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

Chicago Review. Jul. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781641607193. $30. FILM
There are countless histories of Walt Disney Studios, but this latest by animation historian Friedman (The Art of Blue Sky Studios) is a fascinating look at Disney’s Burbank animation studio during the five-week animators’ strike of 1941 (which took place during the production of Dumbo). Friedman provides an engaging history of the Disney studio from the perspective of its overworked artists who churned out short films as well as celebrated features. He focuses particularly on lead animator Art Babbitt, one of the studio’s highest-paid employees, who nevertheless stood on the picket line with his coworkers, many of whom were being paid far less for the same work. Meanwhile, Walt Disney was stunned by his animators’ demands and tried to break the strike by allying with Willie Bioff, a “two-bit wise guy” from Chicago who (for a healthy fee) had been manipulating the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to protect the film industry against strikes. Relationships were destroyed during the dispute, Friedman writes, but the strike soon ended in a labor victory that forced Disney to recognize an animators’ union.
VERDICT A fascinating look at how the Disney magic happened, and how close it came to tumbling down.
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