The best books about American animation history

J.B. Kaufman Author Of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic
By J.B. Kaufman

Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.

I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons

Why did I love this book?

This landmark survey of American animation, published more than forty years ago, remains an essential guide to the subject. Maltin’s passion for classic cartoons is evident in the depth of his research and in the infectious enthusiasm of his writing. For beginners unfamiliar with cartoon history, Of Mice and Magic is a delightful introduction; but even for the seasoned enthusiast, it provides gratifying coverage of both the established classics and the more obscure discoveries. I thoroughly enjoyed this book when it first appeared, and I still return to it periodically.

By Leonard Maltin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Of Mice and Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Film historian Leonard Maltin recreates a whole era of Hollywood cartoons, from Betty Boop to Spielberg's "An American Tail". It also brings the reader up to date on the modern work of Walt Disney and the Warner Bros studio, plus new developments in animation. The book includes a filmography of cartoons and sources for video rental.

Book cover of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation

Why did I love this book?

An Academy Award®-winning animator in his own right, John Canemaker has combined his firsthand knowledge of the craft with superior writing skills to produce a series of outstanding books on animation history. You can pretty much close your eyes, pick any one of Canemaker’s books at random, and come up with a winner. But I’m highlighting this one as the definitive study of the “Nine Old Men,” the Disney artists widely recognized as the leading masters of animation. For each of the nine, Canemaker provides a detailed biography and a cogent analysis of the artist’s work, heavily illustrated. It’s a fitting testament to a royal legacy of talent.

By John Canemaker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Noted film historian John Canemaker brings to life the team whose combined individual genius defined the art of character animation. Think of your favorite moments and characters in Disney films from the thirties to the seventies and chances are most were animated by one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men." Through the span of their careers, these nine highly skilled animators exhibited an unparalleled loyalty to their employer. This book explores their artisitic breakthroughs, failures, and rivalries, and their individual relationships with each other and with Walt.

Book cover of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age

Why did I love this book?

During the 1960s, a wonderful periodical called Funnyworld began to chronicle animation history with unprecedented depth and eloquence. It was the work of Michael Barrier, and as it continued, it offered glimpses of the research he was conducting for a book to be published by Oxford Press. The book was finally finished and published more than three decades later, and reflects Barrier’s depth of insight, the thoroughness of his methods, and his dogged perseverance; his research included interviews with literally hundreds of artists from every American cartoon studio. Hollywood Cartoons stands as a definitive study of its subject, an essential reference (and enjoyable read) for any lover or serious student of classic animation.

By Michael Barrier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood Cartoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Hollywood Cartoons, Michael Barrier takes us on a glorious guided tour of American animation in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, to meet the legendary artists and entrepreneurs who created Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, Wile E. Coyote, Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, and many other cartoon favorites.
Beginning with black-and-white silent cartoons, Barrier offers an insightful account, taking us inside early New York studios and such Hollywood giants as Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM. Barrier excels at illuminating the creative side of animation-revealing how stories are put together, how animators develop a character, how technical innovations enhance the…

Book cover of They Drew as They Pleased, Volume 1: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age, the 1930s

Why did I love this book?

During the golden age of the Disney studio, the “concept artists” were those who created sketches and paintings to suggest mood, theme, and atmosphere for the inspiration of the production artists. Their works were used internally, during production, and sometimes were outstanding works of art in themselves, but were never seen by the public. Now Didier Ghez singles out four of those top concept artists, documents their careers, and provides a generous gallery of their drawings and paintings, almost all of them previously unpublished. If you enjoy this book—and you surely will—there’s more good news: this volume is the first of six, all retaining the same format and the same high standard of excellence, and following the trail of Disney history well into the 21st century.

By Didier Ghez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked They Drew as They Pleased, Volume 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the Walt Disney Studio entered its first decade and embarked on some of the most ambitious animated films of the time, Disney hired a group of "concept artists" whose sole mission was to explore ideas and inspire their fellow animators. They Drew as They Pleased showcases four of these early pioneers and features artwork developed by them for the Disney shorts from the 1930s, including many unproduced projects, as well as for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and some early work for later features such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Introducing new biographical material about…

Book cover of The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals

Why did I love this book?

Ordinarily I don’t believe in “greatest” comparisons, but this book is different. Animation historian extraordinaire Jerry Beck surveyed more than a thousand historians and animation professionals to ascertain their picks, compiled the results into a list of fifty “greatest” cartoons, and then created this book with a separate entry for each film. It’s both informative and an endless delight, with well-illustrated celebrations of classic cartoon gems from the Disney, Warner, Fleischer, and MGM studios as well as the smaller, more obscure companies. You may disagree with the rankings or the choices, but this is undeniably a deep dive into a cornucopia of treasures. And Jerry didn’t stop there; fifteen years later he followed up with a similar but more specialized volume, The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.

By Jerry Beck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 50 Greatest Cartoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Showcases some of the greatest cartoons of all time, including characters from Disney, Warner Brothers, Fleischer Studio, Walter Lantz, MGM, and others.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in traditionally animated filmss, animation, and the Walt Disney Company?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about traditionally animated filmss, animation, and the Walt Disney Company.

Traditionally Animated Filmss Explore 16 books about traditionally animated filmss
Animation Explore 31 books about animation
The Walt Disney Company Explore 36 books about the Walt Disney Company