His classic films illuminated everyone's childhood. The theme parks are on every tourist itinerary. The movie empire is one of Hollywood's biggest players. Walt Disney is one of the few men who unquestionably changed our culture. Neal Gabler is the first author to have had complete access to the Disney Archives, enabling him to write the definitive biography of this remarkable man. It's a long book, as Disney's achievement was so huge, but a truly compulsive read. He shows how Disney built up his fledgling studio with short cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, before quite simply reinventing animation with full-length films like Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Dumbo. An astounding amount of work went into a film like Fantasia, with whole crews working round the clock on a sequence a couple of minutes long - only for the obsessively perfectionist Disney to order it re-done. Walt's profligacy and expansionism meant it was brother and business partner Roy who kept the company solvent. Disney then moved beyond animation with huge successes like Mary Poppins, and mixed utopianism and merchandising to conceive the world's first modern theme park, Disneyland.
Gabler shows the dark side of Disney - ruthless towards long-serving staff, cavalier with contracts, neglectful of his family - but also the vulnerability, born of loneliness and ill health, in an admirably balanced portrait. Neal Gabler writes for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He is currently a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society at the University of Southern California. His other books include An Empire of Their Own and Life, the Movie. He lives in Amagansett, New York.