When was the last time you cracked open a Disney Golden Book?
If you’re anything like us, you probably had at least one Disney Golden Book on your bookshelf growing up. With their signature gold binding, vivid illustrations, and indescribable yet comforting smell, the Golden Books brought and continue to bring the joy of reading to generations of young children around the world.
Although we at Oh My Disney may no longer be at the intended reading level of these stories, we continue to hearken back to these books because they showcase some of the finest art that Disney has to offer. Today we’re taking a look at some of that incredible art and exploring both the production process and the importance that these books continue to hold for many artists and animators today.
Walt Disney Studios began producing the Golden Books in 1944 and one of the first notable titles to come out of those early years was Cinderella. Illustrated by Retta Scott Worcester, the style of this book, like most of the Golden Books, is similar in principle to concept art, varying in design from the actual movie, but still capturing the essence and feel of the film.
Production on the Golden Books was, and continues to be, no easy task. For many of the Golden Books, the art is hand-painted with watercolor and gouache, as is seen in this Alice in Wonderland print, illustrated by Campbell Grant.
Each artistic decision has to be made with expert precision and more often than not, a change in color will require a repainting of the whole page. In addition to artistic restrictions, artists working on the books often face time restrictions. Many of the artists who’ve worked on the Golden Books, including the illustrator of this Sleeping Beauty print, Ron Dias, were working on the films concurrently and would regularly spend after hours and weekends illustrating the film’s Golden Book.
This early piece, illustrated by Al Dempster and featured in the Pinocchio Golden Book, showcases the creative ways that artists integrated text into the art, often choosing to border the text with little embellishments so that the text compliments the image and vice versa.
The art of the Golden Books had a profound influence on the childhoods of many Disney and Disney•Pixar artists working today. Toy Story 2 co-director Ash Brannon had this to say about the books: “The Golden Books were my first big influences. The characters were so simple and the shapes were so strong in the illustrations: they stuck with you in a way a lot of other books didn’t.”
In addition to admiring the work, many of these artists would try to recreate the art that they saw in the books when they were kids. Wreck-It Ralph art director Ian Gooding remarked, “The cover of my copy of Bambi has deep impressions all around the characters because I’d put tracing paper over it and draw them. I must have tried twenty times to paint that thing.”
By copying and admiring the art of the Golden Books, artists were able to learn valuable lessons about color, simplicity, and composition that they have since used to enhance the visual storytelling of their films. Brave co-director Brenda Chapman remarked, “In Brave, I really tried to stylize my characters to not make them look like realistic humans but like stylized humans—trying to keep some of the Golden Books 2-D approach to character design.”
Today, the production of the Golden Books lives on, with new Golden Books being made for every Disney and Disney•Pixar feature, and a fair number of the Disney•Pixar shorts.
Oftentimes, either an artist working on the film or a member of Disney Publishing’s talented in-house creative team will illustrate the book. Being selected to illustrate one of the books is considered a great honor.
A special moment for many of the Golden Book illustrators is when they share the finished books with their kids. Up and WALL•E Golden Book illustrator Jean-Paul Orpiñas had the following to share: “Illustrating a Little Golden Book was a dream come true. I stayed up late to have something to give my children. It was never for the money. It was for the love of Disney and what those books gave to me.”
Previously lost and in danger of deterioration, original prints of many of the older Disney Little Golden Books, have been rescued and are currently housed in a meticulously organized archive in Disney Publishing, ensuring that these works can continue to inspire not just Disney art, but American art for generations to come.
To learn more about the Disney Golden Books and see more beautiful Golden Books art, be sure to check out Art of the Disney Golden Book by Charles Solomon!
Have a favorite Disney Golden Book? Remember reading the Disney Golden Books as a kid? Share your story in the comments.