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BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Disney Golden Books

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Disney Golden Books

“When you look at Golden Books of Walt Disney’s films,
they’re not illustrated with cels on painted backgrounds, they’re artistic
interpretations. We’re following in those footsteps: each page is a little work
of art.” – John Lasseter

John
Lasseter isn’t the only one with an attachment to Disney Golden Books. As
Charles Solomon notes in this sumptuous tome, artists including Russell
Schroeder, Peter Emslie, Chris Sanders, Brenda Chapman, Ralph Eggleston, Pete
Docter, Glen Keane and many others spent many a childhood moment deep within
the pages of both the Big and Little Golden Books – and continue to seek them out
for inspiration.

Golden
Books
gave millions of people exposure to a body of art by the most unique and distinguished
groups of artists imaginable, including a who’s-who of Disney talents like Gustaf
Tenggren, Aurelius Battaglia, Al Dempster and the beloved Mary Blair. Their
efforts led more artists—spurred on by members of the Pixar team (who have also
worked Golden-type looks into their title graphics) to revive the concept of
distinctive Golden Book illustration styles, re-establishing the “book art
look” as a form unto itself that doesn’t necessarily resemble the “film look.”

Years ago, when
I was in a college class called “Children’s Literature,” the subject of picture
books was under discussion. With earnest enthusiasm I asked, “What about Golden
Books?”

Awkward
pause. “Well, we don’t want to be snobs,” the Professor sniffed. “And while it
is good for children to learn and enjoy reading, anything you can buy in a
supermarket cannot be considered children’s literature.”

The tragedy
of this remark – which by its odious nature is burned in my memory – is that is was
said to a classroom of future teachers. And yes, many books with dust jackets
sitting upon library shelves are indeed literature with superb artwork. They
win awards. But Golden Books are not only also literature filled with great
artwork, they win the hearts of millions and have proven to do so for
generations.

Granted,
some of the original texts were better than others (the Snow White book really did contain the phrase “meanwhile, back at
the castle”). The printing quality of some books could be dodgy depending on
the era in which they were produced. I once spent hours at a Waldenbooks
pouring through at least 60 copies of Walt
Disney’s Story Land
to find at least one copy in which my favorite
illustrations were not out of register, as this was a common malady that we
Golden Book lovers endured in the latter part of the 20th
century – and thankfully this is not a problem in today’s edition.

But if you
did grow up with some slightly fuzzy Golden Books—or you wore your favorites
down to pulp—just wait until you see the iridescent art reproductions in The Art of the Disney Golden Books.
My personal favorite is the Alice in
Wonderland
Big Golden Book, which gets a couple of breathtaking two-page
spreads (thank you). There are also lots of rare images from books long out of
print.

Solomon
traces the fascinating history of Golden Books as a publishing entity with a long
Walt Disney Studios association, while also exploring the myriad elements that
make Disney Golden Book art is so outstanding, presented with generous
commentary from Disney and Pixar artists. It’s like taking a tour with a
learned guide and a coterie of seasoned experts, who explain the how and why of
the tones, colors, textures and other details.

Taken as a
whole, the effect of perusing this book is almost overwhelming to behold. It
would certainly be something of a revelation to those who might underestimate
these powerfully enduring works.

But we don’t want to be snobs.

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