Calling all Disney fans! The newest MOPOP exhibit, Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume, is a must-see for Disney lovers, costume enthusiasts, and budding fashionistas alike. Featuring over seventy original costume pieces from a variety of Disney movies and TV shows, from Mary Poppins to Once Upon a Time to Dumbo, the exhibit is a delightful romp through the fantastical worlds of Disney. Although the mannequins are stationary, the costumes come to life thanks to creative staging and lighting; some are placed in dynamic poses or on spinning platforms, reminding visitors that these were real costumes worn by real actors. Soft instrumental covers of Disney classics and the simple presentation allows the costumes to take center stage, making guests feel as if they have stepped into the costume design workshops for their favorite movies.
The exhibit opens with one of the most iconic Disney princesses: Cinderella. While the rest of the costumes are sorted into “hero,” “villain,” or “other,” the first room focuses solely on various adaptations of the classic fairy tale, allowing museum-goers to compare and contrast several of Cinderella’s dresses in the context of their respective films. Anna Kendrick’s willow-inspired green and gold gown from Into the Woods (2014) has a completely different feel than Brandy’s bejeweled peplum dress from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997), reflecting the grittier, semi-realistic themes of the former and fun, contemporary tone of the latter. My personal favorite was Lily James’s gown from Cinderella (2015), a film that never fails to make my fashion-design-loving little heart sing with joy. While the film isn’t exactly period-accurate (a detail I am willing to excuse, albeit begrudgingly, for the sake of fantasy), the vibrant colors and over-the-top dresses make for a fun, nostalgic viewing experience, and seeing the costumes in person was no exception. The blue ball gown is actually made up of several layers of thin fabric in different shades, making the dress look like something out of a watercolor painting, and the voluminous petticoats underneath make the dance scenes truly magical. Interviews with the incredibly talented Sandy Powell, an award-winning costume designer with a history of fabulous period pieces, pull back the curtain to reveal just how much thought and effort went into production, including over ten thousand crystals and more than three miles of hems that made up the iconic blue ball gown, as well as the creative use of color theory and patterns to quietly convey important character details.
Off to one side of the main area is a small “design studio” that goes more in-depth on the process of costume design. The wall is plastered with original sketches from various designers, with notes about measurements, color palettes, fabric swatches, and technical details, so stepping into the room feels like stepping into a designer’s studio mid-production. It’s interesting to see how different designers work, as some create detailed drawings with few written notes while others make quick sketches littered with annotations. Many of the designs for more high-tech or modern films, such as Tron, feature bold lines and meticulous details, while designs for more whimsical movies, such as Mary Poppins, feature flowing brushstrokes and playful splashes of watercolor. And for those less interested in fashion, there are a few areas that discuss the technical side of the design process, including a set of 3D-printed models that demonstrate the process of creating Cinderella’s famous glass slippers.
I visited the exhibit on a weekday during school/work hours, so there weren’t many young people or families there beyond the occasional tourist group. However, this exhibit would absolutely be fun for kids and adults alike; kids can enjoy playing with the interactive elements (including a “Magic Mirror” that allows guests to “try on” various costumes) and seeing the costumes brought to life, while adults will find the costumes and extra information interesting and nostalgic. The exhibit is relatively small—one walk-through took me about 25 minutes—but tickets also give access to the permanent MoPOP exhibits, and the museum’s location at the Seattle Center puts you close to other popular attractions, such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. If you’re looking for a fun outing in the downtown Seattle area this summer, I would highly recommend stopping by the MoPOP for a fun and unique look behind the scenes at the House of Mouse.
Heroes and Villians: The Art of the Disney Costume is available to view in person at the MoPOP from June 5, 2021, to April 17, 2022. For more information see here.