Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler
Like most people in North America, I have enjoyed the fantasy world Walt Disney has created for us all, a world of princesses, heroes, villains and tenderness. What does it take, I wondered, for one man to create such a wildly imaginative and powerful empire that is often called "The Happiest Place On Earth"? There are fans and then there are dedicated FANS, tattooing his cartoon images on their bodies, naming their children after characters that developed in his mind, and dressing like fairytale cartoon characters just to feel like they are that much closer to being part of his world. I was drawn to this biography because I like the stories, movies, music and parks, but I am wildly curious about the man who started it all.
Gabler does not wax poetic about Disney's life, but he provides a very detailed picture of Walt's life as a young boy, quiet and passionate, a hard worker and a little introspective. I loved reading about how he began as a cartoonist and was so fiercely obsessed with his drawings that it overshadowed everything else in his young life. He desired to be a cartoonist for a popular paper, and his razor-sharp focus this goals both inspired and humbled me.
Disney envisioned a world where stories could be creatively married to innovation, and he saw things as they SHOULD be, rarely settling for a lesser version of his ideal. Snow White, the first full length animated feature, set a new standard in the film and animation industry and was known around the world as ground breaking. Walt was never content with the final product, only seeing changes he still could have made for it to be perfect. He was a tough boss, a passionate businessman and a loving father. He struggled with not having enough money for most of his life, he loved trains and built a life size train track on his property when he had begun to make good money, and he would delight in taking guests on train rides with Walt as the Engineer. A man of simple taste, his favourite food was canned beans. He was so many things and at the end of his life, he still felt like he had so much to do.
This is a long book. Gabler does not cut corners on giving details of the costs, challenges and perspectives that were integral parts of Walt's story. As a woman in business trying to do something slightly "off the grid" I appreciated seeing what lengths Walt went to in order for his vision to become a reality.