Book Review: The Archive Series: Design

Authors: John Lasseter (Foreword)
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Disney Editions
Pages: 288 pages


Before we get started, I’d just like to re-post my paragraph from the Luxo Jr. article regarding the matter of John Lasseter, since he is the prime contributor to this book:

“By reviewing this {book}, I am in no way endorsing or supporting his actions outside of his filmmaking. I know how awful it can be when an artist whose work you’ve always admired disappoints you, but the fact remains that he has caused a great deal of discomfort to multiple colleagues over many years – and that is not okay. The fact that other senior members of staff at Pixar apparently knew of his inappropriate behaviour and did nothing to curb it is even worse. However, I do believe that it is still perfectly alright to enjoy a person’s work as distinct from the person themselves – it’s like admiring the cinematography in Birth of a Nation while cringing at the “white supremacy” nastiness. Whatever else Lasseter might have done, the fact remains that he has also done a lot for the world of animation, and we can still enjoy and discuss his work maturely without clouding our judgement with our opinions of the man himself.”

Also, although I know they’ll probably never see this, I’d just like to congratulate Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee on their appointments as the new heads of Pixar and Disney, respectively. The future looks bright!

Lasseter #1

Now then – to our book. Design is the third in a series of four books celebrating the various individual aspects of Disney’s films, with the others focusing on Story (2008), Animation (2009) and Layout and Background (2011). The books were put together by the Disney Animation Research Library and they’re all treasures; I was lucky enough to be able to check out all four in my university days, since my library carried them all. However, the only one I own is this one, because in my opinion it is the best of the lot (and that’s saying something). Design focuses on the concept art behind the various shorts and films produced by Disney across the decades and decades of its history, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Lasseter #2

There’s very little text in this minimalist effort, with a simple foreword by John Lasseter (I know, I know, but he’s simply praising Disney’s legacy), credits for the pictures, an index and some acknowledgements by Lella Smith and Mary Walsh of the Research Library. The rest of the space is used to showcase a fantastic selection of eye-catching artwork from across Disney history, everything a fan could ever want – sketches, paintings, early character studies and more – with some of it displayed on glossy gatefolds reminiscent of the fancy nineties Hyperion editions. Even if you’re a big collector of art books, you’ll likely find at least a few pieces here and there that you’ve not seen elsewhere. This would make a great coffee table book, although if I had to make one small criticism, it would be over the rather wasted space in the wide margins on each page; perhaps they could have made some of the images a little bigger?

Lasseter #3

So, which pieces, exactly, are featured? Honestly, it’s more than you might think; there are quite a few obscure shorts, a few live-action/animation blends and even a selection of art from the wartime package films, a rare case of Disney acknowledging some of its more forgotten projects in an official publication.

After opening with a development piece featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse from 1928, the rest of the book features pieces of art from the following shorts mixed in with the feature films: Elmer Elephant, The Clock Store, The Pied Piper, Flowers and Trees, The Wise Little Hen, Grasshopper and the Ants, The Golden Touch, Music Land, Three Orphan Kittens, Adventures in Music: Melody, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Our Friend the Atom, Man in Space, Lorenzo, The Little Matchgirl and Prep and Landing.

On the film side, the following are represented: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Song of the South (yes, really), Melody Time, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and Tangled.

Lasseter #4

After the last of the delicious artwork, there’s also a two-page spread of photographs featuring twelve of the key contributing artists from various Disney eras, including Tyrus Wong, Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle, to name a few.

If you’re a keen collector, you’ll definitely want to get yourself a copy of this. It’s a rich and colourful treasure which deserves a place on any animation enthusiast’s shelves (or their coffee table) and its image-heavy content make it ideal for any budding young Disney aficionados in the family, too (just be sure to have them wash their hands before looking through it!).


EDIT: Unfortunately, I was unlucky enough to get a summer cold this week and so the Moana article will be a little late – my apologies! It should be up early next week. (Fits the tradition, I suppose; of course the last Disney canon review had to be late).


Buy it on Amazon: – UK – US

5 Replies to “Book Review: The Archive Series: Design”

  1. I’ve checked out all four entries in the collection from the library, and while the artwork is great, I must admit that in terms of representation of the films, each entry is decidedly incomplete. For example, the “Animation” entry jumps from MULAN straight to FANTASIA 2000, bypassing TARZAN altogether.

    As far as Lasseter stepping down, I must confess that I had been hoping that he would be allowed a sort of probationary period, to prove that he had learned his lesson; and if, for whatever reason, he repeated the behaviors that got him into trouble in the first place, THEN would be the time to boot him out. As it is, though, I can only hope that the transition of power will go over smoothly…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you get the feeling they were designed so as to subtly force you to buy all four, in order to have a complete look at their back catalogue.

      I’m cautiously optimistic about the change in leadership, particularly Jennifer Lee’s appointment as the first female head of Disney Animation; perhaps now, directors like Domee Shi will have a chance at the big time. With luck, the 2020s will bring less remakes, more stories from other cultures like Coco and perhaps even a return to traditional animation… (even just once).


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