Sometimes I think my world is one giant rabbit hole with many doors, that it’s all somehow connected. I have all these projects where I go out and learn “all that is learnable” about the things I love most, and invariably one thing leads to the next, and so forth. It always seems like I have too much on my plate to finish in one lifetime. That’s probably true, but I see this as a good problem to have.
Today I have Walt Disney to thank for opening yet another door, and it’s one that (surprise!) connects back to some of the others I’ve been exploring. I pre-ordered my Blu-ray copy of Beauty and the Beast, and it arrived on Monday. I was distracted by setting up my new phone, so I had to uncharacteristically wait a day to revisit this animated classic. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but it struck me yet again just how much love and artistry went into this film, as is often the case with Disney animated works. That’s pretty much the hallmark that keeps the legend alive.
Riding those dual waves of appreciation and nostalgia, I explored the bonus features and found a brief documentary entitled #1074: Walt, Fairy Tales & Beauty and the Beast. This gives us a quick look at the Disney library. Back in 1935, Walt and his brother Roy went on a European tour, and Walt was captivated by the art and culture he found there. He hand-selected 335 books that became the foundational source material for the animated legacy to come.
I had heard of this list before, and I assumed I had a decent idea of what might be on it: fairy tales and princess stories. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Yes and no. While the works of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault are indeed on the list, there are plenty of titles that I perhaps wouldn’t have immediately identified as potential Disney projects. On the quick list that they flashed where they showed Beauty and the Beast as project #1074, the title that immediately caught my eye was Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I immediately became fascinated with the notion of finding out what else was on that list. They showed some of the actual books, many of which weren’t in English (go figure), and that only compounded my interest. There is nothing quite so enticing as that which is just out of reach.
I like to think my Google-Fu is strong, but this is one of those times where I discovered it just isn’t strong enough. Either that, or the complete list of those books isn’t anywhere to be found on the internet. Admittedly, that idea just seems crazy to me.
This morning I came across a reference to a book called Disney’s Grand Tour: Walt and Roy’s European Vacation, Summer 1935 by Didier Ghez. When it was called out that the complete list of Walt’s books was listed herein, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I downloaded it on my Kindle immediately (how did we ever operate before the internet?).
This looks to be the kind of read that will require only a lazy Sunday afternoon, clocking in at 164 pages, with about 20 pages of that being appendices and bibliography. Sure enough, the complete list of what Walt brought back is there for all to behold in the appendices. And as one might expect, many of the titles are not in English, which means I’m going to have to run them through some translation software to learn what they are. Some of them are immediately obvious, however, and many of them are surprising at first glance. And yet, it’s hard not to see where and how these books would be referenced, and why they continue to be referenced by the Disney animators and storytellers today. There are histories, folk tales, and legends. There are reference books about butterflies, birds, and flowers. There’s a sizeable selection about famous painters, art, and the science of color. The list just goes on. And among all of this are selected works by Shakespeare, Cervantes, Poe, and all of the stories we’ve already come to associate with Disney.
Being the geeky mess that I am, I have to say this little insight into what might have been and what might still be coming down the road just hits all the right buttons. My modus operandi with most things is to learn about what inspires me, learn about what inspired that in turn, and so on back up the line. Many of the books on this list are already in my wheelhouse, but there are a considerable number that I’ve not yet read for myself. I’m re-inspired to do so. In some ways it goes hand-in-hand with my Tolkien studies. Many of these are the tales that inspired him too, as well as the likes of Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, and a great many others I respect across many genres and media.
The only question now is, where to begin? Definitely a good problem to have.