Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History (Taschen) Edited by Daniel Kothenschulte; Text by J.B. Kaufman and David Gerstein; Design by Anna-Tina Kessler; Directed and Produced by Benedikt Taschen.
First things first: Taschen’s mega-book devoted to Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse is a feast for the eyes – but more importantly, its a major reference work devoted to the world’s most iconic cartoon and comic star.
The book itself is so physically huge its the equivalent of reading 15 books in one – and I’m incredibly impressed by the hard work clearly done by J.B. Kaufman and David Gerstein on this mammoth volume. They are, of course, the perfect duo to tackle this project (being true experts on the title subject).
There is so much to say about it, I don’t know where to begin, but five words described my initial reaction upon a first view: Immense. Gorgeous. Groundbreaking. Vital. Fun.
Immense. In case you haven’t seen it – the book is 496 pages, oversized (11.4 x 15.6 inches), and sold in a large cardboard box – with a handle. The size immerses the reader in the subject – and in the art. With the Disney Archive and ARL providing most of the images (much otherwise unseen publicly before), aided by an army of private collectors and their collections – as well as Getty Images and Heritage Auctions – this material not only celebrates its subject, but each piece meticulously helps tell the story of the character himself, and of his role in the overall career of Walt Disney.
Gorgeous. The large size (and crisp, crystal clear printing) allow the reader to enjoy each photograph, painting, poster, storyboard and animation drawing as if the original were on display in front of you. Several double page spreads made me audibly gasp – The original art for the Columbia Pictures Mickey Mouse main title; storyboard panels from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – to name but two. Much here to study and linger upon – and drool over!
Groundbreaking. There have been books devoted to Mickey Mouse before. There are many large oversized coffee table picture books devoted to analysis of Disney animation. But this one breaks new ground by the sheer amount of fresh reference, new research and massive detail brought to its primary subject. The text is every bit as valuable as the images and distinguishes this project through its critical length and depth.
The story of Mickey is told, film by film, every one from Plane Crazy to The Simple Things (and beyond to the House of Mouse and even the new Paul Rudish cartoons) – with detail about each, illustrated with its poster (or advertising visuals) and various storyboard/cel/background/misc art. The special productions (The Band Concert, The Brave Little Tailor, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mickey and the Beanstalk, etc.) get a bit more attention – as you’d expect. We learn how Walt really never lost sight of Mickey over the years – moreso than I knew before. During the forties, Walt pursued another feature berth for the Mouse, and pre-War shorts like The Little Whirlwind represented a deliberate new direction never fully revealed until now. In the fifties when it looked like Mickey was finished in theatrical shorts, Walt fortified his continued fame making him the frontman for Disneyland – as well as the star of a daily television program – The Mickey Mouse Club.
Vital. Each chapter takes the deepest of dives into various aspects of Mickey’s history, covering subjects that, on their own, could be released as separate books. Chapter 6 “Unfinished Rhapsodies” covers 45 unmade golden age Mickey Mouse cartoons, from Tanglefoot to Mickey’s Elopement, which were developed to an extent – filling this chapter with tantalizing model sheets, storyboards and plot synopses. Chapter 7 covers “Mickey on The Air” about the Mouse’s short-lived 1938 radio show – and his previous and subsequent broadcast appearances. Mickey Mouse during the War, Mickey Mouse in Features, on Television, his frequent redesigns – and a plethora of merchandising and publishing.
The writers recount how Mickey was more than animated shorts in the early 1930s — Mickey was a world wide fad! This led to the birth of the tremendous money machine that was merchandising and licensing – much of which is pictured. I love the rare photo of Disney signing his King Features contract with Ward Greene (years before Greene was involved with Lady and The Tramp) – the book is filled to the brim with such rarities.
Several healthy chapters on Mickey Mouse’s comic strip and comic book career recounts the many artists (Gottfredson, Murry, Haughton, Scarpa) and the vast variety of pen-and-ink adaptations, often portaying Mickey as a gung-ho adventurer. A story-by-story recounting of each newspaper comic strip continuity, Mickey Mouse Big Little Books, Mickey Mouse Magazine, vintage English, German, French and Italian Mickey publications – are all covered.
Fun. It’s just a pleasure to browse. To dip in. To review. But more importantly, I came away smarter about Mickey and Walt – and smarter about the Mouse’s place in popular culture and Hollywood history, in American culture, and to the culture of the world in the 20th Century. The book is not only eye candy – but ‘brain candy’ as well.
Everything is here – and more. It’s a feast. A must-own. For animation information, its a Disney-Archive-on-Demand for your book shelf. Bravo to Taschen (and David and J.B.) for producing this epic publication. Nothing less than perfect – and I think that’s just the way Walt would’ve wanted it.
A Sampler of Several RARE Images from this Book
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