Demystifying Disney: A History of Feature Animation

By Zipes, Jack | Marvels & Tales, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Demystifying Disney: A History of Feature Animation


Zipes, Jack, Marvels & Tales


Demystifying Disney: A History of Feature Animation. By Chris Pallant. London: Bloomsbury, 2011. Paperback edition, 2013. 168 pp.

The title of Chris Pallant's short, informative book is somewhat misleading because more than fifteen books about Walt Disney and the Disney Corporation have been published in the last twenty years that reveal how Disney took or was given more credit than he deserved for the creation and production of his feature-length animated films. There is really nothing to demystify Nevertheless, Pallant's book makes an important contribution to "Disney studies" because it is the most concrete and comprehensive synopsis of the mystification process of Walt Disney and how and why his name has become a worldwide brand associated with genius and quality and has been stamped on hundreds of different kinds of Disney merchandise.

Pallant divides his book into four parts: (1) "Reexamining Disney," (2) "Early and Middle Disney Feature Animation," (3) "Contemporary Disney Feature Animation," and (4) "Conclusion: Happily Ever After?" In the first part Pallant explains how Disney depended on the contributions of many different animators, technicians, and writers to conceive and realize all of his films beginning in the 1920s until his death in 1966. Although Disney was the central driving force behind different experiments and technological innovations, Pallant demonstrates that Disney did not invent most of the methods and techniques that he used in his feature animations. If anything, he was a fastidious hands-on manager.

In Part 2 Pallant introduces the concept of "Disney-Formalism": "Fundamentally, the Disney-Formalist ideology prioritized artistic sophistication, 'realism' in characters and contexts, and, above all, believability" (35). Borrowing a term from the film critic Paul Wells, Pallant argues that the dominant characteristic of Disney-Formalism up to the present is hyperrealism, "a mode of animation, which, despite the medium's obvious artifice strives for 'realism.' . . . Conventionalized during the Disney-Formalist period [c. 1937-1966], the Studio's hyperrealism is frequently seen 'as the yardstick by which other kinds of animation may be measured for its relative degree of realism'" (40).

In Part 3, Pallant discusses how Disney-Formalism became more or less stale during the 1970s and 1980s, compelling Michael Eisner, who some think out-Disneyed Disney in hands-on management, to step down as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. One of the major complaints against Eisner was that he was more interested in profitability than in quality. …

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