He was a perfectionist who lived for his work which would profoundly permeate all our lives. The man who turned animation into an art form, and amusement parks into family-friendly theme parks, also impacted our collective psyche. Do you believe dreams can come true? Ever wish upon a star? You have Walt Disney to thank, says cultural historian Neal Gabler in his heavily researched and, at 800-plus pages, just plain heavy, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Over the years there have been myriad Disney tomes, some of them pretty harsh toward Uncle Walt (Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince) and toward his cultural legacy (Richard Schickel's The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney). It didn't help that the Disney empire has long guarded its vaults and has a thuggish reputation among the press. Now lowering the drawbridge, they coughed up the keys to the kingdom for Gabler, who enjoyed complete access to the Disney Archives.

The resulting work, seven years in the making, is a revelatory portrait of a visionary who would create one of the world's most powerful business enterprises. Though, as Gabler ably illustrates, Disney never set out to get rich. To him, money was a means to further his next venture, and the next. To pursue his then-ground-breaking efforts (the endless list includes Snow White and Fantasia), Disney was forever juggling finances. It was only with Disneyland, and the park's synergistic ties to TV (which also enshrined the movies and merchandising) that he became wealthy.

From a hard times childhood, that nonetheless left him with idyllic, lasting memories he would recreate in his nostalgic live-action movies and at his park (especially via Main Street, U.S.

A.), to his adventures in animation (including the bumpy business side of movie-making), to the development of his studio and theme park kingdoms, Disney examines its subject with a balance of insight, awe and empathy.

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