Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler - review by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn

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Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

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To end one’s life a household name, having created at least one modern archetype (Mickey Mouse) and almost single-handedly originated the art of cinematic animation, bespeaks high talent, and I personally would be prepared to hand Disney the overused accolade ‘genius’ on the strength of his first four feature-length cartoons: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi. Never the most brilliant draughtsman or even a top-flight director, Disney made his mark more like a great conductor, enabling the talents of others to cohere into a greater whole. As a story editor he was incomparable, knowing exactly what would work and what would not, having a ‘green fingers’ instinct for animated visuals and a Grimm-like imagination that alchemised his animated fairy tales. Critics have sometimes tried to cut Disney down to mere impresario size, but the attempts are always unconvincing. As one of his collaborators said, with reference to Snow White: ‘If Walt had started in some different place at the same time with a different bunch of guys, the result would have been more or less along the same lines.’ Disney was also the most creative studio boss there has ever been in Hollywood, for animation brilliantly satisfied both his imagination and his pronounced will to power; in animation one can exercise the power of a god. As Hitchcock wryly commented: ‘Disney has the best casting. If he doesn’t like an actor, he just tears him up.’

The Disney story illustrates some perennial truths about worldly success. To make it to the very top, it is advisable to have superhuman energy, to be monomaniacal, and to get started young. As Peter Ustinov would have it, Disney rose rapidly as he had no qualifications to detain him at

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