Monday, October 12, 2015

Between Books - 50 Years in the Mouse House

Over the last few years and I have gotten deeper and deeper into Disney history I have heard the names of Disney's Nine Old Men several times.  But some of them have been obscure to me.  Marc Davis had the benefit of a career that extended into the parks leading us to reflect on his animation years.  And Ward Kimball had a personality that cannot help but fascinate.  For me Eric Larson is one of these legends I had stumbled upon and made an impression of, the teacher, but he was still shadow and not substance to me.  Now I can say I think I understand Larson in a more personal way.

50 Years in the Mouse House: The Lost Memoir of One of Disney's Nine Old Men by Eric Larson edited by Didier Ghez and Joe Campana allows Larson to share about his life and career in his own words with some refection by others.  The text is broken into several short segments by and about Larson which include a biography and background on Larson's lost memoir.  The main features of the book itself include Larson's memoir, once believed lost but uncovered in some of the late legend's papers.  The memoir written in the 1980s discusses his arrival at Disney, the men he worked with, Sleeping Beauty and the studio strike.  This is followed by a collection of Larson's smaller thoughts and quotes on similar topics.  The editors follow the memoir with a reproduction of Larson's notebook from his 1942 trip to Mexico in cooperation with the studio and the Good Neighbors program.  The reproduction includes a transcription of the notebook and copies of the notebook pages including his drawings for the researcher to observe themselves.  Larson's writings end with 14 lectures by Larson on animation.  And finally, another view of Larson is provided by Dan Jeup who was mentored by Larson beginning in his teenage years.

As I said, I feel like I have a much better idea of who Larson is now.  He appears to be a "simple" man in the good sense, being true to himself and consistent in his interactions. Larson was a teacher, one who gave willingly of his time to those younger than himself both in small and large settings.  And he was animator that believed that animation was acting, full of motion and emotion.  Larson taught Disney staff not to draw but to bring living stories to the frame.

I do think this is an important text.  Now, to be fair that does not mean it is always the most readable.  Larson's writing can be somewhat slow at times.  And the segments do not provide a biography that transitions flawlessly.   The lectures are lectures, they are technical and include content that may not naturally catch the interest of the non-professional.  Now that being said, this is a book every Disney animation history and fan needs.  Because, you do get to read Larson in his own words.  You get accounts of Larson in the first person from those who know him.  And finally his animation lectures are a treasure trove of information for those who wish to know about Disney animation philosophy during Larson's time.  This text will serve as a key primary source on Disney animation in a easy to access package.  And the editors have done an excellent job in ensuring readers get plenty of extra content beyond the relatively short lost memoir.

50 Years in the Mouse House: The Lost Memoir of One of Disney's Nine Old Men reveals Eric Larson the man...a Disney legend and a key Disney animation mentor.  By the time one completes the text the reader will feel as if they know Larson the man, mentor and animator.  And the volume will be a must read Between Book for Disney animation researchers. 

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

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