Friday, August 20, 2021

Between Books - They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years The 1940's - Part One


Book cover for They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years the 1940's Part One showing Peter Pan and Wendy captaining a pirate ship painted by David Hall

Short Version - They Drew as They Pleased by Didier Ghez is really good.  If you like or love Disney animation and books you will want very volume.

Long Version - They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years The 1940's - Part One by Didier Ghez is the second volume in this art driven series.  Ghez again features treasures from Disney's story artists.  The book covers artists that are well known in Kay Nielsen and Retta Scott but also those that Disney fans may not be as familiar with like Walt Scott.  Each chapter includes a brief description of the artist's work and the pages of their art, which are well-framed and often striking to the reader.

Honestly, I do not have a lot to say about this volume.  The artists picked are a great representation of the studio and the films which Disney had in production during a time that Ghez labels a musical era.  Ghez faces some issues straight one such as the status of women in the studio and Walt Disney's views of their contributions.  A theme which is unstated in this volume is short tenures with many of these artists quickly moving on in the time of economic uncertainty as World War II opens and labor changes after the studio strike.  If I had a to pick a criticism, I would have loved to see more of Retta Scott's art for Bambi and less of unfinished Disney projects due to her skill drawing animals.

If you are reading this review you probably like or love Disney books.  Yes, you need a copy of They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years The 1940's - Part One by Didier Ghez in your library.  There is a pretty good chance you were already thinking about this!  Just let me confirm it for you.  It is an excellent volume with fantastic art that you want in your collection.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Between Books - The Making of Walt Disney's Fun and Fancy Free


Book cover showing promotional materials for Fun and Fancy Free which shows Mickey Mouse as Jack, Willy the Giant, Donald Duck, Goofy, Bongo the Bear and Edward Bergen

As a fairly busy person, I have never to my remembrance watched Fun and Fancy Free.  Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie.  I remember segments of this 1947 package film as it was taken apart to provide television and school’s shorter segments, specifically Mickey and the Beanstalk.  But it is honestly a film that I do not know a lot about or have a deep experience with.  I mean I likely have an old copy picked up and maybe unwatched from my college years.  So I was excited that the Hyperion Historical Alliance’s first monograph was a blind spot in my Disney knowledge.    

The Making of Walt Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free by J.B. Kaufman is truly the definitive book on this Disney feature.   Kaufman starts his story in 1941 as Walt Disney sought new stories in the midst of global war to justify his expanding studio.  One of the potential stories that Disney tasked to his staff was the development of Sinclair Lewis’ “Bongo” a tale of a circus bear meeting wild bears in the wild.  A story with only three main characters; Bongo the circus bear, Silver Ear a wild female bear and Lump Jaw a male bully bear was going to take a lot of development to create an animated film.  Kaufman highlights the starts and stops in the story including changing development leads, changing studio priorities and story problems which stretched out the development of the film.  For examples, as story personnel changed so did characters, endings and even how Bongo found himself in the forest.  Next Kaufman transitions to Mickey and the Beanstalk, a story that Walt Disney had visited before.  As early as 1938, Disney had considered producing a version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” again as a Mickey Mouse feature which could help put the studio on stronger financial grounds.  This feature was stalled in the World War II studio activities and revived again in 1944, among the projects like “Bongo” that Disney hoped would bring his studio in to the post-war world.  And with the war ended in 1945 and Disney needing to put a feature in theaters, the decision was made to place Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk together for one theatrical released feature.  The new fun spirited Fun and Fancy Free was to provide a Disney a more economical feature which already had years of development behind it.  This new film would be promoted heavily with both musical numbers found in the film and with Mickey Mouse’s 20th anniversary, a year early. After its initial release, the film would separated into smaller segments for further release in other avenues.

Kaufman’s work is solid, informative and entertaining. The Making of Walt Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free is full of images.  The book does not just tell you about the evolution of characters but shows you.  And along with concept art, Kaufman shows us the artists crafting the film’s development.  But my biggest concern about image heavy books is the narrative.  Here, Kaufman does not scrimp on his words giving a strongly researched historical narrative.  For such an image heavy book, the words provide equal value.  The Hyperion Historical Alliance has stated they wish to support image driven books which also have historically strong research.  This first volume definitely meets that goal!  And I as a reader look forward to seeing future volumes. 

In the age of Disney+, Fun and Fancy Free is available at anytime to me.  Though I think I may still have a VHS copy of it…but a streaming channel seems so much easier for searching and starting/stopping.  J.B. Kaufman has given me the excitement to watch it again for the second or third first time in a whole new historical light. 


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Monday, July 5, 2021

Between Books - Buying Disney's World

Book cover for Buying Disney's World showing the state of Florida with a castle at the location of Walt Disney World.


I had heard some great buzz about Buying Disney's World, so I set myself up to enjoy this text on a long bus ride.  Yeah, a bus!  As I attended a trip with some of my favorite people I hoped that this journey into Florida of five decades ago would keep my interest and make the miles pass.  But in the end it got my interest in other ways as I began to question how some of the research was used.  

Buying Disney's World:The Story of How Florida Swampland Became Walt Disney World by Aaron H. Goldberg provides a fairly straightforward account of Walt Disney's interest in developing a East Coast city of tomorrow in Florida.  Goldberg breaks down the decisions of where to build in Florida, the steps taken to purchase the massive number of acres that Walt Disney wanted for his new project and Roy Disney's leadership in completing Walt Disney World.  The style is highly accessible with readers lacking Disney or in some cases legal knowledge able to understand the complicated steps taken to build the Florida resort.

For me Buying Disney's World is a mixed bag.  The text is very approachable and often engaging.  Goldberg really underscores the efforts and drive of two men in completing this park.  First, Walt Disney the man who would never see the finished dream who chose the site and had a vision that went beyond a theme park.  Second, Roy Disney, who cancelled his own retirement to build his brother's dream to the point of demanding that it open on time.  These personal aspects are fully drawn out and easy to see in the author's prose.

But I have concerns about the scholarship.  This monograph is full of extensive citations and provides a clear message, I am a serious historical study.   But I worry about how the author uses external sources.  One chapter includes what is in effect an extensive transcript of "The Florida Project" film which extends for pages and pages.  This text expands the chapter size and would perhaps could be better placed in an appendix with Goldberg providing readres analysis of the film instead.  But the piece that I found me scratching my head was another long quote, this time from Walt Disney discussing his love and respect of Roy Disney.  The citation is not to the original source of the quote.  Instead it is to a secondary source written about the brothers by Goldberg for a youth audience.  It wonder in this work what citation was provided, as it feels odd with the author citing his own work and for a less academic minded audience.

For me, Buying Disney's World is an accessible account of the development of Walt Disney World.  It was clear and at times emotionally engaging.  But for a more academic view of this time frame I still rely on Chad Denver Emerson's Project Future.  I hope that Buying Disney's World can draw readers into this fascinating story so they explore this topic in even greater detail.       

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Between Books - Polishing the Dragons


Book cover for Polishing the Dragons with a large ornate golden dragon


Mistakes were made.

And I made a giant one when reading Polishing the Dragons.

Polishing the Dragons: Making Epcot’s “Wonders of China” by Jeff Blyth recounts Blyth’s roll in directing, writing and leading the team in creating the Circle-Vision 360 films which was displayed for over 20 years.  Blyth provides a detailed account of the production of the film based on notes he kept when making the film in the 1980s.  Blyth discusses how the film came to be, his pre-production scouting and the actual filming in China.  He also discusses his contributions to the refreshing of the film to become “Reflections of China” which replaced it.  Along with Blyth’s text, he includes numerous color photos of locations, scenes and the crew working to create this long-lasting Epcot production.

Did I mention I made a mistake?  Okay, maybe I made at least two. 

Mistake number one, in all my trips to Disney I have never watched a Circle-Vision 360 film.  I can give excuses, but in the end it is just true.   To me the novice, Blyth demonstrated to me that these productions are complex and challenging.  Blyth takes his readers through site selection, how can one get a strong 360 degree shot and hide the crew?  He shows how hard actual filming can be, as one has to keep 9 cameras level with clean lenses and enough film to capture the moment.  Oh and for Blyth’s adventure, how do you explain how this process works to an inexperienced crew who has never seen a 360 degree film through a language barrier.  And maybe the American crew members are not overly excited with all the country has to offer.  The reader is left with an understanding of the complexity of these productions and the dedication of the crew to complete the process and meet their deadlines.  I will make sure that next time I am at Epcot I will see a 360 film.

Blyth’s writing also gives us insight into a time in China’s history largely hidden from the West.  Blyth was an American in China during a time where the country was largely closed.  So his experiences were often unique with him visiting areas largely unseen by other Westerners.  We also get a window to negotiations with the People’s Republic of China who in the 1980s were using this film to help introduce the world to their nation.  But at times, it is clear they very much wished to control that introduction.  And yet Blyth may have been the one Westerner to claim a victory over the People’s Liberation Army at this time with him getting some filming concessions.  For those interested in Chinese history, this is an enjoyable and informative first-person narrative of this time period.

Mistake number two, I read this as a Kindle book on Kindle Unlimited.  Now I love seeing a Disney history title in the service but I should have paid for the physical book.  The Kindle really does not highlight the images and for me they were to small to explore.  The page also makes it clear that this is not printed on normal paper but has a stylized layout and mood that screams personal journal to me.  Bamboo Forest Publishing put considerable design effort into this production.  Despite generally being happy with reading Kindle books, I just wish I had read it as a physical book.

Mistakes were made in reading Polishing the Dragons.  I really enjoyed this text which allowed me to travel to a part of the world that currently is barred to me due to global travel restrictions at a time in history where it was largely hidden to the West.  And I learned about both film production and the specialized Circle-Vision process.  This text is one that I highly recommend to Disney fans and even non-Disney fans interested in China or film production. 

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Between Books - Disney Maps: A Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love


Book image showing various images from Disney Movies for book Dinsey Maps A Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love

Disney Maps: A Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love is a book I struggled to match an audience with.  The book is fairly simple.  The book highlights 24 movies from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Coco.  For each movie featured is a two-page fun map with landmarks and geography from the movie.  There is a page of movie highlights and facts.  And there is a page of characters.  The book also contains a forward by Pete Docter discussing the importance of geography in telling stories.

So who is the audience.  The most basic answer is kids.  The maps and images are fun.  And the facts are fairly simple, like Wikipedia simple.  But the price point of the book at around $20 is really not something that screams buy this for the kids.  The audience is not the adult Disney fan.  The art is cute and interesting, but it is not art of historical significance or produced by Disney legends.  It is just cute and sometimes interesting art.  An adult reader like me might get lost in the art trying to make sense of it at times, I mean Radiator Springs is perfect but the scale is fantastical for The Incredibles.  So maybe one should not take it so serious.  I also attempted to play Where’s Waldo with some of the character pages collating them with the map.  But honestly they were mostly way to easy to find.  To me the audience fit at the moment are adults buying a gift for a child under five and want to give a handsome looking volume with engaging images. 

In the end, as an adult Disney fan, this was cute but did not provide history or insight for me.  And for kids, the price point is a little too high.  Perhaps a cheaper soft cover would make this title find its true audience a little easier.  And also that could get more adults to buy this volume as a gift.  


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