MoPop Presents ‘Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume’

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In collaboration with the Walt Disney Archives, MoPop is opening the Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibition on June 5th. The exhibit brings over 70 original pieces from 19 designers ranging in history from Julie Andrews’ original Mary Poppins traveling dress to several costumes from 2019’s Dumbo.

Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume is packed full of so many amazing costumes, and every costume on display provides information from the designers on how it was made, its inspiration, materials, etc. If you are a fan of Disney or just costume design and costuming in general, this is the exhibit for you!

Clockwise: ‘Cinderella’ (2015) designed by Sandy Powell, Cinderella from ‘Into the Woods’ designed by Colleen Atwood, Cinderella from ‘Once Upon a Time’ designed by Eduardo Castro, Fairy Godmother and Cinderella from ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ designed by Ellen Mironjick, Cinderella tiaras and crown from ‘Into the Woods,’ ‘Cinderella 2015,’ and ‘Once Upon a Time.’  Photo by Will James.

The first area visitors walk through in the exhibit is the Cinderella Workshop. It is the biggest “set” of costumes on display and features ten Cinderella pieces from multiple designers, movies, and shows. I loved seeing variations on the same character or dress by different designers in different eras and reading about their ideas and inspiration for their take on a character.

Mary Poppins new (designed by Sandy Powell) and old (designed by Tony Walton and Bill Thomas). Photo by Will James.

In a similar vein, there are also both Julie Andrews’ and Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins dresses, various iterations of Cruella De Vil, and characters from multiple Oz films. 

White Queen and Red Queen dresses from ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ designed by Colleen Atwood. Photo by Will James.

In addition to the rows of costumes on display (and true to the exhibit’s name), there are six Heroes vs Villains displays spread around the exhibit floor featuring famous battles like Gaston vs Beast from Beauty and the Beast and Queen Narissa vs Giselle from Enchanted. These displays are all behind glass with character-specific notes on either side of the display so that you are looking at the character you’re reading about from the perspective of their opponent.

Left: ‘Tomorrowland’ dress with printed detail designed by Jeffrey Kurland. Right: Painted snowflakes with a happy accident on White Queen dress from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ designed by Colleen Atwood. Photo by Will James.

As a costume and prop designer and fabricator, one of my favorite things about any costume display is getting to see and read about how certain things were made, or even trying to unravel the mystery of how something was made. Probably my single favorite thing about any of the costumes on display is the dress by Jeffrey Kurland worn by Athena (Raffey Cassidy) in Tomorrowland. The pattern on the dress is beautiful even at a glance, but when viewed up close, you can see that it is actually theorems based on the golden ratio printed onto the fabric! And the fabric itself does this really gorgeous thing depending on the lighting, from looking like a flat fabric to being shiny and almost looking electrifying!

Also, artists tend to be very self-critical, and sometimes seeing the behind-the-scenes magic on a world-famous award-winning costume can help with some of that anxiety. For example, I have to admit I was both shocked and relieved to see how many of these beautiful dresses have painted on details that look like embroidery on screen. And a couple of them even had smudges! Everyone makes mistakes, or, as the late great Bob Ross put it, has happy accidents. Sometimes we need that reminder.

Original design sketches and fabric swatch samples from ‘Tron’ (designed by Moebius) and ‘Mary Poppins’ (designed by Tony Walton and Bill Thomas). Photo by Will James.

One room of the exhibit features a wall of enlarged images of design boards from many of the designers and costumes featured in the exhibit, which is also a wonderful peek behind the curtains. Seeing the design process, swatches, and notes really help visitors get into the minds of the designers and get an even deeper understanding of some of the costumes.

Prototype to production iterations of the glass slipper from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Will James.

At the end of the day, designing and making props is really what brings me the most joy, and so I was very pleasantly surprised to find this display showing the process of making the (clearly not actually wearable) glass slipper from 2015’s Cinderella. Iteration is a huge part of prop making, both with and without machine aids (and I’m pretty sure the foam version of the slipper was machined based on some of the visible texture), and I always love seeing that process. I’m still trying to guess at exactly how they made that final, beautiful slipper! (Continue on to the video below to get a glimpse of the slipper in all its shiny, reflective glory.)

Trying on costumes via Magic Mirror. Photo by Will James.

The exhibit also features two interactive experiences. The first, “Getting Into Character,” was not on during our preview, so I can’t comment on it, but it is meant to allow visitors to explore materials, colors, textures, and forms that a costume designer uses in making costumes. The second, “Magic Mirror,” is a fun touchless mirror that allows visitors to “try on” a bunch of costumes. Here are a few of my try-ons—I haven’t decided if my favorite was being Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Flynn from Tron!

Finally, we made a quick walkthrough of most of the exhibit to give readers a quick, almost in-person, experience as either an enticing preview or as a way to enjoy some of the experience if you can’t make it in person.

Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume opens tomorrow, June 5th, and runs through April 17, 2022. Get your tickets now! In addition to the exhibit, MoPop is also hosting several virtual events (panels, workshops, and move watch-alongs) tied to the exhibit in the upcoming weeks. More details can be found on the MoPop site!

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