Book Review: Walt Disney and the Quest for Community

Walt Disney and the Quest for Community by Steve Mannheim (2003, 199 pages).

Steve Mannheim has written a wonderful academic treatise on Walt Disney and Walt’s dream for Epcot. The focus of the book is the Epcot City, the development of the ideas and their ultimate fruition. Although the title is treated as an academic work, it can almost be considered a page-turner. Steve has done an impressive job of distilling New Urbanism concepts into a readable and understandable read (for us laymen).

The genesis for the book was when a friend of Mr. Mannheim had described Walt’s plan for another project after Disneyland about a city of tomorrow–where Epcot Center is today. This was the mid-1980’s and there was not a lot of published information at the time. So, Mr. Mannheim began his research. Steven Mannheim holds a doctorate in planning and development. His current professional practices include real estate economics and development.

As I stated in my review of Realityland, there is not a lot published on the history of Walt Disney World. This titles adds greatly to the literature and provides a solid focus on Epcot the City, its history, development and changes.

The work starts with a look at Walt and the germination of the idea. There is a lot of focus on where Walt was, mentally and sociologically, as he began planning the Florida Project (also known as Project X). Mr. Mannheim deftly takes us through the history and theories that Walt was discovering about New Cities, Garden Cities and urban development. With the success of Disneyland, Walt felt vindicated that he could cure the ails of modern society.

The biggest issue? Control.

With Disneyland, Walt was able to push through the Anaheim City Council to meet a lot of the building demands of Disneyland. With the Florida Project, he knew he would need even more control. The book outlines what Walt, Roy and the leaders of the Disney Company were able to secure and create after Walt’s passing. Mr. Mannheim spent a lot of time interviewing key members of the Company, the State of Florida, local government and Disney cast members. He provides a detailed look at how Disney (the company) figured out what to do after building Phase I of Walt Disney World.

In looking at any historically-based research title, you have to consider the sources cited. Mr. Mannheim devotes 140 pages to the text and the remaining 59 to research notes and the bibliography. To a librarian and Disney Enthusiast, this connotes a vast level of research on Mr. Mannheim’s part. My only issue with the sources cited, is that a lot of the citations are from interviews conducted by the author. As of this review, the interviews have not been published. Talk about a dream publication! Mr. Mannheim, if you are out there, I would love to read the interviews that you have conducted.

I really enjoyed this title. The book is presented as an academic work but it is still an enthralling read and you can’t put it down. Mr. Mannheim easily presents mundane concepts about planning and design and correlates them into the foundations of Disneyland and what we can surmise about Epcot the City. I would love to read the transcripts for all of the interviews that were conducted–there must be a vast goldmine of Walt Disney World-related history on those interviews. After reading this title, you will gain a vast appreciation for Walt’s original ideas and the presentation of Walt Disney World as we know it. This title is geared more towards the serious Walt fanatic and the Epcot junkie. But if you like city planning, the origins of Epcot or theories about what could have happened—you will enjoy this book.


 

 

Disneyland The Nickel Tour, a book review

Disneyland the Nickel Tour, a book review

Disneyland the Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through a Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth Bruce Gordon, David Mumford, Roger Le Roque and Nick Farago.

Let me start this review with the following statement: Disneyland the Nickel Tour is the most prized book in my collection.

I have over 1000 Disney-related books and this title, alone, is still one of the best books ever created.

I’ll try not to be too biased. It’s also the most expensive and one of the hardest to come by. In the Afterwords section of Walt’s Time, Bruce explains how Disneyland the Nickel Tour came to be:

We talked to every publisher we could find, and heard the same story, word for word.
No Commercial Potential. No audience. No Market. No Deal.

They put the book together themselves: Scanned all of the cards, did the layout of every page and had it printed in Italy. They lugged the books to every convention and sold them through mail-order.

And guess what: we sold every book we printed.—p. 241, Bruce Gordon, Walt’s Time – From Before to Beyond

Disneyland the Nickel Tour is a look at the first 45 years of Disneyland’s history seen through the postcards of the park. In addition to Randy Bright’s wonderful Disneyland the Inside Story, Disneyland the Nickel Tour stands as one of the two most comprehensive books about Disneyland’s history. Where it edges out Mr. Bright’ work is that Disneyland the Nickel Tour does cover the past 20 years. Unfortunately, Mr. Bright passed away in 1990 and a second edition is not forthcoming. Bruce Gordon, the primary writer of Disneyland the Nickel Tour, was an Imagineer and started with the Company in 1980. Mr. Gordon co-authored many books about Disney and there are several that will be published posthumously later this year. Mr. Gordon passed away in November 2007. As it stands, the second edition of Disneyland the Nickel Tour will probably be the last.

Disneyland the Nickel Tour is an amazing work on so many different levels: the postcard images, the photographs of attractions that weren’t released in postcard form, the historical information and the writing. They begin by sharing pre-opening cards and work their way through the history of Disneyland. One of Gordon and Mumford’s strengths is that they write well and can take something as simple as post cards and turn it into an epic look at a theme park. The writing never gets technical and is always filled with reverence, love and a little remorse. Occasionally, they slip in some humor. It is always fitting and they obvious love word-play. The following paragraph could have been presented as just a litany of facts, but they went a different way with it.

On the left hand side of Main Street, we encounter the Sunkist Citrus House. Long before this view was taken, the Citrus House had actually been two separate stores, one housing “Sunny View Jams and Jellies” and the other housing the “Puffin Bake Shop.” By October of 1958, Disneyland had canned the jam and jelly shop and opened a candy store in its place. It was a sweet deal until June of 1960, when the Puffin Bake Shop went stale. (It seems they just weren’t making enough dough to stay in business.) And even worse, it wasn’t long before everyone was beginning to sour on the candy shop next door. So the two shops were joined together, and in a dedication ceremony held with Walt on July 31, they finally became the home of the Sunkist Citrus Shop. Things were calm until 1990, when the time was ripe to spin around in a circle once more – only to find the Sunkist moving out and the Bakery moving back in! Well, that story certainly had a peel. Orange you glad we wasted all this time? Meanwhile, here’s the scoop on the Carnation Ice Cream parlor: in 1997 they split from their original parlor and (having lost their Carnation along the way) floated into the home of the bakery. Then, with perfect Disneyland logic, the bakery moved into – the ice cream parlor! If that doesn’t get a rise out of you, nothing will!
p. 121

The sense of history that you get from Disneyland the Nickel Tour, through the postcards and photographs, has not been presented in any other form. Besides being a reference work for postcards, it is almost a wish book—one you can flip open to any page and see a favorite or long-gone attraction and dream about visiting or re-experiencing. The images are stellar and your appreciation of postcards as art and history will grow.

Disneyland the Nickel Tour was obviously a labor of love for Gordon and Mumford. It is hard to stress how important this work is in the Disney Literature. Beside being one of two major historical works about Disneyland, you get a feel for how Disneyland evolved, how Walt plussed the park and how the Disney Company moved forward after Walt. It is the most cherished book in my entire collection. If you are lucky enough to find a copy, get it. I know that many people will dismiss this book because it is about Disneyland, but without Disneyland, there would be no Walt Disney World. The history of Disneyland offers a lot of insight into the growth of Walt Disney World as well.

Disneyland The Nickel Tour is simply amazing!

Have you read Disneyland the Nickel Tour? Are you going to try and hunt this book down?


Book Review: Walt’s People Volume 1

Walt’s People Volume 1: Talking Disney With The Artists Who Knew Him by Didier Ghez. (2005, 272 pages.)

Didier Ghez runs two very important sites in the Disney online community: Disney History and the Ultimate Disney Books Network. Didier has been researching Disney animation since his teens and co-authored Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Realitywith Alain Littaye.

The Walt’s People seriesis five volumes with a sixth one on the way. Didier is the editor of the series and has put together some amazing interviews with Disney artists. In some cases, the interviewer is as well-known as the interviewee!

The compilation of interviews that Didier has collected makes this volume so very important to anyone researching Disney. The interviews are not just with animators, but artists that worked with Walt on Disneyland and went on to work on the Walt Disney World project. The stories, recollections and anecdotes are priceless and proffer a view of Walt that you can only get from talking to the people that worked directly with him.

The interviewees include:

  • Rudolf Ising
  • David Hand
  • Bill Tytla
  • Ken Anderson
  • Jack Hannah
  • John Hench (two interviews)
  • Marc Davis (two interviews)
  • Milt Kahl
  • Harper Goff
  • Joyce Carlson

The interviewers are equally impressive: J.B. Kaufman, Michael Barrier, George Sherman, Paul F. Andersen, Jim Korkis, Alain Littay, Didier Ghez, John Province, Michael Lyons and Robin Allan.

In the forward, Didier puts forth some important thoughts about the interviews.

…it is important to always keep in mind that no statement from any interview should ever be considered as the absolute truth, as the interviewee might have misremembered the facts, may have seen only part of the project described, or may have his own personal reasons for representing reality in a certain way. Hence the further importance of the various perspectives provided throughout this series.

Didier’s work is going to play an important role in the future of research into the Disney Company. Many of the artists were involved in classic Disney animation at a time when credit wasn’t clearly given or assigned. It is a chance for the artists to speak for themselves and offer an insight into the Disney Company that we will not likely find elsewhere. You might pass up a book like this if you are a theme park junkie, but reading the stories from artists like Hench, Davis, Carlson and Anderson–that worked on Disneyland and Walt Disney World projects–are wonderful.

Bottom Line: It is hard to place a work like Walt’s People in the overall Disney literature–it doesn’t focus solely on animation or the theme parks. The interviews collected are amazing and offer insight into Disney, the Studios and the theme parks. The volumes are not for everyone, but the Disney historian, enthusiast and geek will take a lot away from Dider’s work. It is a great place to get your Geek on and delve into what it was like to know and work with Walt Disney, Roy Disney and the talented people in the organization.

I can’t wait to start the next volume in the series!

 

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

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Book Review: The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park by Melody Malmberg (1998, 160 pages)

For Animal Kingdom fans, there isn’t a lot of published information that focuses on the theme park. Malmberg’s book is a rare gem for several reasons: it is an in-depth look at the creation of the park; a thorough look at the team, the political process and environmental issues; and most importantly, it is one of the few resources that looks at the step-by-step development of a Disney theme park–how it grew from a small team led by Joe Rohde to a cast of thousands.
This book reflects the Animal Kingdom in so many ways. The park was shepherded by Imagineer Joe Rohde, who had the vision and the desire to keep the project moving forward. Ms. Malmberg was able to collect the stories of the Imagineers, follow their progress and take us behind the scenes of the park. She interviewed key people that were there from the beginning: Joe Rohde, Rick Barongi and Zofia Kostyrko. You get the feeling that you were there, day-by-day, watching as they create the park.
 

You learn, early on, that the Imagineers knew they needed one thing to make the park a success; their rallying cry was Proximity Equals Excitement! During one budget and planning meeting, the Imagineers, unbeknown even to Marty Sklar, brought in a 400 pound female Bengal tiger that walked around the conference room while Rohde spoke. The executives got the point and let the group move forward (p. 25). They were able to try and develop new means of getting the guests closer to the animals–safely, of course.

 
You get a detailed look at how the art (re: buildings, details, interiors, roofs, painting) was constructed using as many local and foreign talents as available. Sculptors, thatchers and artisans were brought in from all over the world. Malmberg spends a lot of time looking at the backstage care and living areas. Since Disney was creating a park that would, inevitably, be compared to zoos, there is a focus on how Disney treats the animals. The first two animals to arrive, the giraffes Miles and Zari, were greeted with tears and cheers. Malmberg goes into great detail explaining how the animals were procured, transported and acclimated to the park.
 
 

The book is filled with photos, artwork, and concept drawings. One of the final sections looks at the next few years of the Animal Kingdom. Asia is the next land planned with the river ride and the Maharajah Jungle Trek opening first. The possibility of a new hotel called the Animal Kingdom Lodge, with savanna views, is even mentioned! The very last section is a listing of all the Imagineers that worked on the Animal Kingdom. Eight pages of names.
The park has come a long way in 10 years.
 
Bottom Line: This is a one-of-a-kind resource for Disney fans. There is not another work that takes such a detailed look at the making of the Animal Kingdom or a Disney theme park. There is a lot of discussion about conservation and animal care–this is not a negative, but the whole work is a balanced look at the creation of the park. There are chapters dedicated to the creation of the attractions and lands, but equal attention is paid to the zoological needs of the park. There is a lot less of the geeky stuff and more a look at the animals and their care. Ms. Malmberg is able to capture the passion of those involved and it translates very well to the written word. You will enjoy this work for the vast detail dedicated to the creation of a Disney theme park.

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

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Book Review: Working With Walt

Working with Walt: Interviews With Disney Artists by Don Peri (2008, 246 pages).

This is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable collection of interviews with 15 different artists that worked with Walt Disney at the Studios.

Mr. Peri states in the Acknowledgements that he was prompted by Didier Ghez (editor of the Walt’s People series) to finally collect the interviews and publish them. Thanks both to Don and Didier!

Most of the interviews were conducted in the late 1970’s with artists that spent most of their career working at the Disney Studios. What surprised me at first was how the artists were all enchanted with Walt Disney; after reading a multitude of Disney biographies, you do get the sense that Walt was a benevolent dictator–but a dictator nonetheless. A majority of the artists interviewed stuck with Walt during the Animator’s Strike of 1941. If you study any work on Disney and animation, the Animator’s Strike is often seen as a watershed in the history of the Studio, prompting the mentality that Walt lost a lot of faith in his employees. With the interviews presented by Peri, you get a sense that Walt did favor the artists that stuck by him.

I finished Walt’s People Volume 1 (Ed. by Ghez) shortly after this title. There are some similarities in the scope of the two books, but they are both valuable resources on their own. The interviews presented by Peri were done at a time when there was not a lot being written about the artists that worked directly with Walt Disney. After reading the interviews, you come away with a sense of what it was like to work with Walt Disney and to work at the Studios. I feel like I have a better understanding of how Walt worked during the early years of the Studios.

The artists included animators, designers and voice actors:

  • Ken Anderson
  • Les Clark
  • Larry Clemmons
  • Jack Cutting
  • Don Duckwall
  • Marcellite Garner
  • Harper Goff
  • Floyd Gottfredson
  • Dick Huemer
  • Wilfred Jackson
  • Eric Larson
  • Clarence Nash
  • Ken O’Connor
  • Herb Ryman
  • Ben Sharpsteen

The stories and anecdotes that each artist shares are humorous, wistful and passionate. These artists truly loved their jobs and working with Walt Disney.

…he didn’t think of himself as Walt Disney. He thought of Walt Disney as an entity, an organization, and he spoke of Walt Disney as an organization, for which everybody worked and not the personal part of the name. A lot of people put Walt down because they didn’t get along with him or they got canned or they were chewed out by him, and naturally they probably make more or less severe remarks about him and understandably so. He had a great ego, and because of this ego he could overcome a lot of difficulties and obstacles because he believed in himself. He believed what other people didn’t believe, and he was proven right time after time after time, even with the bankers. Snow White was called “Disney’s Folly,” because what–an animated cartoon to run for over an hour? It’s Impossible! Nobody will sit through a cartoon that long. Well that was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
–Les Clark (p. 123, Working With Walt)

Bottom Line: This is a wonderful resource to have at hand. It is not for everyone–you really need to have an interest in animation, the studios or what working with Walt Disney was like in order to fully realize the necessity of a title like this. I give it a high Geek Factor rating because of its focus, even though the book is extremely accessible and easy to read. But if you are interested in learning a lot about the artists, the studio and Walt Disney, this is a great place to start or to add to your collection. This book will foster a greater appreciation for the animated films and shorts. It is also one of the few places you can read the actual words of the artists that never received a lot of acclaim outside the arena of animation fans.


 

 

Book Review: Realityland by David Koenig

Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig (334 pages, 2007).

Andrew and I met David at MouseFest 2007 and heard him speak about Realityland at the Reading Trout Book Store in Celebration.

You can read my reviews of Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales.

Realityland fills a much needed void in the WDW literature–an unofficial look at the development and construction of Walt Disney World. The book follows the same formula as Koenig’s Mouse Tales titles except a lot of space is devoted to the history and development of Walt Disney World (whereas Mouse Tales focuses mainly on anecdotes about Disneyland instead of the construction). It is obvious that Koenig spent a lot of time talking to cast members, executives and construction people from the early days. The first chapters are filled with anecdotes about the Preview Center, hiring the first cast members and the rigors of developing the property.

This is one of the few un-official resources that effectively documents the construction of the Magic Kingdom, the TTC and the first resorts. Koenig offers an easy to read and compelling look at the overall development of the property. The stars of the book are the individual cast members that Koenig was able to interview. Koenig was fortunate enough to spend time with cast members from all areas of the company. He spoke to former executives that talked about the mishaps and happy accidents, cast members that talked about the early years of working at WDW and with locals about the political machinations that took place.

Koenig presents an intriguing view of how Walt, Roy and Card Walker all dealt with the Florida project. There were a litany of undercover plans, political dealings, union issues and theft! As Koenig moves through the the timeline of the resort, he presents the major issues and milestones that each management needed to contend with, including: the fuel crisis of the 70’s, the question of “Where’s EPCOT” and the expense of EPCOT (leading to Card Walker’s retirement) and the new management of Esiner/Wells. Like Mouse Tales, there were times when I laughed out loud and times when I wondered how they got it all done.

As with Koenig’s other titles, he doesn’t gloss over the negative side of Disney. He does cover the accidents that have happened over the years and one of the final chapters is devoted to Disney Security. I never felt that Koenig was out to get anyone–he was just trying to present a fairly unbiased look at Walt Disney World. One story that stands out is that he dispels the myth of George, the ill-fated worker that is rumored to have died during the construction of Pirates. He uses official records to show when the first actual death happened at WDW (I’ll let you read the book to find out) and covers accidents, missteps and Disney/Reedy Creek policy. As I mentioned in my review of the Mouse Tales books, you might have to remove your rose-colored Mouse Ears while reading Realityland.

I would surmise that the lack of information and focus about the development of the property after the Eisner/Wells team took over is due to the author’s one noticeable bias–he is not a fan of Eisner. Koenig almost vilifies Eisner when talking about the creation of the Disney-MGM Studios. A lot of the more recent developments are glossed over. The dearth of information about the most recent 15 years is the major drawback to the book.

When thinking about the history that Koenig plays out, I was able to place a lot of the people and events that I had read about in other sources–this time with much greater detail. I would hesitate to let this work stand as my only source on Walt Disney World: Since the World Began: Walt Disney World the First 25 Years; Disney: The First 100 Years and the History Channel Modern Marvels – Walt Disney World all help to create a solid history of Walt Disney World.

This is a work that will be used by future generations to help further document the history of Walt Disney World. It is obvious by the Notes section, that Koenig did his research and left a great paper trail. Koenig spent a lot of time interviewing people and researching support documents through newspapers and magazines. It is very well researched.

Withstanding the last sections of the book, the first 200 pages alone are worth the price of the book. You will learn more about the development of the property and what it took to get the Walt Disney World Resort up and running. You will never disembark from the ferry or walk down the ramp from the monorail without thinking about how massive an undertaking Walt Disney World was after you read Realityland.

Bottom Line: For any WDW enthusiast, this is one of the few books to tackle the early history of Walt Disney World. Koenig does a fantastic job of telling the story and keeps you wanting to read more. The only shortcoming is the lack of depth in the sections on the development of the Disney-MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom. You will walk away a deeper understanding of the Resort and a greater appreciation for everything that has been done. I enjoyed this book and I recommend it to all enthusiasts–no matter what your Disney Geek Level.


 

 

Disneyland: Inside Story by Randy Bright

Disneyland: Inside Story by Randy Bright

Sometimes you run across a book that’s so important and so impossibly good that you don’t realize it until you place it against other books. That’s my story with Randy Bright’s Disneyland: Inside Story. I ran across this book a few years into my rampant obsession with Disney books. So, at the time, I had a background of knowledge on Disneyland that was already deep and Randy’s book seemed to cover stuff I already knew. It wasn’t until I started to look at the litany of Disneyland books that I realized Randy’s was the first to provide a lot of the information I’d read. Most books took their information from Randy’s title.

Disneyland: Inside Story (1987, 240 pages) by Disney Legend Randy Bright is a wonderful look at the first 30 years of Disneyland. Randy started at Disneyland in 1959 as a crew member of the Columbia Sailing Ship. Since then, he has worked every position at Disneyland, including the Spaceman in Tomorrowland. He joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 1968 and worked on show writing. He has held various positions, including: Manager of Employee Communications, Manager of Concepts and Communications, Director of Scripts and Show Development, Vice-president Concept Development and Executive Producer for Disneyland and Walt Disney theme parks. Randy researched and wrote Disneyland: Inside Story for two years publishing it in 1987. Sadly, Randy died in 1989 after being struck by a car while bicycling and died. In 2005, Disney inducted Randy as a Disney Legend.

Table of Contents for Disneyland: inside Story

It was very obvious from the book that Randy loved Disneyland. This book was the first official history of Disneyland—and remains the most authoritative one available. Don’t let the fact that it stops at 1987 keep you from purchasing this title.

Originally, as I was reading the book, I kept thinking that most of the information presented, I already knew. It wasn’t until I finished the book and started looking at some of my other Disney titles, that I saw that most of them used Randy’s book as a reference. Disneyland: Inside Story is the penultimate history of Disneyland.

Like most works on Disney, the book starts off with a brief history of the Studios and quickly moves into Walt and his fascination with trains. The Carolwood-Pacific, Disneylandia and the Burbank site are all discussed–ultimately leading to the Anaheim park that we know today. Randy details how Walt struggled to get financing and how he pulled together members of the Studio to do the design work on the attractions.

As Randy moves through the history of the park, he looks at the development of each land, providing concept sketches, artwork and photos. In hindsight, it is amazing that the Company was able to create Disneyland in a year. Although it is an authorized history of Disneyland, Randy doesn’t neglect the insider stories like the opening-day disaster (it is referred to as Black Monday). He also has other stories sprinkled throughout the book. You don’t get a sense that they were true disasters, but learning opportunities for the Company and Walt.

The book is filled with some of the most beautiful full-color and black-and-white photographs of the park throughout the years. There are candid shots of guests enjoying the park and full-page spreads of attractions, lands and aerial views.

This is a great introduction to Disneyland for so many reasons. Randy looks at each ride in the park’s history and presents background information, development, history and humor, when available. He takes us through Disneyland’s first ten years, the 1964-65 World’s Fair and back to Disneyland. He recounts the struggles to change and plus the park while keeping one step ahead of changing guest demand and technology. Randy writes about the years after Walt with poignancy. He expresses how the Company pushed forward with Pirates and struggled with the Haunted Mansion–eventually needing to partner with outside companies to produce their newest attractions.

Disneyland: Inside Story, the Bottom Line

Bottom Line: This is an amazing reference book and I highly recommend it. It is out of print and like many other Disney titles, the price has skyrocketed. You will have to buy this title on Amazon or eBay and expect to pay between $75 and $150 for a copy in good shape–I have seen it go as high as $350.00. In my collection, this stands as one of the top 5 most important titles that I own. Not only for its historical importance, but that it has some of the most amazing photographs of Disneyland available anywhere (except Daveland, of course!). If you can snag a copy—go for it. Disneyland: Inside Story will thrill you! This book is the standard reference for Disneyland history, so it has been quoted and used as a primary source quite a bit. It is wonderful though and you will enjoy it tremendously.

Is Disneyland: Inside Story in your collection? What’s your favorite Disneyland book?


Book Review: The Animated Man

I just finished reading Michael Barrier’s biography The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. In my opinion, this is one of the more important biographical treatises on Walt’s life.

Before we get into the review, I want to share a little about the author, Michael Barrier. Barrier has written several animation- and comic book-related titles. The most well-known are: Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book and A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics. He also published Funnyworld, a magazine devoted to animation and comics. Funnyworld lived in the early 1970’s and you can find reprints of it on his website.

Barrier takes a different approach to looking at the life of Walt Disney. Instead of just focusing on the more mundane facts and figures, Barrier shows us the man through Disney’s work, artistry and relationships. Barrier does impart the sense that after creating Snow White, Disney was never quite happy with the films and was striving for another challenge. Even Disneyland, with the audio-animatronics, never quite compared to the challenges of Snow White.

The Animated Man is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I never felt like Barrier was reciting a litany of facts, but instead, he was telling the story of Walt Disney. Barrier is renowned for his research, but I never felt burdened by the text. In other words: I had trouble putting this book down. It is quite obvious that Barrier is an animation fan and has tremendous respect for Disney and the art that was created.

One of my favorite passages from the book concerns the Kansas City Public Library:

Disney was intrigued by animation’s possibilities and by what he called “the mechanics of the whole thing.” He was essentially self-taught as an animator; he wrote to an admirer many years later, “I gained my first information on animation from a book … which I procured from the Kansas City Public Library.” That book was Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development by Edwin G. Lutz. According to its copyright page, Lutz’s book was published in New York in February 1920, the same month Disney joined Kansas City Film Ad, so he must have read it very soon after it was added to the library’s collection. He said of the book in 1956: “Now, it was not very profound; it was just something the guy had put together to make a buck. But, still, there are ideas in there.”
–p. 26, The Animated Man.

Knowing that Disney utilized a public library to help jump start his career would make any of us public librarians proud.

If you’ve spent any time checking out Disney-related books, then you may have heard about the scuffle between Barrier’s work and Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. See, at the beginning of Gabler’s research (1995 or so), he started out to write a simpler biography of Disney after receiving a Guggenheim fellowship. At some point, Gabler was given unprecedented access to the Walt Disney Archives and corporate authorization to write a definitive biography; Barrier was denied access while writing The Animated Man. The press has been enamored with the fact that Gabler was given full access to the Archives and they have heaped accolades on him. Barrier’s more authoritative research stems from the amount of work he had done while writing Hollywood Cartoons and Funnyworld and through the interviews with animation legends. Barrier knows his stuff. He does rely on a large amount of primary sources and his endnotes are well-documented and as intriguing as the rest of the text. I found myself taking much longer to read The Animated Man because I spent so much time flipping back to the notes to get more information. Since both were published within a year of each other, it is inevitable that comparisons will and have been drawn. I would have liked more comparisons between the works–from the critics–as Barrier’s book is more definitive while Gabler’s book comes off as a little snobbish and presents a seemingly misunderstood view of Disney.

I read Gabler’s book first and found it hard to continue at points. It read as tenuously as it was long. From the beginning, Barrier captured my attention and interest and framed a picture of Disney through the art produced and the company he founded and ran. Thematically, if you look at how the authors present their vision of Disney, they take decidedly different routes. Gabler paints a man obsessed with control who is never happy because of the lack of control and his attempts at escaping his father’s shadow. Gabler presumes to psychoanalyze Disney through memos, letters and notes–ultimately presenting a self-centered and egotistical slave-driver. Barrier takes us on a journey through the work of Disney to present a man who is less a control freak and more of an entrepreneur. Barrier wastes none of our time looking into Disney’s psyche and instead focuses on what is tangible with Disney in order to provide a glimpse into his life.

Bottom Line: This is the best biography of Walt Disney that I have had the pleasure of reading. Barrier does focus predominately on Disney’s opus of work–personal and corporate–but doesn’t that define Disney as we know him and why Disney is significant to us?

 


 

 

I’ve added links to the hardcover (left) and the paperback (right).
The paperback is not scheduled to be published until late March.

Daily Figment 166: Book Review – The Disney Villain

The Disney Villain is a beautiful work by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, two of Walt’s Nine Old Men. I’m not sure if there were ever two people more suited to describing the Disney Villain–Frank and Ollie were supervising animators at Disney for almost 50 years. More than meets the eye, this book does more than just look at the Disney Villains, it also sheds light on what makes a villain and why some Disney Villains were much better than others.

Because the concept of evil is the most terrifying and thrilling concept in our language. We need terror by which to measure and enjoy our comfort; we need thrill to ameliorate the tedium. We need evil to locate our good. And evil is a concept that has been increasingly undervalued and ignored. We require a devil with whom our gods can do battle, lest our gods become reduced to mere royalty-splendidly clothed, gossiped about, but superfluous.

–T. Jefferson Parker (1992, January 19). The Obsession with Evil Why we are transfixed by serial killers :[Home Edition]. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext),p. 1. Retrieved February 16, 2008, from Los Angeles Times database. (Document ID: 61560068).

Part of the quote above is used by Ollie and Frank in the preface of the book to illustrate one of the reasons they did a book about Disney Villains. That and so many of their colleagues and friends requested it.

They look at 59 villains (only 8 of which were female) over the course of almost 70 years. In the beginning, they talk about the Alice shorts and how Peg Leg Pete was the first villain, although Ollie and Frank refer to him more as a bully. Pete made the transition from Alice to Oswald to Mickey. Ultimately, he was in 32 shorts with Mickey and friends, but he never achieved a starring role.

Throughout the rest of the book, they look at each animated film and discuss the villains. Not just which ones were truly scary (the Evil Queen) but which ones added to the hero’s quest and ultimately made the hero a much more beloved character. It is difficult to sum up a work of this caliber. Ollie and Frank are not only terrific animators, but they tell a great story. Each villain is the center of a debate that is bookmarked between the Evil Queen and Jafar. The authors do more than just talk about villains, they also talk about the highs and lows of Disney animation. This book could be used as a starting point for anyone looking for an introduction to the Disney animated library.

Some of the villains are villainous simply because of their nature. The rat in Lady and The Tramp, the bear in The Fox and the Hound and Monstro from Pinocchio. Not that they are true villains, but because their nature is to forage for food, protect their environs or because they are monstrous in size–they act as villains to the hero. Other villains never quite made it. Ollie and Frank point to Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, Mr. McLeach from The Rescuers Down Under and Prince John from Robin Hood. For various reasons, they felt that these characters, along with a few others, never quite made the bold statements that were needed. In some cases, the hero was so powerful that it negated the villain’s actions entirely.

 
Beautiful artwork flows throughout the 232 pages of the book. There are full-page shots, thumbnail sketches, storyboards and rough sketches. We see, through the animator’s eyes, how a character is developed and comes to life on the page. Both Captain Hook and Gaston were originally seen as foppish characters that were larger than life. In both cases, the animators were instructed to bring the villain down to scale and inject more human characteristics into them. Mainly so we would see them either with flaws or as people we have known–more like a villain archetype.
 
Bottom Line: This is a wonderful book for any collection. It does center specifically on animation, but through the course of discussing the villains, a lot of history of the films and the Disney Company rises to the top. Frank and Ollie have a wonderful narrative that is interspersed with anecdotes and knowledgeable insights into the world of the animated villain. The amazing artwork alone makes it worth picking this title up–the text is the icing on the cake!
 

 

Daily Figment 158 – Book Review: Inside the Mouse

Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World, The Project on Disney. 1995, 250 pages.

Did you ever have a book that you were loathe to finish? One that you didn’t want to spend time with?

Let me tell you about one. I was excited when I got my copy of this book. It has been around for a number of years, but not many people have talked about it. Now I know why.

I’ve seen the terms pompous, boring, irrelevant and “ivory tower” used to describe this work. I agree.

The authors (all academics) take on Walt Disney World, but they never look beyond the ends of their noses. They land smack dab in the middle of the Disney Decade and all they see is mass consumerism and an idle shift in corporate values. They also see us, the visitors to Walt Disney Word as a heard of brand-induced and crowd-mentality fodder for the turnstyles, gift shops, restaurants and hotels. In all of their interviews and anecdotes, it is apparent that they never talked to anyone that had a inkling of what a Disney vacation is supposed to be.

The book did have three redeeming chapters: Working at the Rat, Public Use / Private State and Monuments to Walt. Working at the Rat consists of interviews with castmembers that connote that working for Disney is tantamount to forced, temporary labor. No chance for advancement and every chance of being let go before you get permanent status. Granted, the tone is pretty negative and it is obvious that only the “lower echelons” of Disney castmembers were interviewed. Looking at this chapter, one would surmise that working for the Mouse is extremely cut-throat. Public Use / Private State made me step outside of my normal tourist pursuits and see how we interact with the private (re:corporate-owned) areas like the theme parks. Even though they are private, we are expected to use them as public spaces, i.e. a park, mall area or town square. Disney champions what most other businesses can’t: use us like you were at home, albeit a care-free and safe home. The chapter I enjoyed the most was Monuments to Walt. The author looked at current architectural motifs and themes and discussed how Disney was using them to gain a means. A means of continuing the storytelling to the resorts and eateries. There is still some lambasting, but mostly to the end that the author believes that what exists today is because the leadership of the company, until Eisner, constantly prayed at the altar of “What Would Walt Do.” The author proclaims that Epcot is merely a necropolis dedicated to Walt. That is why it fails.

Those sections, mentioned above, were the highlights of the book…and that ain’t sayin’ much!

The most thought-provoking section is entitled, The Alternative Ride. The author questions how we deal with images incongruent with what Disney presents: kissing, hand-holding, angst (think teens) and other images that aren’t white, middle-class, middle-American “values”. How they can shock us and force us to step outside of our vacation experience.

The Bottom Line: This book is not worth reading or adding to your collection. I hate to post such a negative review, but for us Disney Geeks, there are so many better titles out there.