Thoughts On Walt Disney
Just watched a 4-hour-long documentary on Walt Disney (American Experience on PBS) and it was fascinating. Here are some thoughts!
- •Not a genius, but definitely a visionaryWalt wasn't a great artist or master animator but he was good at surrounding himself with amazing talent and getting their best work out of them. He was a futurist before it was really a thing, pushed pre-existing concepts to their extremes: he perfected syncing sound with cartoons, knew that cartoons could work as full length movies, turned carnivals into immersive vacation destinations, and tried to build a utopian fucking society.
- •Success ruined his relationship with animatorsSpeaking of utopian societies, he was real bad at sharing the wealth. So bad, that when his animators went on strike, he wrote them all off as Communists and named names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Not cool, bro. These weren't Communists, they were just artists who wanted to be appropriately compensated for their 12+ hour workdays. One telling detail is that Disney built a deluxe cafeteria for the studio, but hardly any of his employees could afford to eat there.
- •Fantasia needs to be a bigger part of his legacyThis movie is fucking weird: it's abstract, it's violent, it's silly, but above all it sees the potential of animation as a legit artform. People think of Disney as bland and formulaic but that really only happened because his more experimental stuff didn't pay the bills. Imagine a world where Fantasia was a huge critical and financial success. Think of how different feature animation would be today! We'd be watching psychedelic moving paintings IN IMAX DUDE!
- •He worked his shit out through his moviesHe took his mom's death real hard: Bambi! He had a terrible relationship with his father and was worried he himself was neglecting his kids: Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins! He wanted America to be less complicated and more virtuous: Davy Crockett!
- •Disneyland is a crazy ideaHe didn't just want a carnival or a park, he wanted a living movie you could inhabit. And to fund it he had a weekly TV show devoted to hyping the whole thing. It also happened to be the perfect conditions in history for such an insane plan to materialize: America needed escapism/comfort in their position during the Cold War, baby boomers needed a family destination, and Walt needed to rewrite his impoverished childhood into folksy whimsy.
- •EPCOT is even crazierWalt went full-blown futurist and thought he could create the perfect American city: an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. If he hadn't died during the planning phase (apparently still mapping it out aloud on his deathbed, the story goes), he might have actually done it. Fucking maniac.