Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston have written a book about animation. That’s like a baker telling you how to bake a loaf of bread. Ollie and Frank have spent their entire lives as animators. They have one very special quality: for more than forty years their only boss was Walt Disney. They are part of the Disney hierarchy. In word and in spirit this is a Disney book. In their preface they say, “This book is about Disney animation . . . Our type of animation produces drawings that appear to think and make decisions . . .” Disney animation is more than drawing or animating or story-telling or painting. There is a Disney style. It is what creates the “illusion of life”. The authors take 575 pages to explain what that style is, how it was arrived at and by whom.
The Illusion of Life is a very personal book. It is almost biographical. At the same time it is a retrospect of the years Frank and Ollie spent at Disney’s.
They have waved a magic wand over the past. With only a gentle nudge we can imagine ourselves in a cool, green forest with dewdrops dripping from the trees and birds whispering good mornings to each other. A wistful Bambi stands in a shaft of velvet sunlight and beside him his fateful mother, sensitive, alert . . . and, look! There is the redoubtable Thumper, the rabbit who tried to help Bambi keep his balance on a frozen pond.