The best books about American animation history

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

The Books I Picked & Why

Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons

By Leonard Maltin

Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons

Why 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.


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

By John Canemaker

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

Why 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.


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Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age

By Michael Barrier

Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age

Why 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.


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

By Didier Ghez

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

Why 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.


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

By Jerry Beck

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

Why 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.


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