Monday, April 7, 2014

Between Books - Walt's People Volume 13: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him

For a few years now I have had Dider Ghez's Walt's People series on my radar.  These oral history collections seemed like a good fit with my educational background.  So when Theme Park Press asked if I would be interested in reviewing the latest volume I immediately jumped on the the request.  But what I did not realize was that a simple book review was a intense journey into Disney's past.

Walt's People Volume 13: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him edited by Didier Ghez is over 550 pages of oral history.  The volume contains 27 separate interviews of former Disney employees in areas ranging from animation, live-action films and Imagineering.  There are plenty of voices that Disney fans would recognize from Tony Baxter, Roy E. Disney, Fess Parker, Blaine Gibson,  and Don Iwerks.  But the interviewers also introduce us to less familiar names like Becky Fallberg and Paul Kenworthy, who while perhaps not commonly known figures shed light into working at Disney in their interviews.  Ghez collects the interviews, and his collaborators who interviewed the subjects include well-known Disney historians such as John Canemaker, Michael Broggie, Dave Smith, and Paul F. Anderson.  Along with the interviews there are also two essays included.  The first on John Parr Miller is written by Canemaker, while the second on John Sibley was completed by Peter Docter.

Alright, let me put in my complaint!  I really want an index.  Yeah, that's it that's my one complaint.  That is a pretty weak criticism!   I get why it's not there, with over 550 pages of rich text that endeavor itself would be highly time consuming and add considerable length to this alright large book.  So I would love one to help ease the searching of the researcher in me.  But, I will pick up other volumes without one.  Because honestly, these pages are full!  

I expected to breeze through this book.  I will be honest, I was kind of cocky about it.  But instead it has taken me four weeks to complete the volume.  Quite simply, this is not a vacation book.  No this is a fact packed journey, actually journeys, into Disney's past.  And even the speech patterns and the vocabulary of the subjects become part of one's reading as you try to get to know these Disney artists in more depth.  In short these interviews are treasures and they should not be ran through, one needs to stroll.

One of the things I found interesting, and perhaps it was intentional, was reoccurring themes in the book.  So for example, early in the book labor relations at the studio and the 1941 animators strike continually resurfaced.  And with numerous animation staff discussing the incident, the reader can begin to exam it in other angles.  Another reoccurring theme that stood out to me was the True-Life Adventure film series.  A reader can walk away from Walt People Volume 13 after reading Roy E. Disney's, Kenworthy's and other interviews the process, time commitment and staging involved with capturing nature on film.  I found the Don Iwerks interview  extremely exciting, especially since the interviewer Michael Broggie's father was once Iwerks manager and mentor.  The interchange is fascinating since they share a common foundation of understanding.  And it is highly interesting to read an interview with the son of the man who drew Mickey Mouse.  

Walt's People Volume 13 confirmed for me this is a series I must complete. But I also know this is not a series to be trifled with.  These pages are jam packed with events and perspectives from the viewpoint of artists who lived them.  So as one would recommend that you don't rush to your favorite ride in the park you should not rush straight to Tony Baxter without visiting with his other colleagues and their stories also.  And as you research your favorite Disney topics, you should expect to look into these volumes to find new insights.  Walt's People Volume 13 is a must have in a Between Books library dedicated to Disney history!  

Review Copy Provide by Theme Park Press

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