It’s easy to take Fantasyland’s magical, colourful style for granted but a lot of the inspiration comes from one artist. Disneyland Paris owes a lot to Disney concept artist Mary Blair – with a few changes to give the park its unique look.
She influenced the design of Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Mr Toad, Peter Pan and the fun-filled boat ride that is It’s a Small World.
Seeing Things Differently
Born in Oklahoma, Mary Blair studied at Los Angeles’ Chouinard Art Institute and started out as a watercolour painter. Meanwhile her husband, Lee Blair, became a colour director on Pinocchio and Fantasia.
Mary followed him to Disney in 1940, and by the following year she’d been handpicked by Walt Disney to join some of his finest animators on a goodwill trip to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Her paintings captured South America with so much character that she was made art supervisor on Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
She used colour in a new way and played with shape too. Just picture the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. And the magical Neverland scenes you sail through on Peter Pan’s Flight…
Her asymmetric angles, colour and light brought Alice and Peter Pan’s worlds to life for the animated movies, complete with the fantastical details that carry over to the park attractions.
“Mary was the first artist I knew of to have different shades of red next to each other. You just didn’t do that! But Mary made it work.” (Animator Frank Thomas)
She didn’t just create bold fantasy worlds though. Her brushstrokes let the cacophony of colours work together without looking fussy – there’s simplicity in there. And that simplicity allowed Cinderella to be magical and elegant.
If you’ve eaten in L’Auberge de Cendrillon, you’re practically sitting at Mary Blair’s dining table. Her drawings set the tone for the mice, the fairy godmother, and the magical dress transformation scene. Those dreamy blues, the sparkling magic, the glittering coach…
And of course, Mary Blair also created the concept art for one of Fantasyland’s most iconic rides – It’s a Small World.
The Happiest Cruise That Even Sailed
Walt Disney pulled It’s a Small World together for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair in support of UNICEF, with some of the studio’s most talented artists.
Richard and Robert Sherman wrote the happy tune, while legendary animator Marc Davis (one of Disney’s Nine Old Men) worked on the design. Audio-Animatronics costume designer Alice Davis brought in materials from around the world, custom dyeing them to Mary Blair’s palette.
The original was shipped off to the original Disneyland in California, but the cheerful boat ride’s formula really would travel the world. When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, It’s a Small World ride was one of the opening day attractions.
But you might have noticed, It’s a Small World at Disneyland Paris looks a little different from the outside. Where the original Disneyland and Disney World’s rides hide their rainbow of colours behind a white and gold façade, Paris is a riot of pinks, blues and golds right from the start.
The reason? Europe’s grey weather. But the pastel colour scheme looked so magical that the original ride was later repainted to match (it switched back again for the ride’s 50th anniversary).
From Cinderella to Sulley
Of course, her influence inspired character design and has filtered through to parade floats like that old favourite. Alice popping out of the White Rabbit’s house, and Wendy’s London house – could you imagine them looking any other way?
But did you know you can even see the artist’s influence over at the Monsters Inc. Scare Floor?
“Pete Doctor, who directed ‘Monsters, Inc.’ said every time they start a project they take out images of Mary Blair as inspiration. They look at her for ideas for color, shape, designs, and imaginative possibilities.”
Head of Animation at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, John Canemaker https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2015/03/12/41829/mary-blair-the-artistic-force-behind-disney-s-cind/
Look out for traces of Mary Blair’s distinctive shapes and colour palettes in everything Disney, because you never know where her artistic legacy will show up!