Home Cartoonist Hard work, unions and the men behind the cartoons | Columnists

Hard work, unions and the men behind the cartoons | Columnists



You never missed a chance to catch the mouse.

You may have seen it on TV as a kid, with Annette or Darlene, Britney or Justin. You’ve seen it on the big screen, in books and comics, on watches and beach towels. The mouse has existed your whole life, even when – as in the new book “Disney’s Uprising: The Great Labor War of the Golden Age of Animation” by Jake S. Friedman – it’s a mouse in trouble.

When you think back to the life of Walter Disney, you can see how an idyllic youth, his mercurial father, poverty and loss shaped him. These things prompted Disney to focus on a new way to make a living: young Walt loved to draw.

His father, however, thought Walt was “wasting his time”, that the cartoons wouldn’t pay the bills, and the Disney senior insisted that Walt go to work in the failing family business. Instead, Walt, who had fallen in love with the new animation medium and landed a job as an illustrator at an art studio, began thinking about owning his own animation studio. He went into debt several times to do it, which was another harbinger of things to come: as an adult, once Disney had an idea, he would move mountains to make sure it become reality.

You could almost say that Arthur Babbitt’s mother was an activist.

She taught her sons to knit for soldiers in World War I, she collected food for the poor, and celebrated the armistice with a one-woman parade. His “all for one” attitude shaped the Art, but he also realized he had to make his own success. As a young man, he learned the animation business in a small studio, grabbing everything he had; when he landed at the Disney Productions Studio, he clawed even harder and soared to the top to become someone Walt Disney was willing to pay very, very well.

But Disney had made some stumbles in the years leading up to World War II, and there were grumblings in its ranks. Rumors swirled about canceled bonuses and upcoming layoffs – then Art heard whispers of unionization at the studio…

When you think of Disney World or Disneyland, it can be hard to separate the happy thoughts from the thoughts of those people behind the scenes who make it that way. But that’s okay – “The Disney Revolt” does it for you.

It takes a (pleasant) while to get there, though, and you won’t mind. Author Jake S. Friedman begins his story with deep regret and overview, making readers eager to watch the growth of the two main protagonists as the twin subjects of labor and unions lurk in the background with a tinge of sinister 1940s crime. Then you’ll see how it all went wrong and how trouble arose along with the making of beloved childhood movies.

Another happiness: “The Disney Revolt” is easy to read with its business side and its trip to the past. If you are interested in labor relations or if you have always been a fan of The Mouse, this book will trap you.