Lefou, I'm Afraid I've Been Thinking...

Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast by Charles Solomon. 2010

Charles Solomon is a well-respected author and animation historian. The Disney That Never Was and Disney Lost and Found are two of his more recent Disney-related titles. Each one takes the reader on an amazing trip into the Animation Research Library (also known as The Morgue) to ferret out animation that never made it into production. Charles was approached by Don Hahn about writing a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what it was like to produce Beauty and the Beast.

Charles succeeded and produced a beautiful look at a film that changed both the animation and the animators that created it forever.

With a film as wildly successful as Beauty and the Beast, you would think that there wasn't much left to write about. Charles does a fantastic job of interviewing the animators and digging up storyboards, sketches and artwork that relate the story of creating the film. Living in a post-Beauty world, it is hard to imagine the effect this film had. Tale as Old as Time does a fantastic job of bringing that story to life.

Charles looks at the beginnings of this particular fairy tale and follows it all the way to Disney's production on Broadway. The most touching parts of the work deal with the artists and their struggle to capture a story that would resonate on film. You gain a unique insight as to how a group of animators and producers came together to actualize such a moving and resonating film. One of the most telling aspects is when Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken are brought in to revitalize the project. It really is true that Ashman and Mencken gave the film its soul.

This book is an amazing companion to the Blu-ray release of the film. The documentary Beyond Beauty, that is featured on the second disc, follows a similar path as the book. They complement each other and provide hours of cognizance for the Disney enthusiast and Beauty and the Beast fan. Where the documentary diverges is the ability to see early animated cartoons and to see the passion that the production crew had. The book offers magnificent reproductions of the artwork and Charles' amazing research and writing skills.

The artwork does steal the show yet not to the chagrin of the author. Beauty and the Beast is as compelling today as it was in 1991 and Tale as Old as Time reinforces the love that is held for the film. Production sketches, animated cels and background artwork fill every page. Some of the artwork provided is breathtaking.

Tale as Old as Time is perfect for the animation and Beast fan. And Belle fan. Heck, it's a great read for everyone who has seen the film.

Truth Conquers All Things

Warp and Weft: Life Canvas of Herbert Ryman by John Stanley Donaldson. 2010. 978-0-9843789-0-6.

John Stanley Donaldson knew Herbert Ryman for over thirty years. Herb was his mentor and friend; a lifelong companion and artistic brother. When I received a review copy of Warp and Weft, it came with a personal note from John detailing that the work has been derided as inflammatory and sparking ill will among Disney's old guard. Following many other Disney-related biographies, I wasn't sure of John's intent, but I was hoping that his book would not follow the same path as The Dark Prince or the Neal Gabler conflagration. Both titles have been scorned and refuted by the Disney Company and the Disney Family. I am glad to say that I enjoyed the book and John's unique perspective.

I wish that there were more books like this that cover the Imagineers and artists of the Disney Company. Herbert Ryman was a true legend, not just a Disney Legend, but a remarkable legend that influenced and touched everyone he came into contact with. It is easy to stand here and tell you that there would be no Disneyland or Walt Disney Word, as we know it, without Herb. After reading this lyrical tome, you get a clearer understanding of that statement. Herb, or Herbie, was a truly influential person in the life and career of Walt Disney. There was a level of mutual respect, friendship and camaraderie between the two geniuses.

A commonition to the reader: John's writing style has been described as lyrical and it does fit the form of an artist's pursuit of painting with words on paper. The style is beautiful at the same time it can be ungainly for an inexperienced reader. John rhymes his text, which can throw off the structure of the sentence. For many readers, his style will be a turnoff, but I urge you to complete the book.

Still, what is important is that John has put down an amazing story on paper; one that shows the amazing life that Herb led. A world traveler, burgeoning artist and friend to everyone he met. Where John's tale turns decidedly darker is when you learn about Herb's sister, Lucille. She and her husband are painted as the heavies of the book. Actually, they are more than heavies, they are sinister with no other compunction except money and making sure that they get what they deserve. In the case of the book, it is every last possession of Herb Ryman. By the end of the book, you will see other Disney legends in an entirely different light.

The tale, as it unfolds, is mesmerizing simply by the cast of characters that parade through the weave of the book. Many famous celebrities are forced into a connection, some tumultuous, with the Disney Company through their associations with any of the Rymans. From Marylin Monroe to drug smugglers in Florida. My favorite parts of the stories were the anecdotes of Herbie's travels throughout the world. He truly had a worldwide perspective in his art.

The Author's website.
This is a book that you have to take a chance on; one that you will need to work through in order to gain its treasures. You will not regret turning the pages, but you will gain a vastly different perspective on Herb Ryman's life. And on his various colleagues at Disney.

On a personal note, I would like to thank John for the time he spent crafting this biography. He shares many anecdotes about Herb that would be lost otherwise. He also steps forward to advocate for Herb when no one else is able to.

You can purchase the book directly from the author here.

The Imagineers Do It Again!

The Imagineers Do It Again!
by George Taylor

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real2010. 192 pp.

All you need to know is that you need to have this book!

If you want to learn more about it, though, keep on reading.

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real is not an update to the seminal 1996release; it is a continuation. It is a look at the Magic that the Imagineers have created since the publication of the first book. Any fan of the Disney Company, the Theme Parks, the Resorts, the Animation or creative environments will treasure this book. Filled with more artwork than you can imagine, most of the pages offer paintings, concept art and photographs that have never been published before. Once again, the Imagineers pull back the curtain to reveal the puttering, popping, whirring, spinning and dreaming that they do to create their magic. You also understand that there are many more curtains yet to be revealed, let alone parted!

The book is constructed of three main parts:
Part I Theory
Over the years, Imagineers have developed ideas about creating great attractions for Disney Parks and Resort Guests. Every project team takes into account some basic notions--the unwritten ground rules of groundbreaking creativity.
Part II Tools
Imagineers make use of a variety of resources to create the magic of Disney Resorts and attractions--tools to visualize, analyze, explain and build.
Part III Portfolio
Recent work, and a look at the mosaic of people, talents, ideas, and projects that is Imagineering.
This book is not as groundbreaking as the 1996 version--it offers a more polished and accepted look at the Imagineering process. Considering the time that it was released, in 1996,  there was nothing that brought us inside the folds of Imagineering; nothing that allowed us to venture into the backrooms and creative side of Disney. The current book takes a different path to show how and why the Imagineers create the amazing attractions and resorts. Its focus is largely on the projects and concepts from the past 15 years of Imagineering. This book is not meant to replace the 1996 title, but to enhance it; to bring us further into folds of Imagineering. That being said, the coverage of attractions is very new and modern. There is not much focus on the first 40 years of Imagineering. The majority of the photos and artwork are from Tokyo DisneySea, Disney's California Adventure and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The book is packaged with tissue paper between many of the pages. Instead of offering only large, fold-out pages (like the 1996 book), they have opted for the addition of smaller fold-outs that detail artwork from the same attraction or area. They are like postcard books. There are some amazing, large fold-outs, especially on the Disney Cruise ship. The addition of the extra art really makes the book feel like a family treasure or scrapbook.

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real, in concert with the 1996 version, should be on everyone's shelves. The artwork is astounding; there are pieces of art that you would love to have in your home. The main author, Melody Malmberg, has done a wonderful job with the text. It is informative, clear and does a fantastic job of describing everything that an Imagineer is and does. They have also included an index and a list of resources for further reading.

This is a book that you need to own!

I did receive a review copy of this book from Disney Press.