I Only Hope That we Never Lose Sight of one Thing, That it was all Started by a Man

I don’t read nearly as often as I should/used to. It’s part of living an active (and by active, I mean playing too many video games) life, but when I do read, it’s usually nonfiction and it is usually whatever Imagineering book Disney releases that year.

 This time, it was a biography on Walt Disney (actually, THE biography on Walt Disney, but I’ll get to that a little later) that I had been reading off and on for around 4 to 5 years. That book is Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

The reason it took me so long to finish this book is the sheer density of the book. I’m not saying that it’s boring, quite the opposite in fact. The book is incredibly interesting, but it is somewhat hard to get through. Also, it’s not that it’s a terribly long book, as the actual story is only 633 pages in the hardcover version I have (the rest of the book is a 200 page appendix that has a bibliography, reading list, notes, and an index), but the level of detail that Gabler goes into. This is easily the most complete and technical of any of the Walt Disney biographies I have read, and I have read a bunch of them. The scary thing is about this book is that there is even more detail that Gabler could have gone into. The sheer depth of involvement Disney had in almost every aspect of the company is staggering, especially considering the fact that he wasn’t an animator or a director. He was the first and last word on everything unless he delegated, which didn’t start happening until the 40’s and 50’s and even then he might just snatch the power right back up if the delegated parties did not do everything exactly the way he wanted the project to be done.

The book (of course) chronicles the life of Walt Disney from birth to death, including his successes and failures. Large sections of the book are dedicated to the pre-Mickey Mouse times of the company when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was stolen through various legal means by the then distributor of the Disney shorts, the creation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and of Walt’s last escape from the real world, Disneyland.

I have very few problems with this book overall, one of which is the idea that some people hold that Walt Disney was an anti-semite. The idea of that is completely absurd and while the book covers some reasons why he was not anti-semitic, I wish there would have been some more detail on the subject. Actually, all of my problems with the book stem from there not being enough detail on certain subjects.

One last aspect I would like to mention is the ending. It is incredibly touching and really chronicles Walt Disney’s life in a nutshell, because of thatI really want to reproduce it in this review:

He had changed the world. He had created a new art from and then produced several indisputable classics within it – films that, even when they had not found an audience or been profitable on first release, had, as Walt predicted, become profitable upon reissue. He had provided escape from the Depression, strength during the war, and

 reassurance afterward, and he had shown generations of children how to accept responsibility while at the same time allowing them to vent vicariously their antagonisms toward the adult world they would soon enter. He had refined traditional values and sharpened American myths and archetypes, even if, as his detractors said, he may have also gutted them. And from another vantage point, he had reinforced American iconoclasm, communitarianism, and tolerance and helped mold a countercultural generation. He had advanced color films and then color television. He had re-imagined the amusement park, and in doing so he had altered American consciousness, for better or worse, so that his countrymen would prefer wish fulfillment to reality, the faux to the authentic. He had encouraged and popularized conservation, space exploration, atomic energy, urban planning, and a deeper historical awareness. He had built one of the most powerful empires in the entertainment world – one that would, despite his fears, long survive him. And because his films were so popular overseas, he had helped establish American popular culture as the dominant culture in the world. He had founded a school of the arts, and nearly forty years after his death his name would adorn a concert hall in downtown Los Angeles financed largely with Disney family money. Yet all of these accumulated contributions paled before a larger one: he demonstrated how one could assert one’s will on the world at the very time when everything seemed to be growing beyond control and beyond comprehension. In sum, Walt Disney had been no so much a master of fun or irreverence or innocence or even wholesomeness. He had been a master of order.

If you have any sort of interest in the history of animation, the Walt Disney company, or just Walt Disney himself, I would suggest this book whole heartedly.

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