Walt Disney, from Reader to Storyteller

Essays on the Literary Inspirations


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About the Book

Walt Disney, best known as a filmmaker, had perhaps a greater skill as a reader. While many would have regarded Felix Salten’s Bambi and Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio as too somber for family-oriented films, he saw their possibilities. He appealed to his audience by selecting but then transforming familiar stories. Many of the tales he chose to adapt to film became some of the most read books in America.
Although much published research has addressed his adaptation process—often criticizing his films for being too saccharine or not true to their literary sources—little has been written on him as a reader: what he read, what he liked, his reading experiences and the books that influenced him. This collection of 15 fresh essays and one classic addresses Disney as a reader and shows how his responses to literature fueled his success.
Essays discuss the books he read, the ones he adapted to film and the ways in which he demonstrated his narrative ability. Exploring his literary connections to films, nature documentaries, theme park creations and overall creative vision, the contributors provide insight into Walt Disney’s relationships with authors, his animation staff and his audience.

About the Author(s)

Kathy Merlock Jackson, a professor of media and communication at Virginia Wesleyan University, teaches courses in media studies and children’s culture. She is the author or editor of thirteen books and former editor of The Journal of American Culture. She has served as past president of both the American Culture Association and the Popular Culture Association.

Mark I. West is the former chair of the English department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has written or edited nineteen books on children’s literature and culture and is a former president of the Children’s Literature Association.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Kathy Merlock Jackson and Mark I. West
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 236
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliographies, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7232-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1824-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Disney’s Reading

Walt Disney’s Boyhood Response to Stories: The Origin of His Narrative Playfulness (Mark I. West) 3

Walt Disney as Reader and Storyteller: The Books in His Library and What They Mean (Kathy Merlock Jackson) 9

Disney’s Narrative Influences: Authors

Snow White, the Grimm Brothers and the Studio the Dwarfs Built (Katie Croxton) 21

Pinocchio: An American Commedia (Lucy Rollin) 31

Felix Salten’s Stories: The Portrayal of Nature in Bambi, Perri and The Shaggy Dog (John Wills) 45

Song of the South and the Politics of Animation (M. Thomas Inge) 62

The Pleasures and Pains of Texts: Kenneth Grahame, Washington Irving and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (Walter Squire) 80

The American Revolution and Disney: Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain and the Celebration of Liberty (Martin J. Manning) 92

Old Yeller: From Gipson Tale to Disney Classic (Brenda Greene Shue) 100

Updating Pollyanna for the Space Age (Judy Rosenbaum) 115

The Sentimental Novel: Community, Power and Femininity (Susan Larkin) 127

Disney’s Europe: Hans Brinker and The Three Lives of Thomasina (Martin J. Manning) 139

From Page to Screen: Dysfunction, Subtext and Platonic Idealism in Mary Poppins (Sue Matheson) 148

Hayley Mills and the Constraints of Artifice in That Darn Cat! (Ron DePeter) 166

The Metafictive Playgrounds of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The Movie Is a Book (Paula T. Connolly) 179

Disney’s Narrative Influences: Composers

Summit Meetings: Mickey Mouse’s Culture Wars (John C. Tibbetts) 195


Disney and the Tradition of Storytelling (Margaret J. King and J.G. ­O’Boyle) 213

About the Contributors 219

Index 223