Book Review: Walt Before Mickey by Timothy Susanin

Walt Before Mickey tells the story of one of the most imaginative minds of all time: Walt Disney… before the creation of Mickey Mouse.

I had high hopes when I started reading Walt Before Mickey. I’m a huge fan of biographies and anything to do with the Disney empire. I knew very little about Walt’s time between WWI and Steamboat Willie. As far as I was concerned, he didn’t exist before the mouse. So, I prepared to fly through this book. While I learned a lot of facts surrounding Disney’s partnerships and working relationships, the book felt like just that: a list of facts rather than a retelling of Disney’s life.

Susanin’s 2014 book accounts for Walt Disney’s life in his early to late 20s. Walt is young and optimistic despite having survived World War I. But as Walt and his brother Roy try to get an animation studio off the ground, they find the road to success very difficult.

From his days at Laugh-O-Gram Studios to Walt Disney Studios, Walt always surrounded himself with good friends and talented people. He hired some of the industry’s best men (and women!), and the studio was quickly recognized as an industry leader. However, despite the creative success, cash flow was often a problem, leaving the Disney brothers and their employees on the edge of poverty.

The book by Susanin is informative and gives an account of a period in Disney’s life that is often overlooked. The information is well thought out, but the writing often feels more like a Wikipedia article than a biographical retelling. Of course, this could be a matter of personal preference; I prefer biographies that read more like a novel, and this read more like a high school history book. Still, I learned a great deal about one of the most creative men in entertainment.

Update: Walt Before Mickey was adapted into a movie; watch the trailer below:

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