Book Review: The Art of Walt Disney

Author: Christopher Finch

Publication Date: 1973 (newest edition 2011 – From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms and Beyond)

Publisher: Abrams

Pages: 504

For my next book review, I wanted to take a look at this seminal volume from Christopher Finch, first published in 1973 when Disney was finishing up work on Robin Hood. Since then, it has been updated and republished in 1988, 1995, 2004 and most recently in 2011 – much like Bob Thomas’s book, this one has become an important reference work for Disney fans and serves as the definitive introduction to the company. Christopher Finch is a prolific author and has written extensively on film history with his back catalogue including several other excellent animation books, two of which I’ve read and will review down the line.

The Art of Walt Disney is a real beast of a book, far too thick and heavy to be able to keep it on a shelf. It can make it a bit awkward to read as you certainly can’t hold it up for long. That aside, it has good reason to be huge as there’s a lot packed into it. It opens with a foreword from John Lasseter, who explains what the book meant to him as an aspiring young animator, and then we get the updated introduction from Finch discussing the history of the book and the changes he’s made to the latest edition. Following this, there are five sections exploring different aspects of the Disney empire. “A New Art Form” details the beginnings of the company in the 1920s and tells of how Mickey Mouse came to be; then, in “Feature Animation,” Finch runs through the creation of the many animated films in the Disney canon (with a few omissions, see below), from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Winnie the Pooh (2011). The “Pixar” chapter is exactly that, describing the development of the formerly independent company and its subsequent acquisition by Disney, covering all of their films from Toy Story (1995) up to Cars 2 (2011) – what a shame he had to end this edition on that one! The final two chapters are “Live Action,” which focuses on Disney’s other film ventures outside of animation (this was before the purchases of Lucasfilm and Marvel, so no Star Wars or superheroes here), and “The Magic Kingdoms,” which details the many theme parks (except for the Shanghai one, which only opened last year).

Much like the Bob Thomas book I would say that this is a perfect volume to kick off a collection, but as it is a general history there are of course many other more specific books available if you want to know more about a particular film or park, so it is really up to you to decide whether you need this one or not. The print quality is fantastic with thick, sturdy paper and a sleek plastic dustjacket, and Finch uses a good mixture of photos, concept art and finished stills to support his text, which is well-written and precise. As you might expect, the earlier films in the canon get a bit more attention than more recent ones, but when the book was first written there were only around twenty films to discuss, so Finch had more room to be expansive.

My only real criticism with this one is that Finch’s coverage of the canon doesn’t make much mention of two of the “official” listed classics – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) and Dinosaur (2000).  The trouble is that the canon list we know now was only established relatively recently, around the time Tangled (2010) came out (probably to make sure that that was their fiftieth feature), so a lot of these older books tend to overlook the same films. Pooh usually gets broken up and discussed in terms of its individual shorts, which is what Finch does here; it’s a bit awkward, but at least the shorts are covered in the animation section, unlike Dinosaur. This one is listed in the “Live Action” chapter, for some reason – I hate when people don’t consider this to be an animated film, just because the backgrounds were largely shot in real locations. The characters and special effects are all animated, after all! It is likely this same reason that lost Dinosaur a spot on the UK’s version of the list, where it is replaced by – shudder – The Wild (2006), which wasn’t even made by Disney. Anyway, rant over!

Aside from that, this is an accessible and comprehensive book which I would definitely recommend to any Disney fan as perhaps the best single volume you can get on the company. That said, it is very big, so if you’re struggling for space you might want to consider something slimmer, like Bob Thomas’s book. If you do have the room, though, it’s a sumptuous treat of a book, and we can only hope it gets another update sometime soon!


Buy it on Amazon: – UK – US

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