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The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life Paperback – October 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: University of Missouri (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826213790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826213792
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Although the Disney studio was hailed as a dream factory, there was plenty of hard work and hard-nosed business deals behind the facade. Drawing on interviews and research from Disney archives, Watts shows how Disney and mid-America influenced each other, from the birth of the animation empire, through the "libertarian populism" of the Fifties film, TV, and theme-park efforts, to Walt's untimely death in 1966. Other topics include Disney's pioneering role in business "integration" (using one side of the business to promote another side), his idealization of small-town life, his contagious creative enthusiasm, and his growing conservatism and abiding contempt for unions. Whether selling World War II to an anxious home front, lifting spirits in the Depression, soothing America's Cold War fears, or catering to the new leisure and consumer society, Disney had a unique rapport with average Americans. Portrayed as neither devil nor saint, Disney emerges as a human and sometimes sympathetic figure. This lively, witty, and insightful study is likely to become a standard. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Two other Disney biographers in recent years have accused the Disney family of attempting to undermine criticisms of him; for a more critical appraisal see Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince, LJ 5/1/93.?Ed.]?Stephen Rees, Levittown Reg. Lib., Pa.
-?Stephen Rees, Levittown Reg. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Today's Disney entertainment empire might rephrase Watts' subtitle to read "Walt Disney IS the American Way of Life" as part of its seeming dedication to crafting sanitized versions of aspects of the American ideal and then selling the bejesus out of them. Watts' biography of the creator of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy examines Disney's role in the creation of American consumer culture and his and his company's successful commercial feeding of that culture's voracious entertainment appetites. The book, Watts says, exemplifies "something of a hybrid genre: part biography and part cultural analysis, an anatomy of Disney's productions as well as an anatomy of their consumption." Fully referenced and forcefully and cogently argued, it does an excellent job of tying together all the facets--artistic, commercial, and personal--of the Disney saga. "Walt Disney has been, arguably, the most influential American of the twentieth century," Watts concludes. This valuable, unique book about him will be greatly valued by fans, cynics, and semioticians alike. Mike Tribby --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Many other biographies have done this as well.
"disneychick"
This book analyzes Disney's life and impact on American culture.
eritak
Easily the best biography out there on Walt Disney hands down.
K. Bruce

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
As one critic noted recently, Walt Disney's career has inspired either hurrahs or sneers. The folks at Disney have authorized or even manufactured a whole series of haigiographies. As for the opposing camp, it has its own sacred text, Richard Schickel's THE DISNEY VERSION, which not just not a haigiography, but a blanket attack on both the work of the Disney studio and the fans of the films they produced.
But there has not, until now, been a serious book about Disney and his mouse factory. Steven Watt's combination biography/cultural study accomplishes this task without either ignoring the real warts on Disney's character or sinking into eye-glazing cultural-studies babble (at no time does he accuse Disney of "phallocentricity," which is a singular accomplishment in and of itself).
Walt Disney began as something of a liberal populist, became a decided conservative, and in his later years became a great believer in the sort of social engineering that both the liberal and conservative establishments seemed to be rather enthusiastic about back in the 1960's, expressed in his original plans for EPCOT, a planned community where everything would be clean and safe and happy, whether that's how people wanted it or not . . .
Certainly that's how Disney wanted it. Disneyland and Disney World seem expressions of his desperate desire to create a place where the lonliness and misery of his childhood couldn't find him, or anyone else. Certainly, the parks are among the most well-ordered and polite imaginable, thanks to the work of his artists and engineers.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By K. Bruce on September 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Easily the best biography out there on Walt Disney hands down. It will never be topped. It neither kisses his hiney as Bob Thomas' studio sanctioned biography does, nor does it discount him as merely a low brow populist (as Richard Schickel did), nor lies about him as some sort of communist spy in order to sell books. Not only is this biography even handed, but Mr. Watts makes brilliant connections between Walt and his time that no other biographer had the insight to do. This is a fair, balanced, well organized, incredibly entertaining biography that really brings the real Walt Disney to life. Steven Watts is a genius biographer.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Nikola Raguz on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have read 4 biographies about this man ("An American Original," "The Disney Version," Mosley's "Disney's World: A biography," Eliot's "Hollywood's Dark Prince") and now I realize that I should have acquired this book before, so I wouldn't need to read all of the above stated books.
This book provides Walt's personal story, studio development, good and bad critics, Disney's place in history and his shaping of American culture. It is not biased, but gives a balanced view on a man and his company. It made me believe in this book, since I was very sceptical towards "truths" written in other Walt Disney biographies. In those, Walt was portrayed as either a perfect person, or a villain of the 20th century.
The Magic Kingdom is the balanced truth and the best biography of a man that shaped American culture without a doubt.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By "disneychick" on January 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
...This is the one. This biography does an incredible job of placing Walt Disney the man (and his works) in historical, social, and cultural context. Not only does Watts provide a balanced examination of Walt Disney--something that many biographies do not in their attempts to paint a picture of Walt as either a perfect saint or the ultimate evil--but he doesn't discuss Walt in isolation of the world in which he lived. Instead, Watts places Walt Disney in relationship to time periods and social movements.
For example, the writing on Walt's early years consider the influences of his mother, father, and his small-town/rural upbringing. Many other biographies have done this as well. But Watts also considers how Walt was raised at the cusp of the Victorian era and the rise of modernism, then considers how this affects Walt and his decisions for the rest of his life. Such writing not only helps the reader to better understand the "whats" and "hows" of Walt Disney's life and accomplishments, but attempts to understand the "whys" and "so whats". In this way, the reader gets a sense of how Walt was shaped by the world he lived in and, in turn, shaped that world.
Watts performs this delicate balance between biography, history, and cultural significance throughout the book. He deals with Walt in terms of the Depression, WWII, the shaping of the Hollywood Film Industry, the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the emergence of postmodern culture. This provides the reader with a deeper insight into Disney *and* these important moments.
Because the book covers so much material and makes so many connections, this is not a light read. The material is accessible but the book is hefty in terms of pages and ideas. It's something to be digested slowly, savored. It's well worth it.
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