Thursday, February 15, 2007


Walt Disney by Neal Gabler

By Edward Copeland
Neal Gabler gets the big urban legend out of the way immediately in his exhaustive new biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination: No, Walt isn't an icicle somewhere waiting to be thawed out and sprung on the public again at some later time. Disney is dead and interred and won't be returning anytime soon.

Gabler, one of the regular panelists on the only show on the Fox News Channel that's actually fair and balanced and worth watching, Fox News Watch, has penned an intensely thorough look at Disney's life, using unprecedented access to Disney archives to tell his story. The book stretches more than 800 pages, though the bio itself is just a little more than 600 pages with the rest filled with appendixes notes, and bibliography. It's certainly interesting, but it's slow-going at times because it is so thorough.

For those looking for gossip, this is not the book for you, but it does paint a vivid portrait of Disney, from his humble beginnings to his anti-union stances and anti-communist testimony in the 1950s. It also shows what a perfectionist he was, overseeing just about everything to which his name was attached with excruciating detail.

One telling anecdote from Art Linkletter describes having dinner with Disney on the opening night of Disneyland and watching as Walt kept count of the rockets exploding in the fireworks display to make certain he wasn't being short-changed.

It's also surprising to see how much trouble many of his most fabled features had getting made and how many of them were perceived as failures at the time, including Bambi.

The only problem with the book is that it's so detailed, that it is not a fast read and never really gains continued momentum except in certain passages, such as when Disney is having his union fights and when he's plotting Disneyland and his television show simultaneously.

Unless I missed it, I would have liked to know who thought up the idea of re-releasing their animated features to theaters every few years to a new generation and when. The book also does have some tantalizing tidbits (Imagine if he'd succeeded in getting Cary Grant to voice Captain Hook in Peter Pan).

The book overall provides some informative background on a man who is more legend than human at this point.

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I want to read this book. I hope it's as exhaustive as you say it is. I want to know what kind of toilet paper he used. I know, I'm sick.
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