Friday, August 12, 2016

I have just had a chance to see the interior of The upcoming book from Taschen The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 1921-1968 and while I have not yet read the text, I can already tell you that this book is a masterpiece. It is an absolute beauty and a dream come true for Disney historians and Disney history enthusiasts.

I had a chance to interview the editor of the project, Daniel Kothenschulte, who shared the story of the genesis of the project and a lot more.

Didier Ghez: Can you tell us about the genesis of the project? How was it born and how did it evolve?

Daniel Kothenschulte: To make a short story long: A moment that had a huge impact on my life was when I first saw Christopher Finch’s The Art of Walt Disney in a Cologne book store not long after it had come out. I was about seven at that time and adored the first Disney productions I had seen, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan and Robin Hood. This magnificent book just blew me away. I had not seen a book that huge and the fact that such a massive tome was published on Disney was mind-blowing to me. I moved page after page and learned about the existence of a film called Fantasia. There was a double-spread that even touched another love of my childhood, dinosaurs! The only thing I did not like about the book was its price, 124 Deutschmarks. Unaffordable to my parent! However, the book-seller, a nice lady named Frau Linte who still runs the film book section at Koenig’s book store 40 years later, made a great suggestion. She said, “Why don’t you come here as often as you can and have a look? Nobody will buy it anyway.” I followed this advice up until the sad day when the book was gone. Somebody had bought it! I often wondered who that person was, but when I told it to Benedikt Taschen he said, “Maybe it was me!” However there was another newly published book that I could afford: Leonard Maltin’s The Disney Films. My father read it to me, translating it into German just to feed my thirst for education.
I went on to become a writer on film history and art… and when one day Taschen picked up a book on Hollywood in the Thirties for international release which I had made with artist Robert Nippoldt, I told him about my dream of doing a book on classic Disney. A book that would compile the best production artwork and add some unseen items from the ARL collections which I had already visited. I guess it was just the right moment. Taschen was just negotiating a deal with Disney. He is the biggest fan of Donald Duck and Carl Barks. Before he went into publishing he used to run a great comic book store in Cologne.

DG: What were you trying to achieve with this book?

DK: I wanted to create an experience similar to my childhood love for the Christopher Finch and the Maltin books. Finch was the first writer in 30 years to mention Albert Hurter’s work in a book. In later years, seminal books by John Canemaker, my long-time friend Robin Allan, J. B. Kaufman and you, Didier, introduced us to so many more masters who worked on these films. Finch spent two pages on Hurter’s work while still addressing a general audience not specialised in animation. This is what I am after: I see this book as the ideal, imaginary exhibition on Walt Disney. As a Disney enthusiast, you will find all the masterworks and lots of things that will make you dig deeper and deeper. Another aim was to re-write the canon of classic Disney. I have always adored the neglected package films. Make Mine Music and Melody Time have never found the recognition they deserve. In recent years, concert audiences learned about “The Swan of Tuonela” which is an encore at Disney concerts. But there is so much more in the vaults. I see Disney’s Golden Age as an experiment similar to the most ambitious renaissance workshops. Another ambition is to point out that Disney was as much interested in modernism that he was in love with late 19th century illustration.

DG: You conducted a lot of research at the Disney Archives and at the Animation Research Library for the book. What do you consider as your greatest discoveries?

DK: Thomas Hart Benton’s illustrated treatment for “Davy Crockett” might not be as visually striking as Dali`s Destino. But for anyone who loves American folk art and folk music this is a landmark work. I had inquired about this before as a researcher. But when Disney archivist Kevin Kern pulled this for me, it just blew me away.
Another beautiful find is the pastel storyboard for another designated “South of the border” adventure to Cuba. When ARL archivist Fox Carney opened a package that had not been touched in many, many years I felt like opening an Egyptian tomb. There was one pastel of Donald dancing with some cigars. I never thought we would get a permission from Disney to publish this. It was John Lasseter who made this possible.

DG: Who are the Disney historians who contributed to the project?

DK: Didier, you are one of them. We have Charles Solomon, J. B. Kaufman, my childhood hero Leonard Maltin, Russell Merritt and J. B. Kaufman, Mindy Johnson, Dave Smith who authorized a reprint of his seminal essay on the Space films for television, Brian Sibley, the late Robin Allan, two German writers, Andreas Platthaus and Katja Lüthge, and myself.

DG: Are you working on more Disney-related books at the moment?

DK: Yes, the next volumes will be a monograph on Walt Disney, the man, a second “Archives” volume on the later films, and volumes on Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Taschen will also publish a volume on Disneyland.


Anonymous said...

Well, this interview is rather quite moving! The discovery of early books on Disney is an echo to mine, except that I am a tad older than Daniel, and that it happened in France. It's refreshing to see that it's mostly Disney historians outside Disney Enterprises that tackle the best book productions! We get the crème de la crème (As we DON'T say in French!! :-) )of historians for this undertaking, and we won't complain, will we?! Thank you for adding so much enchantment to our daily Disney Fan lives, and for proving, if needed, that Walt Disney and his artists turned an industry into an artform; an industry that, without them, would not exist today! We "can't wait" to get our hands -and eyes! - on this book and the next ones to come! Thanks for the interview!

Christian S. said...

Well, this interview inspires me more about the art of Disney,
and makes me wanna buy this book

Anonymous said...

FIVE more archive books after this one? That is great news!

Garry Apgar said...

Yes, but at $200 a pop you may need to take out a second mortgage if you want to buy all six.

Either that or forego your next planned trip to the Magic Kingdom.


seth4219 said...

There are two Disney / Taschen Volumes posted on with 2 different ISBN #'s, page counts and prices. Are they the same book / one with misinformation?

I pre-ordered the former, 3.5 months ago, well before the latter or posted. There is a 120 page discrepancy between the two in description. Was just hoping you might be able to shed some light on this.


Didier Ghez said...

The right one is the second one (620 pages).

seth4219 said...

When I ordered the book it was in English, now it's French, the second book is English, they recently posted a German version now... time to cancel, oy.