"Disney Cats & Dogs" @ The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco
If it’s a matter of whether you’re a dog person or cat person, Disney Cats & Dogs, currently being kenneled at the Walt Disney Family Museum through January 14, 2024, will convert you to cross sides and embrace furry creatures, both canine and feline. Photos of Walt Disney and his family with their standard-size poodle, chow and mastiff are a warm up for the collection of over 300 archival reproduction concept sketches (for a real up-close engagement), paintings, model sheets, animation drawings, posters, photographs, digital art and final film sequences.
It’s interesting to learn that Disney ushered an animation training program with live animals within his studios so that artists could better appreciate their anatomy and expressions. The exhibition delights with images such as Nana from Peter Pan balancing a tray of treats on her head, eyes desperately looking upward to maintain her balance. A deceptively simple sketch of Pluto springs from the museum wall, his eyes, ears and tail as if on springs and ready to pounce. The model sheet for One Hundred and One Dalmations shows Patch, Lucky and the other 99 - each with their own unique set of spots. Seeing the embryonic stages of Figaro from Pinocchio and Lucifer from Cinderella in charcoal pencil rendering is as endearing as seeing them in final animation form. And then there’s Lady and Tramp sharing spaghetti in the Italian cafe. It’s a joy to gaze, slack jawed, and wonder at how alive the images are, at how much they define our collective childhood and even now, our sense of empathy.
The exhibition, first presented in 2021 by the Walt Disney Animation Research Library, the Walt Disney Archives and Disney Japan, not only confirms our mutual love and respect for cats and dogs, but it’s an awesome tribute to the artists whose empathetic, observant eyes possessed the skills to create images and memories that will charm the youngest Disney newbie and certainly the rest of us.
Disney Cats & Dogs shows at the Walt Disney Family Museum through Sunday, January 14, 2024. It features portrait drawing stations, monthly movie screenings in their intimate in-house theater and community events with local shelters.