Working with Disney: Interviews with Animators, Producers, and Artists

By Jackson, Kathy Merlock | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), September 2011 | Go to article overview

Working with Disney: Interviews with Animators, Producers, and Artists


Jackson, Kathy Merlock, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Working with Disney: Interviews with Animators, Producers, and Artists Don Peri. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 201 1 .

In 1974 Don Peri began working with retired Disney animator, producer, and director Ben Sharpsteen on his memoirs chronicling his thirty-year career at the studio. By that time, Walt Disney, who died in 1966, was already gone, as were several other creative artists who had worked with him on his most memorable film, television, and theme park projects. Peri set out to find and interview as many of Disney's associates as he could, reaching some of them shortly before they passed away. The results of his quest appear in this book. He conducted interviews in any way that he could: in person, by telephone, or through mail. Peri is a first-rate interviewer who knows his subject well, and his connection to Sharpsteen gave him access to many of those who worked most closely with Disney. The fifteen interviews recounted here, conducted between 1977 and 2005, address all areas of Disney's enterprise, with particular emphasis on animation. Collectively, they provide insight into the animation process, studio life, and what it was like to be a member of Disney's inner circle during his most creative period.

The volume begins with an introduction recounting the life and work of Walt Disney, along with the events that prompted Peri to seek out those to tell his story. It also contains an explanation of animation terms for the uninitiated, as well as an index. However, the meat of the book is, of course, the interviews themselves, organized in chronological order, each preceded by a short biography of the interviewee.

Peri asked many of his informants the same questions, such as when they first met Disney and their feelings toward him. The word "awe" kept recurring. "We were pretty much in awe of him," says animator Marc Davis, "because after all, you could open up magazines and here were articles about this man" (43). Animator Ollie Johnston concurs, noting, "I would say you were kind of in awe of this guy all of the time, even outside of the studio or wherever you met him, so it was a little difficult to get on the same basis with him that you would with some other worker here or some other animator" (19). Another Disney employee, Xavier (X) Atencio, says he practically fell to the floor and kissed Disney's feet when realized that the big boss knew his name. The interviews suggest many reasons for the awe, such as Disney's total recall of conversations; his powers of observation, such as noticing when one blinks, the lower lid doesn't move; his method of achieving quality animation by having people with incompatible styles work together on characters or scenes; or his ability to tell a good story and generate warmth by interweaving the personalities of the characters, as in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

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