You’d think after all the films, documentaries, and books about Disney—the man and the company—there wouldn’t be much left to discuss.
That was before German author Daniel Kothenschulte dove into the Disney vault and unearthed a trove of previously unpublished art—from concept and development, to unproduced animation and movie outtakes. Over two years, he and Fox Carney, the manager of research for Disney’s Animation Research Library, culled 10,000 images down to 1500 in 630 pages for the new Taschen coffee table book, The Walt Disney Film Archives: Animated Movies 1921—1968.
"It was like editing a film," said Kothenschulte. "Going through the digital archives was like browsing eBay. Making a book was like organizing an imaginary exhibition. I was amazed at seeing images hadn’t seen before."
With so much to choose from, Kothenschulte focused the book on works that Disney personally supervised, drawing attention to his process, and introducing those artists to a wider audience.
Although frustrated that mysterious legal reasons prevented a chapter on Salvador Dali and Disney, Kothenschulte’s favorites that did make it in included outtake art from The Jungle Book (a short-sighted rhinoceros) and Pinnochio (a starving Geppetto about to eat a goldfish), and a chapter on the impact the late muralist Thomas Hart Benton had on Disney.
Last week, Kothenschulte joined some of the book’s contributors—film expert Leonard Maltin, animators Lloyd Norman and Andreas Deja, author Mindy Johnson, composer Richard Sherman, and Carney—at a packed book launch at Taschen’s Beverly Hills store.
Between signings, the Disney veterans browsed the books, reminisced, and pondered the current state of animation.
"The special thing about this book is that most of the art in it is published for the first time—they really dug deep," said Andreas Deja, the 30-year Disney animator of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Lion King. "When you look at the layouts, the backgrounds, the planning that went into the films, you realize, this is real art; it’s not just funny characters. It’s breathtaking and the book shows that."
"It’s a wonderful way to study and enjoy Disney art," said legendary animator Floyd Norman, profiled in the documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life. "It’s like going into a gallery, only the gallery is sitting in your lap,"
"Animation was always popular, but never the kind of popularity it’s enjoying today," adds Norman, who recently wrote a Fast Company article about his former boss. "Keep in mind animated films really go toe-to-toe against live-action films and often outperform them, so it’s a more robust business today than when I started over 50 years ago."
Mindy Johnson, author of Tinker Bell: An Evolution (Disney Editions Deluxe), regarded it a deeper look into a legacy that’s part of the collective consciousness. So much so, that after growing up on Disney movies, even Sherman was overjoyed to work directly with the man himself during his final years. (Sherman and his late brother, Robert, won two Academy Awards for Mary Poppins.)
"Disney’s legacy continues, because people continue to find new facets of his career and hobbies to explore, illustrate, and analyze. That’s what’s exciting about this book," says Maltin. "So many things are still being discovered. Walt Disney, in a way, is still alive, because he left us so much that still lives and breathes."