Quintessentially American Disney

The Disney Version, Richard Schickel. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. 450 pp. $10.95. Mickey Mouse is as American as apple pie. Mickey eats his pie with cheese, but however sliced, Mickey and Walt Disney are pure Americana.

New York Times film critic Richard Schickel, whose books on film and popular culture are required reading, likes apple pie, too. In ``The Disney Version,'' though, he lifts the crust with a tentative finger to take a close look at the Kansas farm boy who became one of America's most successful and best-loved entrepreneurs.

Disney shared his Midwest roots with Ernest Hemingway, and Schickel draws interesting parallels between the two men -- Hemingway, who went to Europe ``in search of freedom, sophistication, style, [and] culture'' and became a great writer, and Disney, who went to California, making ``an unconscious choice of sides in the decade's great confrontation between philistinism and art,'' and became a quintessentially ``American'' artist with American values.

Mr. Schickel is not the first to deplore the cuteness of Disney's treatment of classics while at the same time praising the technical excellence that advanced the animated cartoon. In Disney's case, in fact, technical progress outstripped the artistic growth.

Schickel's book is written in the excellent style his readers have come to expect, and it possesses unusual depth. Not only does he provide a fascinating look into the life of Walt Disney himself, but he also gives the reader a picture of America's values and the development of the artist in America.

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