/ Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Editor’s Note: In addition to investigating the lives of Disney Imagineers, Rich Bernato will be contributing Disney book reviews.  Please post in the comments section if there is a Disney book you would like for him to review!

by Richard Bernato

I’ve already begun “Disney-doctrinating” my six grandchildren. Disney and Walt Disney World have been such a constant theme in our family it just seemed second nature to me. I was surprised though when in talking to them I realized that they knew OF Disney World but did not have any real idea of Walt Disney himself.

Shame on me for assuming! I had to remind myself that Walt Disney has been gone for almost 50 years and that is almost a moral obligation to help the young ‘uns know who this man was and what he means to us.

I very much enjoy visiting Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream in Hollywood Studios. It captures the vision that characterizes a person who had as much to do with contributing to twentieth century themes of Americana, of entertainment, and of enjoyment, of any single American individual from that era. More than that, the sum of the exhibits show clearly, how Walt Disney’s vision and principles still stand for something today and still generate a positive momentum towards creativity, towards positive thinking, towards inventive perseverance, and towards core American values.

Exhibits are great because they offer multisensory opportunities both to learn and to get one’s arms around the wholeness of what the artifacts and demonstrations offered are meant to teach.

But it is a book, in this case a biography, whose reading enables us to capture all of what one needs to know to get the most accurate and most complete picture of an individual. And that is why Neil Gabler’s Walt Disney, The Triumph of the American Imagination is such an important read for those of us who truly want to savor and to perpetuate what Walt Disney means to us.

Neil Gabler’s writing pedigree is certainly sound. He has written a biography of Walter Winchell and books about Hollywood. It should also be noted that Gabler is the first writer to have gained complete access to the Walt Disney archives. And he certainly makes exhaustive use of the material he examined!

The result is a complete book and a balanced one. By balanced I mean that Gabler skillfully collects and codifies the evidence to show Disney’s multi-triumphs and well – earned acclaim. However Gabler also makes it clear that Disney’s very humanity, on whole a wonderful plus for us all, also harbored a dark and brooding side.

So you can read this biography for what I call the “And-thens”; that is “And then Disney created (fill in blank here).” There is plenty here. But you can also read it for a celebration of what Walt Disney-as-archetype has come to mean. You can read it to understand how even a hero has an Achilles’ heel or two. Knowing these, by the total of what Gabler has assembled, enhances the man much more than it does the opposite.


If you are wondering if this book is for you, a friend or relative, or for a youngster use the following rating:

–       ONE Castle = of interest to children and teens

–       TWO Castles = of interest to readers with a casual interest in Walt Disney, Walt Disney World, Disneyland, etc.

–       THREE Castles = of interest to the serious Disney-phile

In this case I’d say that Gabler’s book is a THREE Castles rating. Those with a more casual interest might be engaged by some of the chapters and descriptions of how things came to be. However the author’s scholarship and detail would be of greater interest to those of us who want to know it ALL.


Rich Bernato may be the only blogger who; had an ORIGINAL Davy Crockett coonskin cap (and wishes he still had it); watched Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in black and white; watched the Disneyland opening ceremonies on that same black and white; AND rode the original It’s a Small World in the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. In addition he is a college professor, his own Disney blogger (http://disdoc.wordpress.com/) and a grandfather of six whom he is thoroughly dis-doctrinating as often as possible.




1 thought on “Disney Book Review: Walt Disney, The Triumph of the American Imagination”

  1. Mark Willard says:

    “The result is a complete book and a balanced one.”

    This may be an overstatement. The book has earned pretty severe criticism from Diane Disney Miller as well as serious animation historians. If you’re going to read this book, I suggest you read it alongside the list of errors and fallacies that have been found in it: