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Disney In Depth: Book Review: ‘The Disney Book’
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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The Disney Book
By Jim Fanning
Release date: October 6, 2015

Two hundred pages of Disney-filled goodness is packed inside veteran Disney writer Jim Fanning‘s newest title. The Disney Book must have been a herculean feat for him to craft, as how can anyone capably compile nearly a century’s worth of creative content in a book from visually friendly publisher DK? Luckily for the readers, this release, with tons of archival pictures, rare finds and great sections on the company’s more popular brands, is a must for your Disney coffee table!

Whether you browse The Disney Book from beginning to end, or as more of a reference guide, is entirely up to you. That is the tradition of this line of DK titles, which are accessible to younger readers based on the large visuals and accessible text, and to adult audiences, too. Perhaps the best way of beginning a historical Disney book is by sharing context on the company’s evolution. Fanning options the timeline approach, with one illustration depicting a milestone from nearly each year since 1920. Other notable moments (relating to films or important events) are listed underneath. The breadth of content is what may astound the casual reader upon first sight. I found myself immediately impressed by the wide range of references throughout the book, first evidenced in the timeline where we see pictures from familiar entities like The Little Mermaid, but also late ’70s flick The Cat from Outer Space. Continued examples of the “Disney diversity” are exhibited in subsequent sections.

“Drawn Disney,” which features everything animation, comprises roughly half of the book, whereas “Disney in Action,” or live-action films, is allocated a substantial 46 pages. “Experience Disney,” meanwhile, limits the Disney parks and destinations to even less space. Each couple of pages focus on a different subtheme. Merchandise, television, video games, and other miscellaneous categories are embedded within the main three sections.

Steamboat Willie

Mickey Mouse’s memorable moments take the spotlight in several pages of The Disney Book.

Following a chronological approach, “Drawn Disney” tells an abbreviated story of Walt Disney’s life and then the history of Disney animation. The imagery accompanying the snippets of text are familiar to the Disney connoisseur (Walt in front of the ambulance he drove during World War I, for instance), but some come from straight out of the vault. The pages on Mickey Mouse memorabilia are especially cool for those who collect Disneyana. Fanning’s writing comes across as clear and considerate.

What properties obtain more content than others is an editorial decision, but perhaps some elements could have been reduced to accommodate others. Pinocchio stands as my favorite Disney animated film from the classic era, but even I felt it taking over four pages was excessive. Essentially, that boils down to one movie encompassing two percent of the book. Yet the entire Winnie the Pooh universe gets one page. A number of Disney animated movies are not even depicted. The Hunchback of Notre Dame has not one visual, merely a passing reference. The movies of the early 21st century (i.e. Dinosaur and The Emperor’s New Groove) are not even mentioned outside of the timeline. While it makes sense that smaller, practically forgotten movies from The Wonderful World of Disney do not make the cut for the book, that these major productions from Disney animation are rejected in a section that accounts for half the book is nothing short of ridiculous. “Oh, bother,” as Pooh would say.

“Disney in Action” follows the history of more noteworthy productions, from Treasure Island and Mary Poppins to Tron and Enchanted. Pirates of the Caribbean receives perhaps the most extensive treatment, with an entire page revealing the intricacies of the Dead Man’s Chest. Smaller sections within center on categories, such as “Zany Comedies” and the more relevant “Welcome to the Real World,” examining the transition of animated classics to live-screen depictions. I commend the team of The Disney Book for more adequately covering the live-action projects in a small amount of space than the animated content, but I was surprised by no showing of three monumental movies: 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (possibly excluded due to copyright issues); 1996’s version of 101 Dalmatians (a perfect fit for the aforementioned section on adaptations); and 2004’s National Treasure (one of the studio’s biggest movies of the previous decade).

Finally, “Experience Disney” explores the dazzling Disney destinations and the individuals responsible for crafting those atmospheres. Numerous other books from Disney dissect the parks, but in its condensed state, Jim Fanning and DK solidly depict the attractions, figures and features of the sensational settings. Teasing Shanghai Disneyland at the end is most appropriate, as it signals the ongoing tradition of Disney theme parks around the world bringing magic to new guests.

More intriguing aspects of the book center on elements outside of the main films. For instance, several pages on The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and the components within an early animator’s desk take the reader inside the innovative infrastructure. Thankfully, this subject matter will cover an entire book in a future title by Rebecca Cline and Steven B. Clark. The process of developing storyboards and stop-motion animation projects are also detailed with simple descriptions that unravel the complexities associated with these endeavors. The “Surprises and Salutes” pages reveal the easter eggs and references to personalities and projects from Disney animation. This, too, could warrant its own book. Consider the idea, Disney.

The omissions of many key elements within the Disney umbrella are sorely missed and downgrade the overall quality of The Disney Book, albeit not significantly. Take the lack of solo imagery of Minnie Mouse in this early section. Why so? You tell me, but considering Minnie is one of the most recognizable and favorite of all Disney characters, this comes across as odd. Furthermore, branding exclusions are a head scratcher. For instance, there is not one reference to neither Marvel nor Star Wars. Likely this stems from the desire to keep the book more narrow in scope. For instance, the releases of other DK titles in 2015 (including several on Star Wars and The Avengers) might explain their absence. But a simple page or two on each would have done the job. On the other hand, Pixar is visible throughout, whereas The Muppets barely obtains any attention. A brief explanation of these major Disney brands’ absence would elucidate context to readers, but I was somewhat puzzled by this choice, whether by the author or the publisher.

Criticisms of content inclusions and exclusions aside – a must to discuss, since this is called The Disney Book – it’s a worthy title that should belong with other books in your Disney library. Just don’t purchase this thinking that it sufficiently covers all aspects of The Walt Disney Company. It’s a complementary offering, one that serves as an “introduction to Disney” for those who know little about the Mouse House. It’s a viable gateway to the magic for the unacquainted, and a sufficient overview of Disney for the dilettante who just wishes for more.

Grade: B

The Disney Book, written by Jim Fanning

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

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