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... for taking the time to stop by. I hope some of these ponderings will resonate with you.

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(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 33: The magic that Walt made

"I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained." - Walt Disney


The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch

The first thing you notice about this book is that it is really big and heavy. In fact, at roughly A3 size and 450 pages, of which many are actually double pages that fold out, it is one of the largest books in my library and only rivalled by a really big atlas and some other coffee table books on art. The reason I mention this, is that I bought it during a trip to the US many years ago. It was only when I got to the teller carrying it and some other books, all of them fairly large, that I realised this was going to play havoc with my weight allotment for luggage on the plane back to Switzerland where I lived at the time.  But there was no ways I was putting back such a treasure. 

Because if it is very big, it is also very beautiful and contains a wealth of information about a remarkable man and his art.  (Although Walt Disney himself did not refer to his work as art - he maintained "I never called my work an 'art' It's part of show business, the business of building entertainment." ). So I paid for the book, left it at the store while I collected some more books I had bought earlier from my hotel, and let them mail it to my home address.
At the time the cost of shipping it that way cost less than excess baggage charge, and in addition I did not have to lug around an additional 10 kilogram or more of books.

When it comes to Disney, we are all kids at heart and we all have our favourites.  I loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi and Dumbo and later The Aristocats and the original 101 Dalmatians, but there were others too, including the wonderful Fantasia, that combined his fantasy world and stunning creativity with some of the classical music I loved anyway. 

Micky Mouse is the guide in Fantasia, the central figure at the Magic Kingdoms of Disneyland and Disney World and one of the most recognisable cartoon figures ever created.  Somehow the character remains fresh so many years after he was first created in collaboration between Walt Disney and the very talented animator Ub Iwerks and introduced to the public in 1928 in Steamboat Willie. 

Mickey is also my sister's favourite.  In fact, she is quite mad about the Mouse that Walt Made and has an extensive collection of Mickey memorabilia (although certainly not everything that has ever been made, because the number of individual items of Mickey merchandise must surely run into many thousands).    Not bad for an icon of popular culture - an arena where fame and excitement about the latest entertainment most frequently lasts only briefly.

We all grew up with Disney movies and most of us can hum at least a few songs from Disney movies.  Kids still grow up with newer Disney animated films even though the look and feel is somewhat different from the early days and production techniques have changed dramatically with the advent of computer animation and other techniques and technologies. 

Without going into the history of the Disney empire, it has been an enduring part of modern culture and entertainment for almost 80 years.  Most of use know some of the stories about Walt Disney,  but this book tells it in much more detail and the illustrations are numerous (763 in all) and many fold out to almost A2 size.  There are interesting photographs and the narrative is fascinating.  It covers not only the cartoons and animated movies but also the illustrations, printed cartoons, posters and some of the live action movies up to the early 1980s.

It shows details of Walt's own drawings and the development of some of the characters we have all grown to love.  It tells the stories and background to those first animated films, and it also a bit about Walt Disney as a person.  In addition it provides background about the development of Disneyland and Disney World and I am fascinated by the photographs that were taken during construction and shortly after the opening of the Magic Kingdom.

Shortly before my visit to Chicago, I had been to Los Angeles and it included a visit to Disneyland - enough reason to be drawn to the book when I saw it.  Today my souvenir brochure from way back when lives tucked into the cover of the book.

Author Christopher Finch was on the curatorial staff of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis before becoming a full-time writer of art books. The book also includes a special essay by architect and author/editor Peter Blake.

Even today I am very glad I did not turn back in that book store. It is one of the special treasures in my library and something that I love sharing with friends and family, because invariably paging through it starts a discussion about favourite movies, drawings and characters - and that takes one into discussions about other movies, or about other topics to do with popular culture, travel destinations and many other things.  Ask me to have a look at it when you visit...


What would Disneyland be without the daily parade with Mickey Mouse as the
central figure?  I took this during my visit in 1983
 Text & photographs: © Lee Labuschagne - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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