They Drew as They Pleased – The Hidden Art of Disney’s Early Renaissance: The 1970s and 1980s is a seriously hefty coffee table book, big enough to go along with its seriously hefty title.
The fifth volume in a series by Ghez highlighting the art work of specific films and legendary Disney artists, this book focuses on the era that includes The Fox and The Hound, Robin Hood, The Aristocats and The Sword in the Stone. They aren’t the most popular films that Disney ever produced, but Ghez is an author who clearly loves what he does and loves those movies too. It really shows. Sometimes books like this have clearly been put together by someone detached from the subject, but Ghez is a long time Disney historian and his enthusiasm shines through.
Of course, the most important part of any book like this is the quality of the art that fills the pages, and any Disney fan would be very pleased with this. The animators it focuses on, Ken Anderson and Mel Shaw, were masters of their trade. From character sketches to landscapes, there’s something here for everyone. My favourite pages are Anderson’s early drawings of Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, where he compares the tiger to Basil Rathbone, and his large collection of Robin Hood character sketches.
A strength of this book is that it does focus on the films through the lens of Anderson and Shaw’s work, diving deep into their entire careers at Disney. It is a biography of them as much as it is a book of art, and I really appreciate the attention to detail. Half of the fun of books like this is following the process of sketch to screen, and by making the men behind the drawings very real, it really adds to the story. Ghez isn’t the best biographer I’ve ever come across – he likes to list a lot of names, for a start – but the intention is clear and the information is mostly very interesting, even if it takes a bit of deciphering and moving past some of the things we don’t really need to know.
One more detail that impressed me is that there are pages of drawings that don’t relate to any successful Disney production, but were important to Anderson and Shaw. The best page of all is a piece by Shaw of a ship for an abandoned project called The Hero From Otherwhere. It is the inclusion of things like this which elevate the book above standard Disney merchandise and move it into more serious historical study of an art form.
Review copy provided
A little bit too heavy sometimes on the details, this is a gorgeous book that will leave fans wanting more.