Book review, nonfiction

“Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” by Neal Gabler

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ll be honest, I was not entirely sure how to review this book and it is all over the place. I wanted to learn more about Walt Disney and found this book by Neal Gabler that documented his entire life. I started by reading it but after renewing my loan from the digital library three times, I gave in and downloaded it on Audible. I don’t want to give you a recap of Disney’s entire life or discuss the writing style of the author. Rather, I want to document some of the lines and moments from the book that demonstrated the type of man that Walt Disney was. The average person does not have the amount of success that Disney had in 66 years on the earth. I wanted to find what made him stand out.

One thing I learned was that Disney never seemed to hear other people’s opinions. If he did, they weren’t mentioned in the book. When he had an idea, he ran with it. He put all of his attention on that project and would hire the people necessary to complete it. “When something intrigued him, he focused himself entirely as if it were the only thing that mattered” (6%). Everything he did was done to perfection as well. He wanted to have a company that stood out above the rest. Even when projects went over the time line and budget, he would still wait to release it until it was perfect in his eyes.

Disney was not an instant success. There were times when he grew very sick and lost weight because he could not afford to eat and was so focused on his animation studio. Even during the hard times, he kept his eyes focused on his dream. “He didn’t want to be just another animation producer. He wanted to be the king of animation” (14%). He eventually had a breakdown where he said it, “woke me up to the fact that life is sweet and work is not everything” (19%). Whenever times would get too overwhelming and he couldn’t put 100% into his work, he and his wife, Lillian would leave for vacation. The Disney’s went on many vacations during Walt’s lifetime and he often came back ready to get to work and with new ideas and insights from his trip.

One day Disney saw parents with their kids at the park. The kids were having fun but the parents were sitting on the benches, bored. Disney thought that the parents needed something to do. So, he created a theme park. Walt saw a need and created a solution. There was no hesitation. Another example of Walt’s level of perfection was demonstrated when he spoke with a journalist about the level of cleanliness the park would have. They doubted that it would be able to be kept as spotless as Walt was advertising. He replied, “It would stay clean because people are going to be embarrassed to throw anything on the ground” (Chapter 51).

Walt always remained humble and would not let praise go to his head. He was a simple boy from the south and no amount of money or recognition would change that. I want to end with my favorite quote from the book. This is from an interview he had with a journalist after he released Mary Poppins:

“I’m on the spot. I have to keep trying to keep up to that same level and the way to do it is not to worry, not to get tense, not to think I got to beat Mary Poppins, I got to beat Mary Poppins. The way to do it is just to go off and get interested in some little thing. Some little idea that interests me. Some little idea that looks like fun” (Chapter 58).



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