Magic Kingdom CL

Steven Watts, Author
Steven Watts, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $30 (608p) ISBN 978-0-395-83587-6
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
At least a dozen biographies and biographically oriented treatments of Disney and his empire, ranging from the studio-sanctioned to the scathing, have appeared in the 31 years since his death at 64. Watts, a professor of history at the University of Missouri, offers a cultural study in hybrid biographical form that straddles the pros and cons of the Disney impact. As has been observed many times, Disney's mythic small-town America and its idealized middle-class values, symbolized by Disneyland's pseudo-1890s Main Street, USA, was an exercise in sentimental populist optimism. His Midwestern boyhood became in memory the ethical model he would articulate in film, then in TV and theme parks. In the process, shows Watts, he exploited consumerism with a multiplicity of tie-ins, persuading buyers to pay homage through their pockets to the idealized Disney image of themselves. One critic saw Disney in his most influential years as ""America's foremost dispenser of placebos."" Whatever his tinkering with the American psyche, his success was sweeping, but Watts's chronicle suffers from the repetitions of his analytical method, and stops at Disney's death. Alternately tyrannical and avuncular, high-minded and folksy, Disney himself, in Watts's lens, embodies the contradictions of his legacy. Photos. (Jan.)
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