While we’re viewing the two-part Walt Disney documentary on PBS I thought it might be fun to look back on a book project we were developing at Disney Publishing back in the early nineties. Clearly, our team of artists and writers were Disney geeks eager to explore the hot bed of creativity known as Walt Disney’s Hyperion studio located in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. If you know anything about Disney history you’ll know that Walt’s studio was literally bursting with activity during the middle to late thirties. The “Young Maestro” had finally gotten traction, and his studio was on the rise. Talented people headed for Hollywood with hopes of meeting and maybe even working for Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse was a hit and the Silly symphonies were breaking new ground in animated entertainment. However, Disney was eager for a new challenge. A project that would test the limits of his own creativity and the versatility of his remarkable staff. A feature length retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would test the expertise, artistic enterprise and physical endurance of the young studio.
Naturally, this was a story we thought was worth the investment. After all, this was the beginning of what would one day become a media powerhouse creating books, movies, television, and innovative digital activities. Walt Disney’s parks and recreation teams would also reinvent the theme park and other immersive entertainments. However, the seeds were planted at Hyperion. This was the beginning of an entertainment giant that could easily dwarf Monstro himself. Actually, Walt Disney compared his Imagineering unit to the Hyperion studio. “It was an incredible time,” said Walt. “There was something new happening every day and I loved every minute of it!” Hardly the words of a dark and tortured soul, it was clear that Walt Disney was having the time of his life. The sketches below show some of our ideas for the book. You’ll notice we even mocked up a cover with Walt Disney at the drawing table. The Walt photo is surrounded by sketches and scripts showing the projects in development at the time. I’ve spoken with artists who were actually employed at the Hyperion studio over in Silverlake and they said they were also having a ball. Often described as a dark, conflicted soul eager for acceptance, is hardly the image we have of young Walt. The studio was in the midst of a creative explosion when social and world events impacted the young studios’ creative momentum. Had there not been a world war and a terrible labor action, the Walt Disney Studio could have reached incredible heights and this was a story we wanted to tell.
Tonight, we’ll continue with part two of the PBS American Experience and the life and career of Walt Disney. We’ll move forward to another decade and the time I began my career in Walt’s magic factory. I’m optimistic and hoping for a better two hour program than last evenings offering.