Friday, October 14, 2011

The Colors of Mary Blair at Disneyland- Part Three: Beyond "small world"

Just to catch y'all up, I took a pre-wedding trip to California in September to spend some time with my now-husband's friends and family in San Diego and to take a trip to Disneyland. We timed our excursion specifically so that we would be able to visit the amazing "Colors of Mary Blair" exhibit at the Disney Gallery, since we are both huge fans of her work. (Why is there no name for us Mary Blair fanatics yet? Blairvoyants? Blairmasters? Blairstylists? Hrm. I'll keep percolating and get back to you.) So far, I have shared photos of Mary's inspirational art for Disney films and for her masterpiece, "it's a small world". Now, I will share with you her work for other attractions and lands in the parks. Mary has quite a presence in Disneyland and Walt Disney World outside of "the happiest cruise that ever sailed".

These paintings were done for the never built "Western River Expedition", which is one of the saddest coulda-woulda-shouldas of all the abandoned Disney park attractions. Originally there was no plan to bring "Pirates of the Caribbean" to WDW. At the time, there was still the residual aspiration towards something new and better left over from Walt, rather than constant rehashing of what was already popular. In lieu of that ride, there was to be a boat ride through scenes of America's expansion West, designed by the amazing Marc Davis. The area was also to have a runaway mine train coaster, which eventually was built as "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad". It was to be the most expensive attraction area ever up to that point. When the park opened and there were no pirates stem to stern, people got miffed and complained. In yet another case of giving the people what they think they want rather than what they don't yet know that they want, the executives caved, hastily adding the pirate attraction and shelving the "Western River Expedition". I still bemoan the decision to this day. The Mary Blair paintings are gorgeous, suggesting a more playful, less literal use of colors in the scenes. In the end, they were quite influential on the look of a future Disney project, the vastly underrated film Home on the Range.

The following is Mary's concept work for Tomorrowland. There were big plans for a "new" Tomorrowland to open in 1967 and Walt wanted Mary, who had done so beautifully with "it's a small world" just a few years before, to create murals to adorn it. She obliged, creating some beautiful pieces that were executed in tile (the ones in a similar vein to "small world" which incorporate the children, collectively titled "The Spirit of Creative Energies Among Children") and some that never were (the more abstract ones). The tile murals stayed up until they were covered up in the late 80's and late 90's. There is some controversy surrounding whether the murals were destroyed or merely covered up. I hope that those in charge had the good sense not to destroy her gorgeous artwork to slap on a generic "Star Tours" fast-moving ride vehicle picture, and that the works are still there, waiting to be rediscovered.

You all know that I have a bit of a past with the murals at the Contemporary Hotel in WDW. They are absolutely stunning. Until you get off of the Monorail and stand at the bottom, though, you have scant concept of the true size and scale of these massive and beautiful pieces of art. They also include one of my favorite Disney icons- the five-legged goat. I have sort of adopted the little dude as a personal guiding symbol for the acceptance of variance and imperfection in life and art because that is what makes and keeps it interesting. Not only should imperfection be embraced, but sometimes it can be by design. (Future tattoo? Most likely.) Here is some of her fantastic concept art for the murals, known as "The Grand Canyon Concourse".

And that brings us to the end of the exhibit proper, but while we are at it, I thought I'd share a few pics from elsewhere in the park. Just for kicks. Y'all with me? Awesome! First, here are the standard shots of the sign, the incredible facade, and the clock from "it's a small world". I will never not get a little misty-eyed walking towards it. There is magic in that facade, let me tell you.

I wanted to include some pictures of the rest of the area of Fantasyland that surrounds "it's a small world" because before I went to Disneyland for the first time almost a year ago I had absolutely no idea that there was a mini Mary Blair land in that corner of the park. People (understandably) focus so much on showing the facade of the ride itself that they forget to share that almost every inch is Mary Blair themed, from the gift shops,

to the trash cans,

to the speakers and lighting fixtures for the parades,

to the gate that the parade emerges from behind,

to even the churro and pretzel stands!

Inside the Toy Shop they have a framed classic poster attraction. And I want it. Sigh.

And of course, even the cast members get in on the action with their costumes. Carolyn was kind enough to let me distract her from her boat supervision duties long enough to snap a shot. I wanted to really feature the embroidered "small world" boat on the pocket, but I didn't want her to feel like I was some masher trying to snap a pic of her cleavage. In the end, I'm glad I got a shot of her lovely smile. And that fabulous hat.

Every time I go towards that section of the park, I get all giddy. The colors and the geometric shapes, the 60's-liciousness of the whole affair, the joy of it all. It is quite possibly one of my favorite places on this Earth. Now those of you Mary Blair fans that have not yet visit Disneyland have been fairly warned. You may want to carry a box of tissues when you approach the attraction. It's a bit overwhelming in the best possible way. Gird your loins, kiddos.

I also have mentioned that there is a tribute to Mary Blair within the ride itself. One of the doll figures is actually modeled to look like Mary. I try every time to get a good shot of her, but because there is no light shining on her and she is behind the boat as you move through, it's always a challenge. This is the best shot I could get of her from the last trip. She's standing on the back side of the Eiffel Tower in the France section of the ride, wearing yellow and green and holding on to a red balloon.

Even outside the area of Fantasyland that houses "it's a small world" Mary's influence can be felt. This singing flower is in the queue for the Alice in Wonderland dark ride. It's not surprising that you would find a touch of the Blair all over this ride, since it is the film that hews closest to her style onscreen.

Even across the way in Disney's California Adventure you see how influential Mary's aesthetic still is on Imagineers. This is from the facade for the (fully awesome) "Monsters Inc.- Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!" dark ride. The fantastic use of color, the simple shapes, and the joyful exuberance are all a tip of the hat to Mary's work.

In the Art of Animation building, Mary's artwork for Alice in Wonderland is featured prominently during that films onscreen representation. By the way, if you've never been inside this building figuring that it's not worth your time because of a lack of shiny things that move fast, get your keister in there ASAP. I stood in this room, which surrounds you with sounds, art and stills from Disney and Pixar animated movies, as it cycled from one film to the next until I had seen all of them. It was one of my favorite experiences in the park.

Even beyond the berm, Mary Blair is there! This last shot was taken of a window display in the amazing and humongous to the point of overwhelming Amoeba Music in L.A. Tom and I caught up with one of my best friends from college and stopped here on the way back. I don't know if this is a permanent display or I was just at the right place at the right time, but I think it illustrates just how far Mary's cultural reach extends. I love this window. It's just a great big, bright, non-ironic splash of joy on the side of a hipster-ish music store (remember those, kids?) in a cooler-than-thou city. It makes my heart sing.

Well folks, that brings us to the end of our journey through the Wonderful World of my favorite Disney artist, Mary Blair. Thank you all for indulging me and I hope that these entries have brought a fraction of the pure happiness to you that revisiting all of these memories has brought to me! Do me a favor, will ya? Next time you are floating through "it's a small world" and you come upon the Eiffel Tower, take a second to spot Mary and give a quick thanks to the immensely talented lady whose singular artistic vision inspired it all. I always do.

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