Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Walt Disney - The Man Himself

A while back I read a pair of biographies on Walt Disney, the first being WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION by Neal Gabler, and the second one called THE ANIMATED MAN, by Michael Barrier. Aside from some controversy about Diane Disney Miller (Walt's daughter) not liking the portrayal of Walt outside of the business by Gabler (which I noted on Barrier's website), the two books were quite similar in their portrayal of Disney the man, in my view.

What I learned about Walt: He wasn't a great artist. But he was a driven motivated individual who didn't let much stand in the way of achieving his dreams. He started with almost nothing except some ideas and some drawing skills. His real genius came in his ability to take a story or a drawing or any sort of play and add to it, or subtract from it, or change it, and almost always make it better.

He was a man who didn't really fit in with the Hollywood folks. He was not highly educated, and behaved as a common man, probably part of his huge appeal to Americans and probably part of his ability to understand what everyday folks would enjoy. He was a family man, loving his daughters and his wife even when he didn't have a lot of time to dote on them.

He was an intense guy who could by sheer force of will accomplish things that others would just scoff at. He made color short cartoons when no one else thought that it could be done profitably. He made a feature length animated film that stands up with some of the best films of all time (SNOW WHITE). He saw the importance of TV and used it to his advantage. And he dreamed up this thing called a "theme park" and made one that was different from anything anyone else had ever tried. All the while being told that he couldn't do it, couldn't make it work.

Had he lived, what would EPCOT have become? Would it have actually have become a lightning rod for advancement? A model of utopia? What other new venues of entertainment would have intrigued him?

I came away impressed with the man, even as I always admired his work without really knowing anything about it. Those books, along with my visits to the theme parks, have inspired me to put some thought into Disney - the man AND the company.


George Taylor said...

I really enjoyed Barrier's book over Gabler's. I found myself not wanting to read Gabler's work about halfway through it. He seemed to paint a very depressing picture of Walt that didn't jibe with other biographies.

Michael Barrier is one of the foremost critics writing about animation today. Barrier has been researching animation since the 1960's and there would be tremendous gaps in our knowledge if he had not interviewed all of the older animators.

When you digest a book, you also need to consider the author. Barrier loves animation, but he is the first to admit that he is a curmudgeon. I can appreciate Barrier's point-of-view with Walt due to his background. I tend to take his opinions with a little more weight.

But I am glad that you read both books and researched them on the web!

Scott said...

Thanks for commenting! Gabler's was far wordier, but I guess I didn't get the "depressing" part of the picture he drew. I thought his portrait was pretty even handed. Maybe it's because I read it first. I probably liked Barrier's book better, too, but mostly because it was more concisely written. I didn't really feel the portrait I got of Walt was all that much different than what I got from Gabler.