John West's book offers an inside view of the film studio that chose to be different and became one of the nation's largest entertainment empires. The Disney difference was not just in content, but in how the studio was run. In the days when Walt was alive, the emphasis was on the script and on creativity, resulting in an esprit de corps among writers that no other studio could match.
West brings objective balance to previous critics of Walt Disney's operational style as well as critics of Disney films. West reveals a man more complex, and therefore more real, than his critics have portrayed. Stories by members of the Disney corps describe a man both tough and fair, tempestuous, but also willing to let the battle drop, frugal, but almost always willing to put the creative vision ahead of cost concerns. West adroitly uses the right word for the right job in a manner that subtly shades his arguments and helps the reader see the finer distinctions he is making with regard to Disney's character.
Disney was a man of the people, not given to the usual pretentious behavior of Hollywood executives. As a result, his heroes-like those in earlier Frank Capra films-were the little people, given a rare moment in life to show their courage, which always derived from their principles rather than from rising to meet someone else's expectations of what a hero should be. Disney the man cherished those beliefs in his own dealings with people, having, as West shows, an elastic view of his employee's talents, willing to let them move in directions where they had not had a chance to prove themselves because he saw the desire within.
When Walt died, the studio floundered for almost two decades. One of the big changes that led to the decline at Disney Studios came because the new executives were strictly businessmen, not men of creativity. Not understanding the creative process as Walt had, they no longer placed the primary emphasis on the writer and the story, but tried in simplistic ways to mimic the family-values content of previous Disney material without recognizing that good stories are never written by committee. Although Walt shaped scripts in consort with his writers in a highly patriarchal fashion, he was a consumate creator himself-something the later suits at Disney were not-and he always left the final incorporation of his vision or revision with the original writer of the screenplay.
Though Disney Studios has recovered from its perilous decline, it's executives might fine-tune their newly recovered success by reading this book and by realizing that the Disney difference was not just content, but an operational style that let writers see their own vision through from origination to the final shooting copy of their script.
A good book for wannabe filmmakers, but an even better book for established film executives.