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BOOK REVIEW: “The Mickey Mouse Reader”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Mickey Mouse Reader"

There seems to be an endless stream of books about Walt Disney, the Disney characters and the films the company produced – and all of it is fascinating stuff. Garry Apgar’s just published A Mickey Mouse Reader is an anthology of articles on America’s favorite mouse – 81 text pieces compiled in this almost 400 page hard cover – all about Mickey.

Apgar does a very good job curating particularly significant pieces about the Mouse – from such noted writers as John Canemaker, John Culhane, E.M Forester, John Updike, M. Thomas Inge, Jim Korkis and our own Charles Solomon, among many others.

In his introduction, editor Apgar
advises readers to enjoy the new book’s segments at random, if desired. As
someone who rarely lets a quality Disney book or research work go by without
devouring it, I found it interesting to read it in chronological order, to see
how the Mickey Mouse phenomenon grew from hot new fad to artistic triumph to
passé to dismissible to artistic and important over the decades.

Most of the selections are quite interesting and several of them are historically important (“Mickey Mouse Maker” by Gilbert Seldes from a 1931 issue of The New Yorker; “Mickey Mouse – How He Was Born” by Walt Disney from a 1931 issue of Windsor Magazine; “Growing Up With Mickey” by Maurice Sendack, from a 1978 issue of TV Guide, et al).

Some of the material is the result of studio PR releases, several of
which explain the animation process (making it interesting to note what each
writer decides to include); studio-written articles by Walt at his humble best;
critical and artistic essays; and most amazing, international accounts in
translated form. The selections are well documented with a generous appendix
and author profiles.

Perhaps the most fascinating, amazing and even disturbing offerings come
within the context of world events surrounding Mickey’s fame, further cementing
him in historical significance—through the Depression, when Mickey was at his
peak with the public and the literati (comparing him to the greats of art and
entertainment) and through the power periods of politicians, Presidents and
murderous fascists.

As to such dictators, Hitler’s disgust over the worldwide affection for
Mickey has been documented in the past, but I never read this chilling excerpt
from a Nazi publication, which ties Mickey directly into the primary focus of
Nazi hatred and sadism. I will leave the entirety of this chilling excerpt to
those who obtain the book, as it contains bigotry and manipulation at its most
grotesque:

“Young people, where is your
sense of self? Mickey Mouse is the shabbiest, most miserable ideal ever
invented. Mickey Mouse is a recipe for mental enfeeblement sent over with
capital from The Young Plan. Healthy instinct should tell every decent girl and
decent boy that those filthy, dirt-caked vermin, the greatest carriers of
bacteria in the animal kingdom, cannot be made into an ideal animal type…Down
with Mickey Mouse, and up with the swastika!”

Quite a few essays, not surprisingly, favor the original version of
Mickey as opposed to his later softened personality and look. Among these, such noted authors as Irving Wallace or a screenwriter like Frank Nugent discuss the evolution of Mickey Mouse in the 1940s – written at a time when the maturing studio was still in a “golden age”.  And there is also some real meat here – Arthur Mann’s 1934 article for Harper’s Magazine on Disney’s finances and distribution is a real find. 

There is no
denying the impact of an entity that transcends its identity as a cartoon
character, becoming an icon of admiration, scorn, love, hate, high art, low
quality, obsolescence, corporate might and a lot more.

In previous Disney books, much of this writing has been reduced to a few
words or paraphrasing, so the many who follow Disney history will likely recognize
smaller pieces within the larger ones. It’s interesting to read them in
context, because it really drives home the cultural dynamism of Mickey Mouse
and the Disney empire, as well as its effect on those who lived through the
various eras. Apgar gathered a fine assemblage of writings, making the book a helpful
reference for enthusiasts and perhaps an eye-opener for those who can’t
understand all the fuss about Mickey.

A Mickey Mouse Reader will indeed add to your knowledge of the Disney studio and its most famous creation. This is a good one and we highly recommend it.

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