How Disney and Salvador Dalí Made Destino

Artwork(s) In Focus, Art History

February 17, 2020

In 2003, Disney Studios released Destino, a unique animated short film originally conceived by one unlikely pair — Walt Disney and the famed Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.

Conceived 58 years before, in 1945, it tells a story of Chronos and his ill-fated love for a mortal woman named Dahlia. This lost project from two of the 20th century’s most iconic artists was conceived at the peak of their powers aiming to bring people out of their daily tedium into what they considered better, more imaginative worlds. Distinct artist styles by both Disney and Dalí are evident throughout the film.

While the project was put on the back burner and never revisited after its third month of production, both artists got more than what they bargained for out of their partnership. What started as a creative collaboration led to a lifelong friendship.

A Still from Destino, featuring music by Armando Dominguez
A Still from Dalí and Disney's Destino

When Disney Met Dali

The story of Walt Disney's and Salvador Dalí's first meeting has been passed around for decades like folklore. There is no documentation to verify their first meeting, except a word-of-mouth history, backed up by the recollection of John Hench, Dalí’s primary collaborator at Disney.

Allegedly, the artists met at a dinner party at the home of Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studios in August 1944. Disney had already developed a great interest in Surrealism while working on Fantasia, desiring to work on more projects that carried the same dreamy element. Dalí, who first arrived in Hollywood in 1937, previously wrote to André Breton that Surrealism's influence had become so "enormous", that “creators of animated cartoons are proud to call themselves Surrealists.”

As the legend goes, a mutual appreciation for each other’s art immediately drew them together and they agreed to collaborate on a Surrealist animated short. David Bossert, an artist and filmmaker who has been with the Studios for more than 30 years, explained:

A lot of people look at that as an odd pairing, but they were very much alike as they were different. Dalí was actually a fan of Disney—he at one point felt Disney was the great American Surrealist.

Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney 1957, a friendship that made history
Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney, 1957. © Disney

Destino by Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney

Over the next few months, Disney and Dalí created over 135 storyboards, drawings, and sketches and 22 paintings, resulting in a poetic, wordless story of a haunting romance between Dahlia, a mortal woman struggling to find love, and Chronos, an all-powerful titan and the personification of time itself. The story was set to a love ballad composed by Fantasia composer Armando Dominguez.

As Dalí explained to the press at the time, the animation was “a magical exposition of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time”, while Disney attempted to tone down his art-speak, describing it as “just a simple story of a girl in search of her real love.” Disney was planning on it being a short that he could slot into one of the popular post-war “package features” he created.

Melding of the styles of two of the 20th century’s most imaginative minds, Destino is full of photorealistic visuals where objects break or melt away, landscapes morph into one another and the body of Dahlia undergoes drastic transformations. Though in many ways a more visual experience than a narrative one, the six-and-a-half-minute film does tell a story - one of the unrequited love between a mortal and deity. As the two float across the surrealist landscapes of Dalí's paintings, we see Chronos, the serpentine-shaped god who is time personified, trying to break from his bonds on his hapless pursuit of a mortal woman, while Dahlia takes a range of shapes in hopes of finding a form than can coincide with Chronos's immortality. After a variety of surreal movements and shifting scenery, the two finally manage to become one.

Salvador Dali - Destino. Walt Disney (2003)

Nearly 60 Years in the Making

Disney’s studio generated about 20 seconds of original animation based on his and Dalí's ideas. Sadly, the studio was forced to place the project on an indefinite hiatus due to a variety of factors, including financial struggles after World War II and Disney feeling it was no longer the time for packaged anthology features; and a battle of egos may have also played a role. Destino spent the next five decades hidden in the Disney archives.

Destino was finally completed 37 years after Walt Disney's death and 13 years after Dalí’s. Roy Disney, Walt's nephew, chanced upon Dalí’s original artwork and secretly enlisted a team of animators and a director in France who could replicate their vision.

To make the animation as authentic as possible, Studios brought back one of its most influential artists to complete the short, John Hench. Respected by Walt Disney as one of the studio’s most gifted artists, Hench was Dalí’s main collaborator during the original production in 1946. The studio recruited him at the age of 90 to finish the project he began decades ago, crediting him as its co-author alongside Dalí. Although nearly 50 original sketches had been lost or damaged due to poor preservation, Hench managed to stitch the remaining sketches into a single piece, keeping as close to the original storyboard as they could.

The final product was premiered on June 2, 2003, at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and won titles in the Chicago, Rhode Island, and Melbourne International Film Festivals. It even inspired its own four-star resort in Talamanca, Spain.

Even though Dalí and Disney weren’t around to see it in person, their once-abandoned film was warmly received, becoming the reminder of how transgressive and transcendent both of their art was.

Salvador Dalí and Disney | Destino

  Editors’ Tip: Dali and Disney: Destino: The Story, Artwork, and Friendship Behind the Legendary Film

A stunning tribute to the lifelong friendship and collaboration of Salvador Dali and Walt Disney. In 1945, the two began working on a project together, intended to be a short animated film called Destinoset set to music composed by Armando Dominguez. Dali partnered with Disney Legend John Hench to storyboard the film, but production was brought to a halt because of financial difficulties. Over fifty years later, Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney decided to give it new life. The film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 . This volume showcases all 150 pieces of art created by Dali and Hench. Also, the sole piece of animation art that was filmed in 1946 is showcased in a series of images explaining how it was digitally cut apart, restored and then reassembled for the 2003 completed film version.

Featured images: Stills from Salvador Dalí and Disney's Destino, via YouTube.

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