Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 2, 2022

Book review: Disney’s not always the happiest place on earth

“The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation’s Golden Age”

By Jake S. Friedman

c.2022, Chicago Review Press


320 pages

You’ve never passed up a chance to catch The Mouse.

You might have seen him on television when you were a child, along with Annette or Darlene, Britney or Justin. You’ve caught him on the big screen, in books and comics, on watches and beach towels. The Mouse has been around for your entire life, even when – as in the new book, “Disney Revolt” by Jake S. Friedman – he’s a mouse in trouble.

When you look back at the life of Walter Disney, you can see how an idyllic early life, his mercurial father, poverty and loss shaped him. These things spurred Disney to focus on a new-fangled way to make a living: young Walt loved to draw.

His father, however, thought Walt was “wasting his time,” that cartoons wouldn’t pay the bills. The senior Disney insisted Walt go to work at the failing family business. Instead, Walt, who’d fallen in love with the new medium of animation and had landed a job as an illustrator at an art studio, began thinking about owning his own animation studio. He went into debt several times to do it, which was another harbinger of things to come: As an adult, once Disney had an idea, he’d move mountains to ensure that it became reality.

You could almost say that Arthur Babbitt’s mother was an activist.

She taught her sons to knit for the soldiers of World War I, she gathered food for the poor and celebrated armistice with a one-woman parade.

Her “all-for-one” attitude shaped Art, but he also realized that he had to make his own success.

As a young man, he learned the animation biz at a small studio, clawing for everything he got; when he landed at Disney Productions Studio, he clawed even harder and climbed to the top to become someone Walt Disney was willing to pay very, very well.

But Disney had made a few stumbles in the pre-World War II years, and there were grumbles within its ranks. Rumors flew of bonuses rescinded and layoffs to come – and then Art heard whispers of unionization at the studio.

When you think about Disney World or Disneyland, it can be hard to separate the happy from thoughts of those behind-the-scenes people who make it so. But that’s OK – “The Disney Revolt” does it for you.

It takes a (pleasant) while to get there, though, and you won’t mind. The author begins his story with a deep regret and overview, making readers hungry to watch the growth of both main protagonists while the twin subjects of labor and unions lurk in the background with a tinge of 1940s true crime sinisterness. You’ll then see how everything went awry and how trouble arrived concurrent with the making of beloved childhood movies.

Another happy: “The Disney Revolt” is an easy read with its business aspect and its trip down Memory Lane. If you’re interested in labor relations or if you’ve always been a fan of The Mouse, this book’ll have you trapped.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.