“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.”
This quote from Walt Disney on the wall of the Disney: The Magic of Animation exhibition makes a good point – just before you step through a giant doorway fashioned in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears.
There’s no need to take things too seriously, after all, at this fun new show at Melbourne’s ACMI which features a colourful collection of original sketches and rare artworks.
Ahead, through the doors, is a wall-sized projection of Mickey in his first-ever appearance in the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie – a big deal as this was one of the earliest animated films with sound.
From here, the exhibition explains how such classics as Fantasia (1940) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) were made, tracking forward in time to recent favourites such as The Lion King (1994) and Frozen (2013); including artwork from the studio’s latest release, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021).
Step into the animation
With that spread of production years, this Disney exhibition strikes a chord with all ages. It also involves more than looking at framed work on walls.
One of the most intriguing three-dimensional exhibits is a model of the town of Candy Hollow which was created for the 2012 movie Wreck-It Ralph.
Built from a vast quantity of real sweets, including cookies, cereal, chocolates and lollies, it’s defied decay for a decade after providing inspiration for the film’s animators.
A larger-than-life projection allows visitors to explore the world of Kumandra from Raya and the Last Dragon, and there are immersive rooms with colour-changing walls featuring vibrant images from The Lion King and Pocahontas.
Taking the immersion deeper, visitors can take a selfie with Snow White in a set re-creating a scene from the 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
There are details of technical triumphs, too, including the multiplane camera that was designed to give more depth to animated films such as 1942’s Bambi, and the complex software devised to represent hundreds of types of fur for the multi-animal extravaganza Zootopia (2016).
Adding to this family appeal is a Kids’ Trail of plaques that talk about key themes and concepts in a way that engages young minds. Taking in Disney characters from Mickey and Minnie to Moana, the trail conveys the creativity, craft and technology behind the animated films to younger visitors.
Capture favourites with the Lens
Beyond the Disney exhibition, ACMI has a lot to offer family groups. After a recent major renovation, this centre devoted to screen culture has been remodelled to place the emphasis on interactivity.
The key to this approach is the Lens, a colourful cardboard disc which resembles a reel from the classic View-Master toy.
By holding the top of the Lens to the matching icon on each exhibit (which glows blue-green when touched!), you can ‘collect’ that item for your own interest; later, at home, typing in the Lens’ unique code on a website will summon an online version of your collection to admire and learn more about.
It’s a clever tactile item that engages the interest beyond the ACMI visit, and makes a fun souvenir as well.
Hands-on with film and game history
The Lens can be picked up at the entrance to ACMI’s centrepiece exhibition (it is free), The Story of the Moving Image. From ancient shadow puppets to the latest digital design software, the exhibition charts the history of the moving image over centuries, via a variety of imaginative displays.
These take in cinema’s past, present and future: including Australia’s favourite film and TV productions; how news is conveyed on screen; and the ever-popular medium of video games.
There’s nothing static about these exhibits, with interactivity woven through each room and display.
Both kids and adults can get hands-on with images, bringing shadows to life, creating soundscapes in a custom Foley studio, and using the Games Lab to try their hand at old-school arcade games such as the 1983 sword-and-sorcery classic Dragon’s Lair. Another fun concept is the Flipbook, a booth that enables you to be the star of a flickering stop-motion picture.
Edit and collect film clips
One of the standout hands-on exhibits is the Edit Line, a long screen containing vertical snippets of popular movies and TV shows.
By physically moving blocks into a row that creates the long video clip, you change it by inserting a new clip. The resulting ‘movie’ then plays across the screen so you can see what you’ve created via this simple demonstration of the editing process.
You haven’t lived till you’ve seen the Terminator matched up with Moss from TV’s The IT Crowd.
All these activities and exhibits can be collected on the Lens. Near the end of the exhibition is The Constellation, a screen full of stars, on which you can place your Lens to examine your collection and the connections it has to other fascinating aspects of the world of moving images.
Another highlight is the Memory Garden, a hall of vertical tubes that project vintage video clips onto the palms of visitors as they pass them beneath (an old-school Melbourne tram, for instance, trundling in miniature across your palm lines).
Lounge around and learn
There’s plenty more to do at ACMI outside its centrepiece exhibition. On the ground level is the Urban Lounge, a tiered set of comfy seating with power points where you can plug your phone for a recharge.
At the bottom of the lounge is a coffee cart serving drinks and snacks, and next to this is the ACMI Shop, which stocks an array of screen-culture books and novelties, along with merchandise related to current exhibitions.
Upstairs on the next level is another lounge near ACMI’s entrance from Federation Square.
This welcoming space is a mini museum in itself, with one wall lined with cases of interesting objects from screen culture’s past – a Countdown TV show logo lit up in lights, for example, or a bulbous curving computer monitor from the 20th century.
A touchscreen enables the visitor to understand what each item is, and why it’s an important part of screen history.
A menu of films and food
In addition to big seasonal shows such as the Disney exhibition, ACMI also stages temporary exhibitions, talks, performances, school holiday programs, workshops and other special events.
In the recent past its brand new learning labs have hosted video-making workshops, sessions on taking online content to the next level on YouTube, as well as family-friendly art and craft activities. And you can see feature films at ACMI, too, via the two full-size cinemas on its upper floors.
After all that visual input to the imagination, physical needs can be satisfied at ACMI’s new restaurant, Hero.
The brainchild of popular Melbourne chef Karen Martini, it serves quality takeaway items as well as allowing a more leisurely sit-down meal with a restaurant vibe. From the crumbed fish, iceberg and tartare sandwich, to the Cape Grim grass-fed bavette steak, it has something for every taste. And its dishes look good on Instagram, too.