Where do you start when looking for Disney books?
I gave up asking the girl in Waterstones, as I was guided to several different locations in the store, thus also tempting me to buy an expensive but delicious drink from the inner-Starbucks. It was quite fitting then that this book was found in a charity shop days later for pennies, when I could have struggled to pick from all manner of different genre's.
The author of this book, Christopher Finch, is a (apparent) renown researcher in cinema history, thus making him the appropriate person to bring back to life Walt Disneys upbringing, rise to work, and the inevitable rise to fame. These earlier sections of the book are some of the more interesting, when Finch has to be less objectionable about what he thinks, and deliver the facts plain and simple. With the facts in mind, it's obvious that Walt was always going to succeed no matter where his career ended up.
After this brief history, Finch then moves into film territory, where he uses his own analyses to present each film as both an art-form and a product. Because of the original age of this book (1975), it inevitably ends before some of the companies more vast changes, but what we do witness is how the animations went from emotional pieces of art-form to more economical, conventional pieces of work that didn't stretch the budget too much. Fashion also played a part in animation techniques, as we witness how drawing styles moved into less tight territory. It was the sign of no primarily tight budgets and fashion, but proof that Disney had already changed the history of filmmaking with little left to prove.
The book is often flawed however when Finch approaches the subject convention's in filming methods. In many cases, the technicality of an animation supersedes it's story and arrangement, leaving him troubled as to whether he admires the film for it's innovation, or as a visual experience. One such example is "Fantasia", where perhaps the book shows some of it's age. Like many critics from years before him, he still describes the film as containing many flaws, and only values it's ambitious production rather than the now appreciated brilliance of synesthesia (matching colour to sound), and truly painstaking artwork. Of course, attitudes have changed since 1975, and Fantasia now firmly regarded as Disneys masterpiece after Pinocchio, which highlights just how Finch, like many critics of the time, were still grasping onto the more old fashioned conventions of how a film should be.
His arguments for character roles also extend into more questionable territory, though in this case his thoughts are more realistic. When talking of Pinocchio, although he agrees it's Disney finest film (which is widely renown), he contradicts these summaries with assumptions of characters either being vital or completely un-important. With better evidence to back up his assumptions, the read would be a lot more satisfying as a contextual analysis, but if you only want to understand the facts, then you could quite easily wash away his thoughts.
Another problem you could say is the quantity of his analysis, being rather unbalanced or perhaps even biased to Disney's first handful of films. Finch describes the first 3 films (Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia) in great detail, but after this the latter films are only summarized in mere sentences, which suggests his stronger affection for the earlier films. Although I don't doubt that notion myself, it's still highly unbalanced when each film deserves equal analysis.
The book contains a huge array of high quality original cel prints and fold out pictures that show story boards, sketches, and of course photographs. In my own time, I like to have a shot at copying them with my paint sets, giving the book more of a general purpose than a bedside read!
You'll note I said to be aware of the different editions. I currently own the original First print which is from 1975, but I've noted that at least further 2 - one from the 1980's and one from 1999, are also in circulation. The obvious difference between them is how much reference has been added to further update the book to that point, so I very strongly recommend asking what Copyright your copy will be (if buying) to see if you're getting the best value. To make matters worse, the covers all like virtually alike!
Summing up, this is a highly researched book that deserves praise in it's no-nonsense approach to the vast world of Disneyfication, but perhaps just lacks in balance. Never the less, due to it's age, I'd consider it a bargain when it simply does what it say's on the tin.