Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Of Paintings and Pumpkins

I've been dying to put these up. Just dying - ever since that inconspicuous brown box from arrived on my doorstep a week ago. And it's really a crime that I didn't do this sooner, but what are you going to do? What box, you ask? My long awaited copy of Walt Disney's book Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant and last, but most importantly, illustrated by Mary Blair. Just when I think my faith in the Walt Disney company couldn't sink any lower (*ahem* see post: "Disneyland's Saddest Hour"), they blow me out of the water with something like this. Amen sisters.

But all joking aside, this really is a fantastic book. First of all, it's authored by Newberry Medal winner Cynthia Rylant. In true Disney fashion, this book appeals to both children and adults alike. The prose is both simple and poignant - a testament to Rylant's remarkable writing skills. The back of the book reads simply "In silence, Love found them."

Rylant's beautiful storytelling ability is bested only by Mary Blair's illustrations. Words really can't describe them. They are simply lovely, as all of her work is. As we all know by now Mary Blair is without a doubt my favorite concept artist. Perhaps even my favorite artist of all time. Clearly John Canemaker's The Art and Flair of Mary Blair is a book collection essential for fans of her work, but that book doesn't contain the wealth of concept paintings from Cinderella alone that Walt Disney's Cinderella does.

Seeing Blair's illustrations right alongside the story's words, it becomes clear why Mary Blair was such an outstanding storyboard/concept artist. Despite the flatness of colors and the simple forms Blair is able to accurately capture something so many artists miss: the mood. Blair had an uncanny talent for harnessing the contrast of dark and light to create an incredibly accurate mood that words alone cannot adequately portray. In other words, they translate.

Over and over again what I hear about animation, cartoons, and story-telling in general is that the images must translate. If an image doesn't translate, it's pretty much DOA - Dead on Arrival. A successful illustration must translate, and then it must relate. It's no wonder that Disney, despite the flatness of her designs and lack of realism in her paintings, was a huge fan of Blair's work. Her job wasn't to animate objects in a believable manner, it was to conceive, conceptualize, a story and to set the tone and mood for the animators to follow. Disney certainly knew what he was doing when he hired Blair. Her illustrations helped bring two of Disney's most successful films to fruition: Peter Pan, and, of course, Cinderella (I'd like to argue for three successful films and include Alice in this list, but sadly, at the time it premiered it was pretty much a flop. See: Through the Looking Glass- Reflections on Alice).

I commend Disney for overseeing the release of this lovely book, I really do. It's refreshing to see quality children's books being published, especially with dazzling illustrations. And, just when I thought I couldn't take any more excitement, rumors have been stirring about that Disney Press has both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan books with Blair's illustrations in the works. I tell ya folks, I couldn't be any happier than a five year old kid on Christmas.


Matt Jones said...

Found your blog via Michael Sporn's-very informative & some really interesting posts in the archives. I'll be checking back regularly.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! Nice post, Lainey! I also agree that Alice in Wonderland is a vastly under-rated film. When people used to talk about the Disney studio being imaginative there's half a chance that this was the film they had in mind.

Scott said...

I gave this book recently to my God-daughter and it was a big hit however, I almost didn't want to actually give it to her... because the thing's just so darn pretty!

I think I might have to go out and get a copy for myself now. Simply fantastic book.

Jessica said...

My mom surprised me with a copy of this book (knowing what a huge fan I am of Mary Blair) and I just love it. She has an art style that is so unique and so lovely - you can pick it out instantly and yet it always fits into its surroundings so well.

Wonderful post!