- Posted by Johanna on October 25, 2009 at 7:20 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
Some of our favorite souvenirs from our recent trip to Disney were the great art books we found there. Thanks to modern technology, we were able to check them out in the galleries and stores, then order them via Amazon over cell phone to be waiting when we returned. Not only did we save money, we didn’t have to worry about getting them home without damage.
I didn’t expect The Art of the Disney Princess to be my kind of thing until KC encouraged me to take a closer look. It’s a beautiful collection of re-imaginings of these Disney characters in all kinds of media and portrayals. The imagination and power and wonder of these female archetypes really come through, and the notes by some of the included artists about their choices add insight.
It’s not all sweetness and light, either. Some of the selections are thought-provoking, as the back of Sleeping Beauty’s head, nothing but a swirl of blonde hair; a mecha-dressed Snow White who looks like she’s about to pilot a fighter; or even weirder, a robot version of Ariel with a switch marked “sing”. On another page, manga-inspired, iconically simple versions reduce the girls to bobbleheads distinguished only by hair and dress colors.
The favorites are here, of course — Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Belle, Ariel. Jasmine and Mulan are shown in pieces that evoke their cultures, while Snow White’s apple is also a popular symbol. Color plays a prominent role, with unexpected brights providing new context. Other pages draw firmly from the past with evocations of classic work or strong design elements. A set of pieces based on Alphonse Maria Mucha were my favorites. In addition to the usual painted work, there’s lots of “digital media” and the occasional photograph or mixed media. Very pretty, very inspiring.
Almost every page of this history has some paper reproduction, whether correspondence, sketches, comics, promo material, the original Disneyland souvenir map and tickets, or samples of licensed food product labels. The book covers cartoons, movies, characters, TV, and the parks. A spread on how Disney produced a lot of insignia for military divisions during the war was particularly interesting to me, since I’d never heard about that part of the company history before. The package also includes a CD of audio rarities, such as 50s radio ads and park dedication speeches. It’s obviously a happy, shallow (due to its short length) company history, but it provides a different take on some familiar stories.
While I’m talking about Disney-related books, we found The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World a great help in planning the trip. It’s biggest flaw is its thickness; the size makes it unwieldy to carry with you, so read it ahead of time and make notes on the material that interests you. The ride and restaurant recommendations were great in helping us figure out what to spend our time on.
We’d enjoyed reading Mouse Tales and its sequel, which tell employee behind-the-scenes stories of Disneyland, so we were interested in the Realityland followup, which focuses on Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as good. The first half of the book is all about the fake shell companies that allowed Disney to buy 27,000 Florida acres and the business, construction, and legal struggles in creating WDW.
After that, it gets morose, with stories of deaths and serious injuries at the park, followed by the deals and decisions that went into EPCOT. While some of the startup stories are amusing, there’s too much on executive changes, stock values, local government conflicts, and other dry business topics. A book on the decision-making at Disney after Walt isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what I thought I was getting. I found the later chapter on the formation of the Studios, in competition with Universal, the most interesting, although it’s very short in comparison with the rest of the book.
Overall, you’re left with the prevalent feeling “it was better then”, even when it comes to comparing the newer parks (like Animal Kingdom) against the original plans. A depressing tome. Much better to stick with the pretty pictures.