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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination


On my holiday vacation reading list was Neal Gabler's new biography of Walt Disney, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination." What I found most inspiring was Disney's creative restlessness: he was forever trying to avoid repteating himself, and always hammering away at new technical and artistic problems. The book includes sections about Disney's push to use sound in "Steamboat Willie"; Technicolor in the "Silly Symphony" series; the multi-plane animation camera in "The Old Mill"; and multi-channel sound in "Fantasia". Gabler observes that Disney understood the possibilities of creating programming for TV at a time when most others in Hollywood still regarded the medium as a threat to the movie industry. Disney used the ABC show "Disneyland" not just to promote movies like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," but his forthcoming theme park, too. The book also touches on the invention of Audio-Animatronics.

One favorite quote, from a letter that Walt's brother Roy wrote to their parents: Walt "continually (without letup in the least) always strives for something that has not been done before. That sort of policy, of course, is always costly." (It was always Roy's responsibility to make the finances work on Walt's many projects.)

Walt, for his part, said, "I found out the people who live with figures as a rule, it's postmortem, it's never ahead..." (Walt was talking specifically about shifting the studio to color animation from black-and-white. He figured his films would enjoy a longer life if made in color.)

Here's an Amazon link to the book.