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Centuries-old art behind Disney’s best animated films arrives at the Met

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Centuries-old art behind Disney’s best animated films arrives at the Met

Walt Disney created rich, vibrant fantasies with his animation, but his inspirations were firmly rooted in the real world.

A just-opened exhibit at the Met, “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts,” showcases how historical European design influenced both the animator and those that worked for him.

The exhibition goes back to the post-World War I era, when a 16-year-old Disney travelled to France to work for the Red Cross. He fell in love with the buildings and the art. A subsequent trip through Europe in 1935, when he was in his 30s, provided further inspiration. He filmed the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles during those travels; decades later, its design would be used as a clear reference by Disney artists for the backdrop for the famed ballroom scene in 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Just a week old, the exhibit has already drawn excited crowds and lines outside of its galleries.
Stefano Giovannini

“He sucked it all up like a sponge,” said 36-year-old Wolf Burchard, a Met associate who curated the new display, which is on until March 6 and already drawing lines outside the galleries.

Disney’s travels also opened his eyes to gothic revival architecture, which made its way into 1950’s “Cinderella,” and of medieval art, which inspired the look of 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

While some inspirations — such as modeling “Sleeping Beauty” off of medieval tapestries — are direct and specific, Disney drew on others, such as rococo references for the Lumiere character in “Beauty and the Beast,” more generally.

“The end product often doesn’t look like the original source of inspiration — and I think that’s really important,” said Burchard. “Because that shows that Disney animators are not just unimaginatively copying their forebears, but they’re actually creating something new.”

Here, the backstories of four items and how they influenced Walt Disney and Co.

Tiny rooms, big dreams

Though small in size, this miniature French interior, and other miniscule models like it, helped Disney form the larger-scale idea for Disneyland.
Though small in size, this miniature French interior, and other miniscule models like it, helped Disney form the larger-scale idea for Disneyland.
The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY

Disneyland in California — the fantasy park that opened in 1955 across 160 acres of former orange groves — finds its roots in something much smaller. The late American artist Narcissa Niblack Thorne’s 1930s miniature period rooms — dozens of small-scale reproductions of stately European, American and Asian interiors — caught the eye of Walt Disney in 1939 while on display in San Francisco. “These rooms were created for Americans who couldn’t travel [abroad] … and because they’re so extremely accurate, they really help in the imaginative leap of traveling,” said Burchard. At the Met, visitors can see Thorne’s roughly 18 by 24 by 23-inch miniature French boudoir from the Louis XV period, which shows a room crowned with a chandelier that’s surrounded by walls with ornate moldings. Such detailed re-creations compelled Disney to initially conceive of Disneyland as a model town, with particular attention to imaginative play. “They are about this childlike fantasy,” said Burchard of Thorne’s rooms. “This idea of escapism, of letting your imagination run free — children looking at it and letting their minds travel.” 

The miniature room is, in fact, small -- and an attraction that visitors have photographed.
The miniature room is, in fact, small — and an attraction that visitors have photographed.
Stefano Giovannini

Flower power

Using medieval tapestries as an influence, Eyvind Earle created the prototype for “Sleeping Beauty” using a similar technique for keeping the lush foreground and background in crisp focus.
Walt Disney Animation Research Library, © Disney

The visual inspiration for “Sleeping Beauty” was the floral “Unicorn Tapestries,” designed in Paris and woven in the southern Netherlands in the 1500s. The Met acquired the tapestries in 1937 and put them on display at the Cloisters uptown. Disney employee John Hench took in the tapestries during a 1950s trip to NYC. “[He] returned to Los Angeles suggesting to Disney that the ‘Unicorn Tapestries’ really should be a template for the aesthetics and for the storytelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ ” said Burchard. “Disney then employed the art director Eyvind Earle to create exactly that stage set, and it’s considered one of the most artistically sophisticated of all films.” At the new exhibit, visitors can see a vibrant gouache work of Earle’s “Sleeping Beauty” concept art, which shows a thatched cottage surrounded by trees and plants — all of which are in saturated tones and crisp focus. The idea is “stepping into a tapestry where the foreground and the background are reproduced in the same level of detail,” Burchard said. According to the exhibit’s catalogue, Earle once said, “I rearranged the bushes and trees in geometrical patterns. I made a medieval tapestry out of the surface wherever possible. All my foregrounds were tapestry designs of decorative weeds and flowers.”

This “Shepherd and Shepherdess Making Music” tapestry hangs alongside concept art for “Sleeping Beauty” for similar design influences.
Courtesy of The Met

With the “Unicorn Tapestries” far uptown, the new exhibition features the 16th-century “Shepherd and Shepherdess Making Music” tapestry next to the Earle art to illustrate the influence.

Let there be light

Though the constraints of hand-drawn animation ultimately prevented Lumiere from having a more ornate body, Rococo influences led designers to give him other ornamented designs in order to bring him to life.
Though the constraints of hand-drawn animation ultimately prevented Lumiere from having a more ornate body, rococo influences led designers to give him other ornamented designs in order to bring him to life.
Walt Disney Animation Research Library, © Disney

Candlesticks from France’s 18th-century rococo period — a time known for its highly ornamental designs — served as inspiration for Disney animators to develop the just-as-flamboyant Lumiere character in “Beauty and the Beast.” In the exhibit, a 1991 work of concept art for Lumiere is paired with a gilt bronze candlestick made between 1735 and 1750 by the designer Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier.

The inspiration for Lumiere came from Rococo candlesticks. This one, by Meissonnier, is a good example for showing its abstract shapes bringing movement to an otherwise inanimate object.
The inspiration for Lumiere came from rococo candlesticks. This one, by Meissonnier, is a good example for showing its abstract shapes bringing movement to an otherwise inanimate object.
Courtesy of The Met

The inspiration for Lumiere isn’t specific to this one candlestick, but rather the period aesthetic overall; both pieces aim to show visitors how somewhat theatrical design can breathe life into inanimate objects. The concept art from the film shows “the melting wax that forms [Lumiere’s] shifty-looking face, and then you have the shiny metal candlestick itself, and you can see how the arms move to inform how the animation works,” said Burchard. Meanwhile, the 18th-century candlestick, perched on a rotating platform, shows off a series of glittery curves that give a sense of movement to an otherwise ordinary object. “This is a different type of animation,” said Burchard. “This is how, pre-cinema and pre-hand drawn animation, the rococo designers were trying to animate the object through … undulations and carrying the eye across a complicated abstract surface. It’s the most incredible work.”

Mi castle, su castle

These four Rococo vases, though not a direct influence, have elements that resemble Disney castles.
These four rococo vases, though not a direct influence, have elements that resemble Disney castles.
Stefano Giovannini

Inside the exhibit’s last gallery, viewers get a look at four towering French porcelain vases capped with pink and green domes. Standing next to each other, the vases bear a similar outline and color scheme to Disney castles. Made around 1762 by Sèvres Manufactory, Burchard said these rococo pieces rank among the most ambitious porcelain vases ever created due to the level of detail, like windows carved into the domes. Two vases are on loan from the Huntington Library in California, which Disney visited, but it isn’t clear if he saw them.

Similar to the ornate wedding cake look of the porcelain vases, Disney castles have similar shapes and colors, such as this one near Paris, France.
Similar to the ornate wedding cake look of the porcelain vases, Disney castles have similar shapes and colors, such as this one near Paris, France.
Getty Images

“The point that this makes is not necessarily to say that Disney saw those vases and was inspired by them when he was overseeing the making of Disneyland,” said Burchard. But it’s the reasoning behind the design that matters. “The key thing is that rococo designers used the same rhetoric to encourage our imagination to run free, and these pieces of porcelain are just as magical as a Disney castle.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave.; (212) 535-7710, MetMuseum.org

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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