Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Triumph of the American Imagination: A Book Review

I have been thinking that perhaps I have been running off far too many negative articles since the conception of this blog and should integrate the habit of writing positive ones now and then, lest I sadden my readers into not getting out of bed. For my first positive article I will be doing my first book review, a review of Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney titled: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

I picked up this book just out of pure curiosity as to why Disney was so popular. It is regretful for me to admit this, but I never gave justice to any sort of Disney product during my childhood. Now having satisfied my curiosity, I am supremely glad I have picked up this book, for it has made my life wealthier. It is my outmost recommendation to read this book not just for a pleasure read, but for the admiration of a hero.

While the 800+ page thickness of the book may make one think that it is an exhaustive look at the entirety of Mr. Disney's life, it is actually a book focused only on the essentials, including:
  • The conception of Mickey Mouse,

  • The work on Snow White, the first ever feature-length animation,

  • The development of Fantasia,

  • The events leading up to Walt Disney shifting his interest from animation to the formation of an amusement park, Disney Land,

  • The plans for EPCOT, Walt Disney's final major project, which never left the planning and funding stage due to Disney's passing away.
For those that are interested in a more detailed look at a certain project or a certain period, one is encouraged to look to the works citation section at the back of the book, for there are literally hundreds of sources cited, spanning over two-hundred pages. Indeed, Mr. Gabler asserts to have actually attempted to read the entirety of all Disney information available.

Overall, one can expect to obtain at least three values from the reading of this biography:
1.) The pleasure of the reading,
While Mr. Gabler writes in a very intelligent fashion, he never goes so far as to seem erudite in an intimidating sense, meaning that this book may be considered both a serious work of scholarship and a colorful word portrait of a life lived. The length of this work only serves to deepen the impression that Walt Disney is still alive, making his death at the end more difficult to bear.
2.) A deeper appreciation of past Disney productions,
If I may classify a certain aspect of my childhood, I would say that I was among those unimpressed with how great everything was. My birth placed me in the era of Michael Eisner (formally known as The Disney Animation Renaissance), but I would have none of it. Now having read the present biography, I have been giving Disney classics a second chance and am enjoying them thoroughly, perhaps an enjoyment deeper than if I were a child. The best way to better enjoy things may be to see what work goes into it.
3.) The traits of a hero,
I endorse the reading of not just this work, but of any good biography to see how great men are made. Aside from analyzing what happened in Disney's life, Gabler analyzes how things happened, so one may learn what traits lead to Disney's successes and hardships accordingly, such as his tremendous work ethic resulting in his staying ahead of competitors and his mistreatment of his employees resulting in the collapse of his first studio and the strike in the next. One can then work to integrate the good habits and be wary of the bad ones.

Aside from observing traits, the third value also serves as *emotional fuel*. It is understandable to see how one can sometimes get burned out, frustrated, and end up wondering if the highest goals are obtainable at all. One of the easiest and most potent of the remedies is to read of a person who thought he could, and did. To see how the greats dealt with their frustrations, setbacks, and tragedies can give us the power to deal with our own.

All in all, this book is so well crafted that I can think of but two superficial criticisms. First, from time to time Gabler has an awkward way of transitioning to quoted speech; he will be going in narrative mode in one sentence and then seemingly randomly quoting someone the next. Second, at the beginning of the book some of the sources that are quoted seem to be irrelevant to the topic at hand, or it is at least difficult to figure out why they are relevant, such as the opinions of a journal leaning on a certain side of the political spectrum. Otherwise, this book is nearly without vice.

To conclude, this book is a wonderful tribute to a man who provided more ways for people to enjoy life, and will be worth reading to those that have either enjoyed Disney products in the past or want to see by what means Walt Disney had attained his success and status. One can hope that this book will make way for a second animation renaissance.

Edit: formatting

1 comment:

Burgess Laughlin said...

> "I have been thinking that perhaps I have been running off far too many negative articles since the conception of this blog and should integrate the habit of writing positive ones . . . ."

Thank you for the book review. It is uplifting to see so much achievement.

One of the many lessons I have learned from being a long-term student of Objectivism is that it is more important to reward the good than attack the bad.

Why? Because good people have something to trade, something life-sustaining. The bad people merely try to destroy.