Disney’s Life Examined

In this week’s New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviews Neal Gabler’s new biography, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, which is now on my Christmas wish list.

Since I was raised in the Peoples’ Republic of Cambridge, I grew up thinking “Disney” stood for “phony” or “commercial.” Disney was vilified for dumbing down and sugar-coating such classics of children’s literature as Mary Poppins, Winnie The Pooh, and The Jungle Books.

When I had the privilege of working with a group of Walt Disney Feature Animation veterans on The Act, I learned enough about Disney’s accomplishments to totally change my point of view. I now think of Disney as the creative genius who revolutionized entertainment so many ways it is hard to count them.

Anthony Lane nails both sides of the Disney coin in his review.

I’ll add only one quibble as a footnote. Lane writes:

Everyone recalls being distressed by the death of Bambi’s mother, and of his stick-legged pining in the snow, but how many of us recall what happens next? The oblivious birds strike up an immediate chorus: “Let’s sing a gay little spring song, tra-la-la.” The episode is closed, like a trapdoor. And so it is with Walt Disney.

We may not consciously remember it that way, but it is precisely that chipper chorus of birds that stabs us in the heart and makes us scream, “Noooooo!” when watching the film. In a fast-forward moment we see Bambi, himself, having moved on, grown up, and recovered from the death of his mother. Without that juxtaposition, the scene would have been much less powerful.

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One Response to “Disney’s Life Examined”

  1. David N Says:

    Animation historian Michael Barrier (“Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in it’s Golden Age”) has written a very comprehensive review of Gabler’s book and posted it on his website :

    http://www.michaelbarrier.com/Commentary/Gabler/GablerBook.htm

    (In the interest of full-disclosure , Mike has a biography of Walt Disney coming out next year from University of California Press)

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