Noteworthy Disney Books of 2005 and Essential Old Favorites
By Richard Gray
UltimateDisney.com has explored just about every aspect of the Disney studio's filmed entertainment and how it has been treated on home video. Earlier this year, this site also began covering CDs from Walt Disney Records. But what about the printed word? Here is a look at ten published works that would be at home in any Disney fan's book collection.
The Art of Pixar: 100 Collectible Postcards
Chronicle Books, October 2005, SRP: $16.95
Pixar Animation Studios has chosen the computer as its preferred storytelling medium but to assume this means machines bring their movies to life is a grave mistake. If there was any doubt, The Art of Pixar removes that. An even hundred of 4" x 6" postcards showcase the artistry of the men behind the pioneering masterpiece features and memorable comic shorts. Just about every one of the selected images would make for an eye-catching conversation piece blown up and framed on your wall. There are minimalist character sketches, impressionistic concept art, colorful banks of a sequence's storyboards, designs of convincing elements which exist only in Pixar's movies, stills from the finished films, unique cast gatherings, and even a couple of Asian movie posters. Together, the visuals require little more than the 10-words-or-less description on back and provide an impressive reflection on the more than twenty years of universally-acclaimed productions that comprise the Pixar canon. All of the San Francisco-based studio's films and shorts are covered, including the forthcoming Cars and One Man Band. The postcards are arranged by alphabetical order of the film title and packaged in a sturdy, classy box which shows off one of the set's coolest pictures (a stylized portrait of Luxo Jr. and the characters from Pixar's first five features, all drawn to scale). It is worth pointing out that if you plan on letting these cards serve their intended purpose as easily-mailed stationary, you'll have to buy a minimum of two sets because there's just no way you'll be able to drop the images of this beautiful collection in a mailbox and bid them forever farewell.
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The Art of The Incredibles: 30 Postcards
The most recent and dynamic of Pixar's films received a more modest set of postcards all its own. Few of these thirty images fully resemble the final product, but that's what makes them so cool. There are faux pop culture artifacts from Mr. Incredible's heyday (clearly inspired by the commercial and somewhat cheesy tie-in merchandise from the icons of Pixar animators' childhoods), highly stylized concept artwork of the characters (unanimously featuring Dash as a brunette), and a series of color scripts which evoke moods and depict key sequences with a disregard for detail. The two most impressive cards fall out of all those classifications - one is a black-and-white photo of post-world-saving Mr. I and Frozone coolly holding martini glasses in a laid-back atmosphere; the other is a "Wish You Were Here..." postcard from the infamous Nomanisan Island. Fans of Pixar at large would fare better with the other set -- the packaging here is more basic and this smaller set of images doesn't produce quite the same level of impact, in spite of the slightly more descriptive card backs -- but this collection is still sure to please anyone who can tell you about the downfall of Dynaguy or the name of Mr. Incredible's boss as an insurance claims adjuster.
Chronicle Books, September 2004, SRP: $8.95
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Disney War by James B. Stewart
Simon & Schuster, February 2005, SRP: $29.95
In 2005, Michael Eisner was forced to leave the Walt Disney Company after serving as its head honcho for almost twenty years. To some this was a cause for great joy. A large number of Disney fans and employees alike had felt that Eisner was running the company into the ground. Others simply couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. Disney War, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart, tries to discover where it all went wrong for Eisner. Opening just before Eisner took over in 1984, we are taken through the highs and lows of his often rocky career. We see his early successes; the "renaissance" of animation; the creation of Touchstone and new theme parks (including the near-disaster that was EuroDisney); the often vindictive relationship he had with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz and the cathartic one he had with the late Frank Wells. Indeed, Stewart's book would seem to imply that Wells' death was where it all began to go wrong for Eisner. Disney War is written by a journalist, albeit a very good one, and as such the book can sometimes feel very "he said, she said." By the same token, the way that Stewart lays out the facts from several perspectives allows us to judge for ourselves how we feel about the players in this particular piece of history. We get a picture of man that was led astray, rather than the demonic visage that his detractors would often paint. After all, for all of Eisner's later troubles, it is hard to deny the evidence of some of the great work he did for Disney. Like or hate Michael Eisner, you will certainly have a different perspective on him by the time you finish reading this just under 600 page tome.
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Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever
Disney Editions, May 2005, SRP: $24.95
Disneyland celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2005, and you can bet that the merchandising machine is taking advantage of it. While we all wait for the visual wonders that the long-delayed Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth DVD will hold, Disney Editions has brought a glorious 190-page celebration of the history of the California Resort. In much the same vein as the long out-of-print Disneyland: The First Quarter Century and Disneyland: The First Thirty Years, Imagineer Bruce Gordon and marketing executive/Disney expert Tim O'Day bring us a nostalgic look at the history of the original Disneyland Park, and its California Adventure extension. After brief introductions from actress Julie Andrews, who is the Honorary Homecoming Ambassador, and Michael Eisner, former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, we are given a wonderful visual and textual history of the park. Accompanying the informative text is an enormous collection of sketches, maps and early construction photos of many of the major attractions that now populate the park. In addition to those rides and attractions that still remain, we get an inside look at long-extinct attractions such as Submarine Voyage and Indian Village, which predates both Bear Country and Critter Country. Indeed, the best part of this book is the wealth of images of a Disneyland past, along with a section dedicated to unbuilt attractions, such as International Street and Liberty Street. Even the most dedicated Disneyland aficionado is bound to find something new or exciting about this book. This is about as close to a definitive Disneyland book that we are going to get for a long time. Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever is presently available through Disney Theme Parks and Downtown Disney only.
The Disney Treasures by Robert Tieman
Not to be confused with the limited edition line of DVDs, Robert Tieman's book certainly lives up to its name. As manager of the Walt Disney Archives, Tieman has put together a collection of memorabilia that is guaranteed to please any Disney fan. Tieman describes "how it all began" with the birth of Walt Disney through his death and the completion of the "Florida Project" - what we now know as Walt Disney World. While this is not the first book to tell this tale, the attraction here is the wealth of removable media that can be found in the book. Replicas of early letters and postcards, theatre programs, bubble gum cards, comic strips, games, lobby cards, masks and maps can all be found within the pages of this book. The originals must be worth a fortune, but at least now Disney fans can hold something as close as possible to the #00001 Disneyland ticket or 1955 map of the park. There is even an audio CD featuring commercials, dedications and rare interviews with Walt. Together with the "sequel", The Disney Keepsakes, this is a must-have for any Disney collector.
Carlton, September 2003, SRP: $60.00
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The Disney Films by Leonard Maltin
Before he became emcee for the collector-friendly Walt Disney Treasures DVD series, film critic/historian and lifelong Disney enthusiast Leonard Maltin wrote the book on Disney, literally. Much like this site, this fourth edition of Maltin's book (the first was published in 1973) includes a listing for every theatrically-released Disney film, in addition to cartoon shorts. His concise discussions of the different eras in the Disney studio's past make for scintillating reads as do his detailed essays on all of the feature films released during Walt's lifetime. This latest volume only takes us up to 2000, leaving five rocky years in the studio to be uncovered in a yet-to-be-announced new edition. While the articles on Walt-era films spoil most of the surprises contained in the films, they make for thorough summaries of the various animated and live action productions Walt ushered in, with Maltin's personal critique complemented by initial critic reaction and box office performance information. In short, Maltin achieves everything this site aspires to in its DVD reviews and the book very much laid the groundwork for such consideration of the Disney studio at large.
Disney Editions, September 2000, SRP: $19.95
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Disney's Winnie the Pooh: A Celebration of the Silly Old Bear by Christopher Finch
Christmas Eve 2005 marks the 80th anniversary of the first printed appearance of A.A. Milne's world famous Bear of Little Brain. Winnie the Pooh made his debut in the London Evening News and this is one of countless facts that Finch (a real live "Christopher Robin") shares with us. The nature of Pooh today seems to be something that Disney hopes audiences do not question or care much about; the highly-marketed preschool icon and his equally profitable Hundred Acre Wood neighbors often show up in films comprised of old specials and new material weaved together. Dripping with insight, this genuine and pleasantly illustrated book nonetheless satisfies the curiosity of the faithful Pooh fans who view the bear and his friends as something more than a commodity. Though like the other books in this section, the passing of 3½ years has resulted in plenty that needs updating, Finch does an admirable job of covering Pooh's jump from literature to the big screen, with a definite focus on the three first featurette-length shorts that composed 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Disney Editions, April 2002, SRP: $20.00
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The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History by Bill Cotter
Hyperion, September 1997, SRP: $24.95; Out of Print
The writing in this book is as basic and straightforward as it needs to be, but that's just fine because it serves the function of a pure resource. When the weekly block known as "The Wonderful World of Disney" returned to television in the fall of 1997, it was accompanied by the publication of this book, a comprehensive guide to the studio's nearly fifty-year history in the medium. It contains a brief overview of: every installment of Walt's anthology series (arranged alphabetically), the seasons and serials of "The Mickey Mouse Club", all 78 "Zorro" episodes, the special broadcasts that defy classification, the Disney Channel's original movies and shows, and the Disney cartoons and Touchstone Television live action series that populated the airwaves in the '80s and '90s (from the short-lived "Herbie the Love Bug" to primetime hits like "Home Improvement" and "The Golden Girls"). While an end-of-the-book index is sorely missing and more relevant details might have been listed for shows and telemovies, this is still an amazing text which validates the existence of those movies from your childhood that you may now wonder if you only imagined. There's plenty more that could have been included (as the author's website illustrates), but at over 600 pages, you'll likely be amazed that there's this much in Disney's largely-forgotten television vaults covered here. The two biggest drawbacks to the book are: 1) it's out of print (though quite affordable through second-hand online sellers) and 2) it only takes us up to the 1995-96 season (leaving almost a full decade of material and the noteworthy latest incarnation of the book's namesake unmentioned).
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Disney: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Russell Schroeder
Any guide that purports to be "ultimate" (as this very site does!) is asking for scrutiny, although this book doesn't disappoint. Those familiar with other Dorling Kindersley (DK) guides will know how this format works. The emphasis is on visual images rather than text, but the combination of thousands of pictures and a clever layout allows even casual readers to get a sense of the whole Disney picture at a glance. Although these guides are aimed at younger readers, and may prove of little worth to those looking for a serious overview of Disney history, it is hard to deny just how much work has gone into this informative collection. Very little is missed in this guide, with all Disney formats being covered, including live action, animation and theme parks. The archives have definitely been used to their maximum on this one. This was published a few years ago now, with Home on the Range yet to hit theatres (although it is also given a section, showing just how comprehensive the guide was trying to be). However, the period that it does cover is given a comprehensive overview. It is amazing that readers can get a sense of 100 years of Disney history in a mere 128 pages.
Dorling Kindersley, September 2002, SRP: $19.99
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Lilo & Stitch: Collected Stories from the Film's Creators
Disney Editions, June 2002, SRP: $19.95
Film tie-in "making of" books have taken a fairly standard approach over the last few years: a few behind-the-scenes images, detailed discussion of props and effects and the "official studio line" on the film. However, like the film it tells the tale of, this Lilo & Stitch book is a little bit different. Rather than take this well-worn approach, Lilo & Stitch: Collected Stories from the Film's Creators gives us a variety of personal accounts from the making of the film. Some of these, such as Lilo supervising animator Andreas Deja's entry, involve an animator's take on his or her character. Others involve Disney memories, film anecdotes or general musings on childhood. All of this is beautifully framed with the original Chris Sanders illustrations, watercolors, storyboards and other pieces of Disney art. Giving us a glimpse into the minds of a Disney creative team, this is a beautiful book to go with a beautiful film.
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