Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Disney signature

This is the signature of a great man.  It’s also the basis of a corporate logo, which took the original man, name, and signature, and stylized them all.  Where does the man end and company begin?  Is there any difference?

This mammoth biography (900+ pages in print, 33+ hours in audio) represents the most in-depth portrait of the man and the mythos he created.  With unparalleled access to the studio vaults, the book humanizes the icon and lays bare the triumph — and tragedies — of Walt Disney.

Like so many great men, there are aspects to Disney that are anything but good.  While this book does refute claims of anti-Semitism (rumors of this kind are hard to kill in spite of efforts such as this), Disney is still shown to be a Red-baiter, union-smasher, and absolute dictator of his private little world.  At the same time, Disney the family man and Disney the genius are explored in detail.  The result is a satisfying, and at times spirit-beating, examination of what it takes to be a creator of worlds.  The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.  Walt Disney was first and foremost a Lord of Order in his quest to create a perfect world, free from the influences of mediocrity and subversion.

There’s an old saying that when you admire someone or something, you look to their influences, and so on, as a means to open yourself to a larger world.  George Lucas is a man I admire on a number of levels.  Walt Disney is his hero.  I thought I had a handle on what that meant before, being someone who was raised on and educated in art and animation.  Reading this book, my appreciation for Walt and his world only deepens, and in turn gives me even greater appreciation as the template of everything Lucasfilm was built upon.  I’ve found myself revisiting old cartoons and some of my favorites in the Disney film lineup, seeing these milestones in a new light.  If that were the only thing I got out of this book, that alone would be worthy.  But there’s so much more to be had here that I find myself at a loss to explain properly.  Bottom line, if you have an interest in the man or his world, this book is for you.

5 stars

Walt Disney

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