Nine Old Men. Sleeping Beauty. Old school Pirates of the Caribbean.
If these keywords are incepting some warm and fuzzy feels inside you, then you need to seriously consider this book. It’s Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man from our friends at Disney Publishing. It’s a beautiful, high-quality commemoration of one of the most influential figures in the history of Disney’s Golden Era.
Marc Davis was one of Disney Animation’s “Nine Old Men”, a legendary group of animators who worked during the Golden Era of Walt Disney Animation. Davis animated several iconic characters like Maleficent and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Mr. Toad, Alice, Cinderella, Tinker Bell, and Cruella De Vil. But he also did story work for Walt Disney and eventually worked as an Imagineer at the Disney Parks. Because of his versatility, Walt Disney called Davis his “Renaissance Man” (a term describing someone who knows a little bit of everything and contributes to multiple fields).
Because the book is more of a visual biography than a straight-up “Art of…” book, don’t expect a comprehensive volume of just Davis’ animation work. You’ll find galleries taken from his sketchbooks and teaching days. There are also many pieces of concept art and technical drawings for classic park rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the Jungle Cruise (to name just a few). And there’s a cool section featuring paintings and drawings that Davis did on the side.
Every section of the book is introduced by a famous figure from Disney Animation like Andreas Deja and Don Hahn. The whole thing is a warm, loving memoir of Marc Davis’ contribution to Disney animation. You’ll also find a chapter dedicated to Davis’ wife Alice, who did design work for Walt Disney Animation and the parks. The animation industry was clearly not friendly to women back in the day, and the book gives her some overdue recognition.
Quality-wise, Disney Publishing doesn’t disappoint. The images are well-formatted to where if you want to just glance at Davis’ drawings without having to read a bunch of text, heck you can do that. But of course, the hard-core Disney fan will eat the whole thing up. The pages are durable and strike the right balance between weight and (lack of) gloss. A few of the drawings from Sleeping Beauty are just stuff we’ve all seen before online, but it’s nice to see them up close in printed form.
In conclusion, Mark Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is a great biographical art book that is both informative and captivating. If you’re a Disneyphile who adores the classics, or if you just want to learn more about the Golden Era of Disney Animation, you gotta pick this book up. I consider it an essential Disney book along with The Illusion of Life.
Mason is a rigger/animator at Triseum Games. He's also a grad student at Texas A&M working on his Master's thesis. He loves talking about animation, watching old Godzilla flicks, listening to 80s music, and drawing cartoons.