San Francisco Art Preview: LEADING LADIES AND FEMMES FATALES: THE ART OF MARC DAVIS (The Walt Disney Family Museum)

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by Tony Frankel on May 22, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Marc Davis. He is one of those Americans who touched the lives of millions, yet few except rabid Disney fans would be able to place his name. Even those who claim to know everything Disneyland are in wonderment when I point out Davis’ many contributions to the Park. As an artist for WED (today known as Walt Disney Imagineering), Davis contributed the fanciful and often very funny story and character concepts for such Disneyland attractions as The Enchanted Tiki Room, The Country Bear Jamboree, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Jungle Cruise. Even after retirement, he continued to lend his expertise to the development of Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland.

Marc Davis - visual development for Cinderella, March 25, 1948. Collection Walt Disney Family Foundation © DisneyYet this was only the latter half of his remarkable career. Davis joined Walt Disney Studios in 1935 as an apprentice animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and moved on to story sketch and character design on Bambi (you can thank him for Thumper) and Victory Through Air Power. Over the years, he animated on classic Disney features such as Song of the South, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland, as well as shorts, including African Diary, Duck Pimples, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom. As one of Walt’s renowned “Nine Old Men,” Davis was the only of the nine whom Walt asked to help in the planning of attractions at Disneyland and the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which showcased Davis’ work on Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and The Carousel of Progress.

Marc Davis - visual development for THE HAUNTED MANSION. Collection Walt Disney Family Foundation © DisneyOf his many contributions in realizing Disney’s vision, Davis is probably best known as the father of some of Disney’s most memorable animated women, including Cruella De Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and Tinker Bell from Peter Pan. It was Davis’ authority on anatomy and movement that brought these iconic female characters to life and made them believable.

Now, The Walt Disney Family Museum is presenting through Nov. 3 an exhibit of selected artworks that focus on a part of Davis’ life and career with his mastery of the human form. Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales highlights Davis’ female characters in film as well as in live entertainment and his fine art. Co-curated by the museum’s director of collections and exhibitions, Michael Labrie, and animator Andreas Deja, the exhibition spotlights some 70 original pencil animation drawings, conceptual artwork, paintings, cels, and photographs from this imaginative genius.

Marc Davis, visual development for Sleeping Beauty, ca. 1959. Collection Mike Glad, © Disney.Along with his wife Alice, he also designed costumes for the Audio-Animatronics characters featured in Pirates of the Caribbean. For it’s a small world, they worked with famed artist Mary Blair (1911–1978), one of Walt’s most recognizable leading ladies. Also on exhibit at the museum is MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: The World of Mary Blair, which explores the artistic process and development of one of Walt Disney’s most original, beloved, and influential designer and art directors. Blair’s joyful creativity―her eye-appealing designs and exuberant color palette―endure in numerous media, including classic Disney animated films and theme park attractions at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort (the Blair exhibit closes Sep. 7, 2014).

Marc Davis and wife Alice at Tivoli Gardens on their honeymoon, c. 1958. Collection Alice Davis.A recently closed exhibition highlighted the work of Tyrus Wong, best-known as the background artist who inspired the look of Bambi. Before that was one of the finest displays I have ever seen at any museum: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic. At The Walt Disney Family Museum, expect the highest quality presentations of the art behind the art which has delighted millions around the world. And you can definitely make a day of it by enjoying the permanent collection celebrating the life of Disney and checking out a film which plays in the museum’s theater.

As for Davis, who died in 2000 at the age of 86, Walt Disney said, “Marc can do story, he can do character, he can animate, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is tell him what I want and it’s there. He’s my Renaissance Man.”

photos courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum © Disney

Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis
The Walt Disney Family Museum
The Presidio of San Francisco, 104 Montgomery Street
Wed-Mon, 10am to 6pm
scheduled to end on November 3, 2014
for info and tickets, call 415.345.6800 or visit

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