Monday 7 May 2012

Once Upon A Time In A Land Faraway...

there lived a  storyteller who brought to life his fantastic tales with the aid of the world's greatest artists, writers and musicians. They all lived together in the storyteller's Magic Kingdom located in Burbank California, where with the aid of devices that projected their fantasies all around the world they devised their entertainments.

However, not all the work that occurred in the Magic Kingdom was free from tribulation and sometimes the dark forces beyond its gilded walls threatened it's very existence. Wars and labor disputes as well as hostile takeovers had created deep divisions that threw a shadow across otherwise sunlit corridors. But despite these troubles the dwellers inside the Magic Kingdom were contented in their work as they continually strove to ensure that their realizations of the storyteller's dreams matched his expectations.

In their constant strive to fulfill this remit, no amount of effort was too much. New and ever more potent means of delivering the storyteller's dreams to audiences far and wide were explored and as a consequence more and more of the storyteller's accumulated gold was gambled in the making of these stories.

And here dear reader (assuming you are still with us) is just such an example of this phenomenon, in 1959 Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty was released having had a huge production budget lavished on it, with extensive use of the Disney Studio's multiplane camera, six channel stereophonic sound and wide angle Technirama pumping up the budget to $6,000,000, making the film the biggest financial gamble the studio had taken since recovering from the near wipe-out that the War had inflicted on their export markets nearly twenty years earlier.

Well if you didn't already know, you have probably guessed, the film's reception at the box office wasn't the ringing endorsement the Studio were hoping for and the Company posted it's first loss for over a decade in it's 1959-60 report to it's shareholders. As a consequence the axe was taken to the animation department and huge layoffs resulted but ironically one of the facilitators of the rise of the Disney studio and accessory to one of the greatest betrayals of King Mouse was left in place to bring his considerable technical expertise to helping the studio work within a hair shirt budget. Ub Iwerks, first name pronounced You - Bee, had worked with Disney when they were both teenagers at a commercial art studio in Kansas City. While Iwerks was a highly talented artist with an inventive and inquiring mind, he was shy and introverted. Disney in contrast, whilst never possessing the artistic talents of Iwerks was a visionary and a natural businessman with the ability to sell himself and his ideas and with Disney's innate ability to spot a good opportunity when he saw one,  it it wasn't long before he and Iwerks still on the cusp of their twenties had formed their own company producing a line of films entitled Laugh-O-Grams. When that company went belly up Iwerks returned to the Kansas City Film Ad Company whilst Disney with typical enterprise took himself off to California to set up a new venture which he was convinced would seal his fortune.

It wasn't long before Disney was writing to Iwerks to offer him a job at the newly formed Disney Brothers Studio (Walt's brother Roy, who had a good head for figures and was a tempering influence on some of Walt's more extravagant schemes had also moved to California to work as the studio's accountant). The somewhat ironically titled Oswald the Luck Rabbit was the first hit that the studio had, but the joy was short lived when the character and most of Disney's animators were stolen from them by their distributor. Disney took the distributor to court but lost. Iwerks was one of the few who remained loyal to Disney. It was therefore really devastating when a few years later another unprincipled distributor attempted a similar heist with Disney's even more successful Mickey Mouse. Disney hung onto the character whose copyright ownership was beyond dispute but this time Iwerks left (with most of Disney's key animators) disillusioned with the endless toil and studio tensions and convinced that he could make a better living for himself running his own studio.

Several years and several animated flops later Iwrks returned to work with Disney and this time he devoted himself to pioneering new visual effects including a way of melding film and drawing together in such films as Song of the South and more spectacularly Mary Poppins. But the innovation he created which was to really slash their production costs and enable the studio to continue producing animated feature length films was the xerographic process for cel animation, which was first presented to cinema audiences with the release in 1961 of 101 Dalmations.

By the time that film came out the book that I am sharing with you today had been sitting on the shelf of my local bookshop, come newsagent, come stationer for about three years. Like the film it celebrated the Giant Golden Book of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty had overblown it's budget and much to the supposed chagrin of King's Stationers, located in St Leonards on Sea, Sussex, it's 25 shilling price tag was just too steep for the average shopper. So there it languished next to it's other over priced for it's locality, neighbor Tales of the Greeks and Trojans. Both handsome books, both quietly pining for a good home.

Well, eventually (albeit several years later) I weakened and fortified with funds from a paper round I treated myself to this book, which I have never seen anywhere else (try Googling for it to see what I mean).

So here's your opportunity to savor one of the most exquisite Disney children's books ever published, in an era when a book like this could appear with one of stylist Eyvind Earle's superb artworks as cover and endpapers with more of his illustrations accompanying stills and character sketches from this commercially flawed but nonetheless beautiful film.


  1. I forgot to mention Alex that the delightful figurative vignettes were drawn by another artist of Scandinavian origin who worked at the Disney studios - Julius Svendsen. He carved out his own particular niche in Disney history as the man that transferred Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into the Sunday Comics serial that appeared at the time of that film's launch.

  2. I really liked the material.
    Also loved the illustrations in the book.
    you could do to put ad gentilesa other pages of the book, I live outside the U.S., and this type of material and hard to find here in South America
    I love Sleeping Beauty.
    If you want some material from Brazil can achieve for you.
    My email
    thank you very much