I’d like to kick off a new semi-regular feature here at the Angry Men, a celebration of Americans of all different stripes and backgrounds who have all, in their way, made America and the world a better place. They will be politicians, generals, entrepreneurs, scientists, and inventors; famous, and obscure; figures of history and thoroughly modern folks. But together they will remind us of the diversity and unity of the United States, of our greatest principles and of the great promise of America: you are free to pursue your dreams as best you can.

Without further ado, let’s raise a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to our inaugural Great American: Walter Elias Disney:

WordPress divider

The first few decades of Walt Disney’s life reads like an almost stereotypical American success story: born the son of an immigrant, growing up across the Midwest in big cities and small towns, sneaking off to World War I as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross, hustling to get started in his chosen career, getting breaks from his brother and returning the favor, and making and losing businesses and fortunes. All by the age of 33.

But in 1934, Disney did something destined to change American entertainment forever, and catapult him to new heights: he produced a full-length animated film featuring both realistic human characters and fantastic cartoon characters. This doesn’t sound like much these days, but back then it was “Disney’s Folly” because it had never been done, and conventional wisdom said it couldn’t be done. Disney bet the farm that conventional wisdom was wrong, and his competitors bet that he’d lose that farm.

Of course, as we know, Disney was right, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was wildly successful, playing to standing ovations and winning an Oscar (well, actually one large and seven small Oscars, in fact). More than a personal triumph, it ushered in the golden age of American animation, and set the stage for the staggering industry of animated features around the world. It also launched Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and bankrolled a skilled studio of master animators. Disney would go on to produce a whole cavalcade of classic animated films: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (which brought the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Wind in the Willows to many for the first time), Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and many, many more. Many did not make much money, some were quite successful, but all have endured the test of time surprisingly well and stand as a tribute to Walt Disney’s vision that rich, complex stories could be told through animation.

After the Second World War, Disney brought his vision for a child’s fantasy amusement park to life in Disneyland, setting it on a huge lot and surrounding it by one of his favorite things in the world: a train. Throughout the 1950s Disney Studios worked on Disneyland and released major live-action and animated features. Disney also turned his eyes towards the stars and worked with NASA (and Werner von Braun) to promote space travel through films.

The 1960s saw Disney at the peak of his success, with Mary Poppins sweeping box offices and Disney debuting his vision of the future at the 1964 Worlds Fair. Not content with a one-time display of that vision, he laid the plans for an expanded and enhanced Disneyland known in development as “Disney World” and sited on 27,000 acres in Florida. Although plans included an expanded amusement park (to be known as the “Magic Kingdom”), resorts, and hotels, the centerpiece was to be Disney’s vision of the perfect future community, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). In Disney’s expansive vision, EPCOT was to be a working future city, whose residents would focus on innovative science and advanced technology.

Sadly, Walt Disney would never live to see the fulfillment of this vision, as he died from lung cancer in 1966, just two years after beginning the new project. His brother Roy came out of retirement to manage the project (and company) and open the first stage of the new park, now formally called “Walt Disney World Resort” in October 1971. By December of that year, Roy too was dead.

EPCOT as envisioned by Disney never came to be, though the modern Epcot park does provide a showcase for future technologies, and embodies the spirit of international cooperation in its World Showcase. And Disney’s Celebration community, built by Disney Imagineering as a model planned community, comes closer to the original goal of EPCOT (though in a suburban rather than urban mode).

Of course, as we remember the man and his legacy we should not overlook the darker side. Walt Disney never trusted organized labor, and his prejudice led him to make unsubstantiated allegations during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. He spied on union activity for the FBI for years and may well have illegally intimidated union activists. He was, as many visionaries are, a notoriously difficult man to work with. In short, he was a man, with a full share of faults and limitations.

But he was also a visionary in the best American mode, with an optimistic and enthusiastic take on society, technology, science, and the future. He built places devoted to bringing joy to children and inspiring them to dream deeply. He gave the world the vast legacy of his dreams in film and concrete and has inspired millions around the world with a vision of pluralism, tolerance, kindness, optimism and joy. For all of these reasons, whatever his human faults and foibles, Walter Elias Disney is, indeed, one of the Best of Us.

UPDATE: Welcome Fark.com! After you read this, feel free to have a look around. You’ve probably already seen this and this, but check out this fine piece about the One Laptop per Child program, this one about that nutcase Chavez, and, of course, this classic challenge.

Think of your least favorite movie.   The worst one you’ve ever sat through.   So bad that you’d rather have watched the popcorn than the screen.   So bad that you’d rather have eaten the popcorn.   [shudder] Did you feel that that movie was made to personally aggravate you?   You’d like to believe that it was made by a group of mindless jerks with no class, consideration, talent, vision, skill, funding, or common sense.   Like these guys I ran into.

The fiancée’s job was infested this week by a small film crew shooting some sort of student film.   This had to be some kind of Virgin Islands film school, since I would hope any real film school would require…   I don’t know…   literacy on the part of the screenplay writer.

The crew was loud and obnoxious, and full of their own self-importance.   Their script was so wooden that it would have done George Lucas credit.   The vocabulary seemed to be that of a group of middle-schoolers who have just learned that curse words aren’t fatal, but with nowhere near the colorful and creative linguistics of a truly remarkable swearing enthusiast.   Mostly it was the characters debating what they would do / wanted to do / wanted the other characters to do if they weren’t in the middle of a place of business…   which, of course, they were.

For those of you who are new to my rantings, my fiancée is a librarian.   The film geeks were being loud and obnoxious in a library.   They couldn’t afford a real set, so they, like most bums without real jobs, were hanging out in the public library.   That’s like an atheist’s holy place – how could they be permitted to blaspheme against the Vow of Silence that permeates the stacks and shelves?   They spent the morning annoying the patrons, monopolizing the work areas, and generally preventing people from their traditional March library activity of demanding that the librarians help them with their tax forms.   This may surprise most of you, but modern librarians rarely ever actually shush people any more.   They finally discovered that it’s as rude in a library as it is anywhere else.   Film crews, though, thrive on rude.   They’re probably the first people in years to walk around the library shushing people once they were about to start a take.

Now, admittedly I’m more familiar with libraries than most people, given my choice of lovely life partner, so I know the rhetoric about how libraries are place for free expression, and for the transmission of ideas.   But those ideas should have a minimum amount of quality to apply for protection.   The boss was a bit afraid of censoring the budding talent.   I’m not lobbying for censorship of the talent, I’m arguing for euthanasia of the talent.   Put it down.   Go back to flipping burgers.

The man-camera cyborg viewing this hardcover world through a digital lens was further showing his lack of societal value by doing this entire exercise in the least appropriate part of the library.   Having been snubbed and booted from the grown up part of the library, this team of cursing rejects had decided that their venue for four-letter filth spewing would be the Children’s department!   Nothing convinces the single moms to encourage reading in their four year olds like a bunch of 20-somethings whining about their genital urgings.   Evidently these guys grew up with “Hooked on R-rated Phonics.”

After promising to respect the schedule they signed up for, and insisting they would be out on time, they continued to film well into the busy hours of the library day.   They even Shanghaied a dad and child into being in the background of their shot.   The other patrons scattered like smoke once these dorks started rolling film.   The only saving grace was that these two poor captives were browsing the Spanish language books, and the toddler may not have spoken any English.   He picked up some nice vocabulary that day, though.

Unfortunately, that’s really the best you can expect as far as behavior from a film crew.   They crawl up from their basement film labs full of ideas about artwork and raw emotion, and having no idea about how to deal with real life.   Even your typical parents’-basement-variety video gamer knows what kind of behavior will result in a smackdown from the nearest townsperson or orc, (or even a paladin).   It’s useless to try to correct their behavior.   It’s like yelling at a toddler, or a monkey.   They have no capacity for mature consideration of other people.

I’m pissed at the film crew. I’m also pissed at the library supervisors.   With so many books around, it’s sad that they’re so spineless.   They ruined a bunch of people’s days, just so these jerks could pretend to be real art contributors.

I had some strategies for dealing with this kind of behavior that avoided any direct confrontation (which I believe is illegal in this state).   My plan at this point is to back a truck up to the front of the library, and check out each and every book in the children’s department.   This leaves all of the shelves barren, and ruins their background continuity.   In order for them to complete their little homework project on time, I’ll happily rent the books back to them, at standard movie prop rates.   Hopefully this might teach them a lesson on how one person’s actions can affect other people.   The three year olds understand this – why can’t film students?

Just because you hold up a camera doesn’t make you immune from social considerations.   If anything, you’ll have to work harder to convince people you’re not an annoying demi-demagogue.   In this world of ubiquitous recording, they’re lucky a competing offshore film school group doesn’t film their terrible talentless behavior for a documentary.   I’d be willing to let them use the library, but as soon as they violate the language policy around the kiddies, then they’d get a boost to their pain-driven artistic lives delivered as a grant from the “My Steel Toed Boots Foundation.”

You hear that, you celluloid simpletons?   You could at the very least do us the favor of being famous, pretty, or important.   But, no, you losers couldn’t even be that considerate.

There’s only one person allowed to yell “Quiet in the Library!”, and she’s belongs to the ALA, not SAG or the DGA.   If anyone out there ever actually hears of “Glimpses” (which would shock me) and finds that it is in fact their least favorite movie ever (which would not shock me), let this be a testament that the filmmakers actually are trying their hardest to aggravate you by their very existence.   And that they’re mindless jerks with no class, consideration, taste, talent, vision, skill, funding, common sense, upbringing, or hygiene who don’t like children, have no ability to read, and overall just hate America.