Picks and Pans Review: Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince

updated 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Marc Eliot

The subtitle of this revisionist biography says it all, at least as far as the author is concerned. Eliot, whose previous books include Down Thunder Road, a 1992 Bruce Springsteen bio, reveals the warts, but not much else, of the man who built a Hollywood studio and the world's best-known amusement parks on the back of an animated mouse.

Eliot's big shocker, for which he makes a relatively convincing case via documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is that Disney was an informant for the FBI, reporting on suspected communist sympathizers in Hollywood. He also tells us that Disney groundlessly worried all his life that he had been adopted, that he drank too much, suffered impotency, hogged creative credit, threw giant temper tantrums and was distant with his wife and two daughters (or, alternately, smothered his kids with excessive attention).

Eliot, whose prose never rises above the pedestrian, fails to create a full portrait of Disney, much less of those surrounding him or of the times. What proves most irritating and least persuasive is Eliot's constant psychoanalyzing: "Made during the time when both of Walt's parents died, Bambi expresses a melancholic desire on Disney's part to return to his childhood and revisit the animals who first stirred his artistic soul. The climactic fire that destroys Bambi's forest is, in effect, Walt's acknowledgment of that impossibility." And you thought it was just about a baby deer. (Birch Lane, $21.95)

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