Friday 30 November 2012


I came across these 'dried fruits' whilst on holiday on Kalymnos and wondered whether they might give a piquant Greecian (via Bombay) twist to this year's Christmas pudding...

Tuesday 27 November 2012


I was idly chit-chatting with my friend Zoe the other month when I strayed into the realms of 'confessional'...

As a kid back in the 'fifties, I told her, I collected plastic dinosaurs given away in packets of Shreddies breakfast cereal. However, on entering that period of life laughingly referred to as 'man's estate', I was – like so many others – urged to 'put away childish things'. The result? I was forced to donate my paleontological collection to some distant, uncaring younger family member!

I occasionally ease the hurt of this loss, I admitted, by viewing surviving dinosaurs roaming e-bay and seeking to justify the notion that I might, one day, expend the effort and expenditure required to resurrect my collection...

A few weeks later, courtesy of the saintly Zoe, this FABULOUS MONSTER arrived...

It is, as all dino-fans will know, a Dimetrodon and its homecoming has been amazing when one considers that it is, in reality, only a 4 cm-long piece of plastic!

I can vividly remember carrying home the Shreddies packets from our local grocer's shop and excitedly rummaging amongst the little malted squares in search of the prehistoric denizen: would it be a Brontosaur or a Plesiosaur or, that most-desired-of-all, a Tyrannosaur? 

When I had assembled a reasonably-sized zoo, I took inspiration from the dinosaurs dotted around the nearby Crystal Palace Gardens, and created my own Jurassic Park in one of my Mum's soup tureens, using bits of plant and stones from the garden. You can read about the Crystal Palace dinosaurs (and the fate of my prehistoric landscape) here!

The complete set of Shreddies monsters looks like this...

 So... only nineteen more to go!

Sunday 25 November 2012


On a recent visit to Salisbury, Sheila and Roger picked up this edible souvenir: a 'Clotted Cream Flavour Fudge Bar' which comes 'as recommended by WOLFIE the Salisbury Cathedral Cat' who is engagingly featured on the wrapper...


On the back of said wrapper we read:

That being so, how much confidence can we place in the recommendation of Wolfie?

Or has Wolfie already passed on to a more celestial abode as a result of excessive fudge consumption?!

Joking apart, after a little research, I discovered the following:
Although domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) possess an otherwise functional sense of taste, they, unlike most mammals, do not prefer and may be unable to detect the sweetness of sugars. One possible explanation for this behavior is that cats lack the sensory system to taste sugars and therefore are indifferent to them.
You (or your cat) can read more here!

Thursday 22 November 2012


On 6 March 1943, The Saturday Evening Post published a painting by the great American pop artist, Norman Rockwell.

The first of four 'Freedom' pictures by Rockwell, it was entitled 'Freedom from Want' and became the archetypal image representing Thanksgiving...
This is not the first time this iconic image has appeared on this blog and I am reproducing it again today to bring Thanksgiving Greetings to all my friends on the other side of the Atlantic.   

It was later used as a US propaganda poster with the slogan: OURS... to fight for FREEDOM FROM WANT.

It is said that Rockwell fussed over this painting for a long time, concerned that it would convey overabundance rather than the theme of freedom from want.

Rockwell was well known for using friends and family as models for his paintings and the Rockwell family cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton, was the model for the grandmother serving the turkey.  "I painted the turkey in Freedom From Want on Thanksgiving Day," wrote Rockwell, "Mrs Wheaton, our cook, cooked it, I painted it and we ate it."
I love Rockwell's wonderful composition – back-lit from the window with the light bouncing off the white tablecloth and best china – and, in particular, the way in which the senior couple are focused on the placing of the turkey and maintaining the order and ritual of the table.

I also enjoy the way in which the family circle is so intimate and tightly knit that the rest of the diners are only partially glimpsed. it is genius on Rockwell's part that they are are all learning forward in animated conversation with one another – with the one exception of the guy in the bottom right hand corner who is looking directly at the artist and, therefore, the viewer, and so makes us a guest at the table.

It also gives me an excuse to also blog again a delightful pastiche of Rockwell's original painting by a gifted Disney artist and illustrator, Charles Boyer, whom I had the pleasure of meeting some years ago...

Boyer's Disney-version of Rockwell is, of course, kitsch - but it is, surely, down-home-honest-to-goodness kitsch! And - on a day like today - I don't really need any excuse for juxtaposing the work of two of America's greatest popular artists.

Disney wasn't the first or last to parody the Rockwell painting and among those who have dragged out the turkey are the Muppets, the Simpsons, the superheroes and the cast of characters in Modern Family. Here are a few Thanksgiving meals to enjoy...


For anyone who'd like to know a little more about the festival of Thanksgiving observed by Britain's former colonists, you can read more about its origins on former post.


Bottom photography by Louis Stein

Tuesday 20 November 2012


The Chris Beetles Gallery's annual The Illustrators exhibition is claimed to be the world's biggest single event for fans and collectors of cartoons and illustrations and this year features a staggering 800+ works ranging across three centuries of memorable British art.

Many of my favourite artists are generously featured in the exhibition, among them John Tenniel via E H Shepard, Ronald Searle, Eric Fraser, Charles Keeping to Anthony Browne, but perhaps the most delightful aspect is the bicentennial tribute to the genius of Charles Dickens: a collection of almost 60 pieces of art illustrating what are among the greatest novels in the English language featuring some of the most engaging characters – comic, scary, sentimental – to engage the imaginations of generations of readers.

Here are just a few...

Mervyn Peake - Bleak House

  Edward Ardizzone - David Copperfield

H M Brock - The Cricket on the Hearth

Ron Embleton - The PIckwick Papers

Eric Fraser - A Child's History of England

Harry Furniss - The Old Curiosity Shop

Harry Furniss - Oliver Twist

Ronald Searle - A Christmas Carol

Arthur Rackham - A Christmas Carol

Ron Embleton - A Christmas Carol

Claude Shepperson - The Haunted Man

J F H Bacon - Dombey & Son

The Illustrators 2012: The British Art of Illustration 1837-2012 remains on show at Chris Beetles Gallery until 3 January 2013

8 & 10 Ryder Street, St James's, London, SW1Y 6QB
Telephone: 020 7839 7551

Gallery Opening Times: 
Monday - Saturday, 10:00 - 17:30

Accompanying the exhibition is a 272-page catalogue with over 400 full colour images, which – for £20 – is both an engaging anthology of great illustrative art and a lasting record of an immensely impressive show.

Above illustration: 'Charles Dickens: A Tribute to Genius' by Stephen Reid

Sunday 18 November 2012


Since today is Mickey Mouse's 84th birthday (he made his screen debut in Steamboat Willie on 18 November 1928), I was trying to think of a way to mark the Mouse's special day. 

Then I remembered...

Back in the 1980s there was a great magazine called
Animator, edited by David Jefferson who, in just a handful of years, took it from a cyclostyled fanzine to a highly polished publication containing reviews and articles on many aspects of animation and the work of legendary animators.

Having written regularly for
Animator, I was delighted to discover that David is now busily uploading the magazine onto a dedicated section of his website.

Now, it so happens that in issue No. 23 of Animator, published in Summer 1988, I filed an exclusive interview with Mickey Mouse to mark his then 60th birthday.

Quite a lot has changed in the Mouse's life in the succeeding 22 years (he's made two more movies –
The Prince and the Pauper and The Runaway Brain – and is currently making a foray into the world of computer gaming with Epic Mickey. Nevertheless, as a snapshot of how he viewed life then, it may still be of interest – or, at least, amusement!

So, as Mickey enters his 85th year, here's a bit of celebratory nostalgia...


On 18 November 1988, Mickey Mouse celebrated his 60th birthday
and granted a rare interview to Brian Sibley

He stands beside the pool, looking rather taller than I had imagined and casually dressed in slacks and a Hawaiian shirt. "Hi, there!" he calls in a sharp Brooklyn accent that takes me somewhat by surprise.

As I walk to meet him, he extends a white-gloved hand in welcome and gives me a broad, beaming smile. That famous Mickey Mouse smile. He grasps my hand with a firm grip and I can’t help noticing that he wears a Ronald Reagan wrist-watch.

"Come over to the yard, and I'll fix you a drink," he smiles and leads the way across a neatly manicured lawn to an Italianate patio behind the imposing pseudo-gothic villa that has never been listed in The Starland Guide to Hollywood. Motioning me to sit in one of the white cane loungers dotted around beneath the palm trees, he goes to the drinks-trolley.

"Too early for a Sorcerer’s Apprentice?" he asks. I have to confess that I've never heard of the drink. He gives me a faintly patronizing smile and begins emptying the contents of various bottles into a cocktail-shaker. "They invented it for me at Musso & Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard, back in 1940," he explains and pours out a large glass of vivid lilac-coloured liquid and hands it to me.

I take a sip and experience a sensation not dissimilar to a heavy blow on the back of the head. "Helluva kick, hasn't it?" Incapable of reply, I catch my breath and loosen my tie. "Have to watch them though," he adds, "I introduced Goofy to them and ever since it's been like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend over at his place. Tragic!"

Sadly shaking his head, he tops up my glass. "I suppose you'll be wanting the usual sixtieth-birthday interview?" he asks, and I glimpse a hint of boredom behind the smile. Not waiting for a reply, he opens a can of Coke and goes on: "I bet I can even guess what questions you're going to ask! 'How does it feel to have been a star for six decades? What's the formula for your success? Have you a recipe for a happy life?' etc, etc."

Undaunted, I open my notebook. Perhaps we might start with his first great movie? "You really want to talk about Steamboat Willie?" he asks.

"God, that was a terrible picture! It was a rip-off of a Buster Keaton movie if I remember rightly; and when I wasn't steering the paddle-steamer up-stream – which I did with a kind of reckless abandon – I was improvising a musical revue in the hold, using live animals for instruments! It's a wonder the Animal League didn't try to get it banned! If I'd been rather more established, I'd have told Walt just how crass and vulgar I thought it was. But the fact is, I needed the break. I'd probably have never got started at all if there hadn't been some kind of dispute going on at the Disney Studio. I never knew all the ins and outs of it, but there was this guy called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who was making pictures for Walt at the time. They were pretty crude really and no sound, of course. But Oswald got to be a bit of a star and began having run-ins with the Boss. The upshot was he quit and went to work for Walter Lantz – you know, the fellow with the woodpecker – and that made way for me." He pauses and looks thoughtful. "I wonder what happened to Oswald?"

Shrugging off the thought, he offers me a dish of Mickey Mouse jelly-shapes. I refuse. "Hideous, aren't they? Still, I get free supplies for doing an endorsement. Sometimes I think I've sold out too much to Disney, I mean, you wouldn't believe some of the things I've done for money. Do you know, in 1938, I was even advertising Latexeen Baby Pants – 'The most comfortable I've ever worn, says Mickey Mouse!' Isn't that gross? I've never been proud though, probably because I can still remember what it was like to go barefoot and hungry. But the money I've made for people, and not just Disney, either."

"Look at all those Mickey Mouse watches: it's said that Macy's sold 11,000 in just one day! You name it, I've appeared on it – breakfast cereal cartons, milk bottles, toffee-wrappers (I read somewhere that a guy in your country sold 150 tons of Mickey Mouse toffee in a week – that's one hell-of-a-lot of toffee!) And I once posed for a Cartier pin, studded with real diamonds they tell me. I didn’t get one, just a few dollars sitting-fee. Still, my philosophy is: 'Be grateful for what you can get!' After all, this Beverly Hills lifestyle doesn't come cheap you know, and – contrary to what you might think – Disney have never been very good payers."

I express some surprise at this; after all, surely they owe their success to Mickey? "Oh, yeah, I know that now, but back in 1928 when I signed the contract, I didn't think much more ahead than wondering where the next meal was coming from! I'm not complaining. I had a lot of fun. But I worked damn hard too. We did long hours in those days. And we did all our own stunts! When I look back, I don't know how I didn't end up in Forest Lawn! In one picture I'd be fighting fires, in the next I'd be hunting big game – with real big game!"

"I remember in one of my earliest pictures, Plane Crazy, I was supposed to be imitating Charles Lindbergh, who'd just made the first solo flight from New York to Paris. True I only had to fly round the farmyard set on the Disney back-lot, but the plane turned out to be a real death-trap built out of old orange-crates and powered by a tightly-wound sausage-dog! Even Lindy would have had his work cut out flying that! Yes, sir, mountain-climbing, whaling, trapping, ghost-busting; you name it, I did it!"

His eyes sparkle, and I know that – for a moment – he's back there, in front of the cameras and loving every moment of it. Then he sighs. "I used to think I was pretty well set up for life – especially when I won the Oscar in 1932 – but then along came this aggressive bit-player called Donald Duck and, before I knew what was happening, he was getting star-billing, number-one dressing-room, the lot! Don't get me wrong, Donald's got talent all right, if you like that kind of anarchic comedy, which I guess the public did – but, well, it's not what I call acting…"

He offers me another drink which I decline, but which he pours anyway. "I suppose I should have seen the signs… I began having to share movies with Goofy and the Duck. Before I knew where I was, they were getting all the real comic business. Take a picture like Tugboat Mickey. Name in the title, right? So what do I have to do? I'll tell you, I have to hurl buckets of water overboard – wait for it – into the wind! No one would think I began my career as a river-pilot!"

With an ironic laugh he bites the ears off a Mickey Mouse jelly-shape. "Anyway, all that's blood under the bridge, and I wasn't the only one to suffer. In fact, I hung in there longer than some. Remember Horace Horsecollar? And Clarabelle Cow? They were the first to go, along with Clara Cluck the Operatic Hen. Perhaps you don’t know her, she was the Kiri Te Kanawa of her day. She still does the odd commercial. If anyone wants a singing chicken, they send for Clara. But it's a far cry from Aida!"

I ask if he still sees any of the other members of the Disney stock- company? "Oh, sure. I play poker once a week with Pegleg Pete, who got out on parole last year – though he cheats like hell! I get the occasional round of golf with Horace (who's running a stud-farm) and the Goof (when he’s sober). And once in a while I shoot a game of pool with Jiminy Cricket. I’m afraid I still find him a bit Billy Grahamish, if you know what I mean, but there's no doubting his heart's in the right place."

What about the other Disney mice? "To be honest, we don't mix much. Jaq and Gus are quite amusing, I suppose, but I can never understand a word they say and they’re pretty thick with Cinderella and that royal set, which was never my scene. As for Timothy Mouse, well I always felt that if there'd been any justice in the world, I'd have got that part in Dumbo, so there's not a great deal of love lost between us."

And Minnie? Are they, I enquire, just as happy as ever? He laughs. "Well, of course, it’s only a professional relationship. 'Very good friends', as they say. But nothing romantic. Minnie's not really my kind of girl – I go more for the Daryl Hannah type."

But was Minnie a good actress? "One of the best, I mean the best. Ever see one of our pictures where she was terrorized by Pegleg Pete? God, could she scream! Fay Wray hadn't got a patch on her! But we've always tried to keep our private life, private. Actually, Minnie's happily settled with a guy called Jerry, who used to be in a cat-and-mouse act over at MGM."

And what about Mickey? "No comment!"

He pours me yet another Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and I summon up the nerve to mention something I've been wondering about for some time – the voice. "Not quite the falsetto you expected, eh?" he laughs. "No, well, you see I never used my own voice in films. Walt didn't think it sounded 'mousey' enough.

When I started out, of course, movies were silent, so no one cared a hoot what sort of voice you had. Then that idiot Jolson opened his mouth in The Jazz Singer and it was all-singing, all-talking from then on. I'd made three pictures by that time, but Walt decided to make them over for sound, starting with Steamboat Willie. Since he wasn't too keen on my voice, he came up with that crazy squeaky accent and dubbed it himself. These things go on all the time in Hollywood – take Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady – and, anyway, it's the acting that counts. After Walt packed it in, a guy called Jimmy Macdonald did the voice. We worked together for years. Nice man.

So who provides Mickey’s voice now? "Some kid named Wayne Allwine who keeps ringing me up to ask my advice on how to say certain words and phrases. As if I knew! I couldn't speak like that to save my life!" A Snoopy telephone on the pool-side table rings. "That’s probably him now!"

While he answers the phone, I browse through an old cuttings-album he hands me. It is packed with pictures of Mickey in some of his many roles: song-and-dance man, ring-master, magician, explorer, conductor, flying-ace, car-mechanic and giant-killer. The phone-call ends and he replaces the receiver. "I was wrong. It was the City Dog Pound. They've picked up Pluto again. Dumb mutt's always in some sort of trouble. This time he was digging up Joan Collins' flower-beds! I'll have to go down and bail him out when we're through here. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?"

I mention a picture in the album showing Mickey with Dopey and Grumpy outside the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. "Oh, that must have been 'thirty-seven, the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I gate-crashed! Walt and I were going through a rather rocky spell around then. Donald was making picture after picture and I was lucky if I made one or two a year. So I got a bit crabby and Walt tried to placate me with a part in this musical extravaganza he was working on at the time. Personally, I wasn’t keen."

Would he rather not discuss it? "Heck, no! I'd already done several musicals for Disney, of course. One of the best was my first film in colour, The Band Concert, made in 1935. That was really wild! I had to conduct an open-air performance of the 'William Tell Overture' in the teeth of a raging tornado that carried us all over the place before dropping us in a tree! At the end, I wanted to say: 'Pluto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!' but Walt wouldn't hear of it."

"This other musical, however, was something else altogether! I had to wear an outrageous costume that, frankly, made me look a bit of a faggot, and do a kind of aquatic ballet with several hundred extremely temperamental broomsticks. They got in some Polish guy with a funny name to conduct the music – all hellishly highbrow – and there was a lot of other weird stuff in the film as well. I haven't seen it in years, but I remember a bunch of extras from The Lost World, some knock-kneed ostriches, a lot of very unpleasant goblins from Russia – this was long before Gorbachov, of course – and a troupe of midgets who looked like toadstools! Walt called it Fantasia. I never did find out why. They tell me it's considered a classic today. No accounting for tastes!"

I ask about his eventual retirement from movies in 1953. "I'd made a picture called The Simple Things, it was set in Cape Cod or somewhere, with Pluto and I on a fishing trip. Sure was a boring movie! Pluto got most of the laughs, of course, and even the seagulls were funnier than I was! I just knew it was time to chuck the whole thing in."

"I did work in television for a few years in the 'fifties, hosting The Mickey Mouse Club five nights a week. Mostly it featured a mob of frighteningly talented kids wearing Mickey Mouse-eared hats. What was really cranky was the end of the shows when they all sat round singing a kind of hymn to me: 'M – I – C (See you real soon!) K – E – Y (Why? Because we like you!) M – O – U – S – E !' I mean that’s bizarre!"

So what brought him back to movies in the 'eighties? "What d'you think? Money! It was 1983 and the picture was called Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Same old story: name in the title, next to nothing to do on screen. Really it was a vehicle for Donald’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck."

And how like his Dickensian namesake was he? "A tight-wad, you mean? Hell, no! It's just an act – he modelled himself on Jack Benny, I think; and like Jack, he's generosity itself. Rich as Croesus – made his money in comic books, I believe – but he’d give you the earth. This cocktail set came from him and that’s a real ruby on the end of the swizzle-stick. Anyway, the best thing about the film was that for the first time I got more lines than Donald Duck. He was livid! Didn’t speak to me for a whole year. Best year of my life!"

What does he think of present-day movies. "Not much. But then I guess I'm just getting old. A lot of it seems to be the kind of Spielberg-Lucas space-fantasy stuff, which I'm afraid I don't go for at all. I guested in the latest Disney-Spielberg movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I even thought that was a bit off-the-wall. Heaven only knows how that Rabbit's become such a mega- star. Seemed like a bag of nerves to me. Even Bugs Bunny found him difficult to get on with him. Perhaps he's a distant relative of Oswald!"

And will Mickey be making more movies? "Who knows? Maybe. McDuck would like to invest in a picture, so I could probably raise the cash. I've talked with Willie the Whale about a remake of Moby Dick – Ray Bradbury would write the screenplay for us like a shot – but it's probably a non-starter. After I saw Ruthless People, I did think of doing something along similar lines – Mean Mice or whatever – but, let's face it, Minnie is no Bette Midler!"

Mickey looks at his Ronald Reagan wrist-watch and sighs. "You’ll have to excuse me now, but I really do have to get down to that Dog Pound." I point out that we haven't talked about his birthday. "Who cares? After all, what's so special about being sixty? I've got more than a touch of rheumatics – Doc's recommended me to try green-lipped mussels, would you believe? – my eyesight's not what it was and if it wasn't for Grecian 2000 I'd be greyer than John Forsyth! Why not come back when I'm seventy or eighty or as old as Bob Hope?"

As I rise to leave, I hesitantly ask whether I might have a signed photograph – for my children, of course. He smiles, but shakes his head. "It's not allowed, I'm afraid. Studio rules. Besides, I've lousy handwriting – one of the problems of having to wear these stupid gloves all the time! Anyway, the kids wouldn't appreciate it. A signed photo of C3PO maybe, but not Mickey Mouse! We might as well face it, kids aren't what they were!" Then, with the flicker of a smile, he adds, "But then, who is?"

Thursday 15 November 2012


With the first of The Hobbit movies due to premiere next month and thirteen dwarfs (or as Tolkien insisted on spelling them, 'dwarves') set to become movie stars, this is the perfect opportunity to recall a cinematic event that took place 75 years ago...

Despite only featuring seven dwarves (or, as Walt preferred, 'dwarfs'), Disney's first-ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was ground-breaking and epoch-making.

It may be that youngsters watching the latest Pixar film for the umpteenth time would think it quaint, old-fashioned, even seriously out-dated, but, the fact is, the picture which premiered in Hollywood on 21 December 1937, is the  true ancestor of every animated feature made since.

That is why it is the subject of a major exhibition –  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic– that goes on show today at The Walt Disney Family Museum in The Presidio of San Francisco.

Accompanying that exhibition is not one but two books devoted to the movie by film and animation historian, J B Kaufman. The first of these volumes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Art and Creation of Walt Disney's Classic Animated Film (below) is essentially a catalogue to the exhibition, but if you haven't seen the companion volume (of which more anon), you would easily categorise it as it a major Disney art book in its own right!

Essentially, it is – or, at least, I imagine – pretty much like taking the exhibits home with you: beautifully reproduced and lavishly displayed examples of Snow White's rich treasury of art..

Turning the pages, one is struck by the astonishing extent of the preparation and detailing undertaken by the personnel at the Disney Studio in embarking on a project that, at the time, was considered so revolutionary that Hollywood dismissively dubbed it 'Disney's Folly'.

It is difficult, today, to understand not just how innovative it was, but also what daring Walt Disney displayed in taking the decision to move from making short animated films lasting 7-minutes to one that would run for twelve times that length. There were nay-sayers who argued that it would be impossible for audiences to sit through an 83-minute cartoon film because the colour and movement would simply be too much for their eyes!

Undaunted, Disney personally bankrolled the venture (selling his car, mortgaging his home) and so infected his artists with his passionately held fervour that they committed themselves to his seemingly crackpot vision. He was ably supported by a talented and dedicated staff including the gifted Joe Grant who defined Snow White's cruel nemesis, the Wicked Queen and her homicidal alter ego the Hag...

As a result, within just nine years from Mickey Mouse's rickety-rackety black-and-white debut in Steamboat Willie, the stars of Hollywood turned out in force for the the premiere of the first feature-length animated film with colour and synchronised sound.

In retelling the Grimm Brothers fairy-tale, Disney continued the oral tradition by which this and other stories had been handed down across the generations, adding his own embellishments such as Snow White's Cinderella-like slavery in the Wicked Queen's castle and, for the first time, giving the dwarfs individual personalities and names that defined their character...

At the same time, however, he indelibly stamped his imprint on the story for all eternity, so that anyone now making an image of Snow White finds it almost impossible not to clothe her in a yellow dress with a black bodice, a white collar and blue-and-red puff-sleeves.

What Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved beyond doubt was that animated characters – creations of nothing more than pencil, ink and paint – were capable of embodying human emotions: not simply of making people laugh (as the cartoon capers of all the early animation studios could do) but also of moving audiences to care for – even shed tears over – the celluloid actors.

It also proved that Walt Disney and his artists had full command of the craft of storytelling. Snow White is one of the most economic films ever made, using its songs to help define character and advance the story.

From the moment that the Queen's Huntsman takes the Princess into the forest and, refusing to kill her, sends her running for her life to the moment when the Dwarfs find her dead from the Queen's poison apple is, incredibly, a period of just 24-hoursd; and yet, the character relationships are so strongly drawn that it feels as if Snow White has been living with the Dwarfs for many weeks.  

All this and more is recounted in J B Kaufman's second book, The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney's Sow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

This weighty, large-format, 320-page tome aims to be the last word on Miss White and her diminutive friends: tracing the origins of the story back to its Germanic origins and examining the stage and film precursors to the Disney version, one of which, made in 1916 and starring Marguerite Clark, had made a powerful impact on the young Walt Disney. "It was," he later recalled, "one of the first big feature pictures I'd ever seen. I thought it was the perfect story. It had the sympathetic dwarfs... It had the heavy, it had the prince and the girl. The romance. I just thought it was a perfect story."

Kaufman charts Walt's all-consuming ambition for the project and examines the studio's early experiments at producing convincing animation of the human figure that were part of the protracted preparations for the project and which involved the studio's greatest  talents including two brilliant illustrators, Ferdinand Hovarth...

...and Gustav Tenggren who, between them, helped craft the film's 'European', Art Deco style..

Having established the history, Kaufman embarks on a detailed, scene-by-scene deconstruction of the action – including sequences that were planned, but later abandoned.

As such it is a tour de force of research and analysis, sensationally illustrated with hundreds of photographs, sketches, layouts, backgrounds and animation paintings – among them many full-page and double-page spreads. The illustrations are a combination of previously unseen art jostling with oft-reproduced images: an inevitable side-effect of dealing with such a famous and repeatedly celebrated film.

Disney art has always been well served by the coffee-table format and this volume is no exception: animation fans will spend as long poring over the superbly reproduced art as in reading the text.

Kaufman is, I think, needlessly harsh in his judgement of my old friend Adriana Caselotti, whose operatic trills he condemns but which were as vital a part of Snow White's screen persona as the live action footage filmed by Marge Belcher (later Marge Champion) who acted out all the heroine's movements for the animators.

The author gives full credit to the various artists and animators whose genius was subsumed into the 'Walt Disney' signature, while acknowledging the fact that it was Walt's driving vision and shot-by-shot involvement in the scripting and animation that guarantreed the film's success.

The book concludes with the story what happened following the film's tumultuously-acclaimed opening: the Oscars (one full-size and seven miniatures); the film's re-releases, world-wide distribution and marketing and its eventual restoration.

The books are fondly introduced by Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, through whose devoted energies, the Disney Family Museum came into being.

Here she is with J B Kaufman discussing the publication...

I have a couple of quibbles: firstly, as might be expected, there's a measure of pictorial duplication between the two volumes which means that the true devotee will find it difficult not to feel an overwhelming urge to purchase both, only to then experience some frustration at finding so many repeated images – all the more so if they are also aware of what has not been included.

Secondly, for a volume that clearly sets out to be a definitive work, the 'Bibliography' in the book's final 34-page 'Resources' section ought, more accurately, to have be called a 'Select Bibliography', since it fails to list a number of major works.

Obviously, the first omission I spotted was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Making of the Classic Film, (right), written by Richard Holliss and myself twenty-five years ago to celebrate the movie's 50th anniversary, which featured the first publication of a number of the pieces of art now reprised by Mr Kaufman.

Initially, I was apt to put the absence of our volume down to a paranoid
belief that Holliss and Sibley just didn't meet the necessary academic criteria, but then I began to notice that  other significant volumes were also conspicuously not there...

Where were (left) Christian Renault's Les Heroines Disney? Or Pierre Lambert's superb Walt Disney L'Age D'Or and the same author's lavish Blanche-Neige that featured much of the same imagery as is now to be found in these new books...

I could go on and point out that also not listed are R D Feild's seminal 1942 work The Art of Walt Disney, Bob Thomas' The Art of Animation or Leonard Maltin's The Disney Films as well as any number of significant periodical articles, suffice it to say that any future students of Disney's first great classic, will need considerably more than the frustratingly meagre reading-list provided by Mr Kaufman.

Nevertheless, the books will, for many, be a revelation and a way into appreciating the fact that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was an achievement of such courage and audaciousness as places it not just among the greatest films of all time but also among the greatest art masterpieces of the twentieth century.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic remains on show until 14 April 2013 at The Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery Street, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129

Opening hours:
Wednesday-Monday: 10:00-18:00
Last ticket sale and entry is 16:45
Closed every Tuesday

Tickets can be booked in advance

You will find a fascinating treasure-trove of information about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – the film and its many subsequent manifestations – on the blogsite Flimic Light: Snow White Archive.

And, finally, here's one of the pieces of Snow White art from my own collection...

You will find others on my companion blog, Decidedly Disney.