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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