final image, the woman—who has become a bell hanging in the nearby tower, through the alchemy of paranoiac-critical synthesis—can be seen through the heart-shaped hole left by the departed dove. That surely is the sort of sentiment that would appeal to Disney: a tastefully sublimated, poetic vision of eternal love. But Dalí’s weird and tortured method of getting to that emotional end point, which involves the statue transforming into a baseball player and hitting a home run with the ballerina’s disembodied head, quite possibly drove Disney to shelve the project. It was a bad decision by Walt, one that has thankfully been rectified by his heirs. Destino is a rare treasure, a moving canvas from one of history’s greatest artists. It is sad that we cannot see how much farther Dalí could have pushed this new form had he been given the chance, but we are blessed to be alive to see the result of this strange experiment, even if it arrives sixty years late and long after the deaths of its principal collaborators.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“An often-astonishing film of great beauty and bizarre visuals paired with a provocative love song.”–Bob Longino, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (contemporaneous)

“I fell in love with Destino the first time I saw it.”–Leonard Maltin, Indiewire (Blu-ray)

“…a beautiful and, no doubt unsurprisingly, surreal film that blends the artistic style of Salvador Dalí (which is great if you love ants running around on melting clocks) with the beautiful music of Armando Dominguez.”–Sean Markey, Krank.ie

IMDB LINK: Destino (2003)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

‘Destino’ @ Disney Wikia – Includes basic information on the film, with animated gifs as a bonus

The Art of Destino – Official page on Destino at Disney’s fine art site

Dali’s Disney Film – National Public Radio report on the movie, incorporating interviews with John Hench and Roy E. Disney

Hench Discusses Legendary Link to Dali and Disney on ‘Destino’ – 2003 interview with the 95-year old John Hench for VFXWorld

Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination – Discussion of the two men’s relationship in the context of an upcoming exhibition (July 15, 2015 to January 3, 29016) at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco (the exhibit will then travel to the Dalí museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. where it will be on display through June 2016)

Salvador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Destino: See the Collaborative Film, Original Storyboards & Ink Drawings – Good background on the collaboration from Josh Jones, writing for “Open Mind”

The Destiny of Dali’s Destino – Another informative article from Ron Babrbagallo of “Animation Art Conservation” which includes more glimpses of Dalí’s original canvases and sketches

Dali, Disney short debuts after 57 yearsChicago Tribune report on the reconstruction

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Dali & Disney: Destino: The Story, Artwork, and Friendship Behind the Legendary Film (Disney Editions Deluxe) – This hardcover book including all 150 pieces of art Dalí and John Hench created for the project is scheduled for release in October 2015

DVD INFO: Disney promised they would release Destino on DVD as part of the “Treasures” compilation series soon after the film’s production, but kept canceling the release. The delay finally ended in 2010, when, with very little fanfare, they stuck Destino as an extra on the Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray of the Fantasia/Fantasia 2000  Blu-ray/DVD Combo set (buy). This set is currently the only way to purchase Destino; note that you will not find the short on the Fantasia 2000 single-disc DVD or Blu-ray releases. Dali & Disney: A Date with Destino is an 82-minute supplemental feature that explains pretty much everything you would ever want to know about the film’s production, and includes brief biographies of Dalí and Disney. Other extra features in the set include the feature films Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, each with their own subsets of extra features. This release is an essential cornerstone of any respectable weird video library.

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