Why Disney/Pixar storybooks are so atrocious

My journey as a new dad has given me a lot of insights and taught me a lot of things I never knew before. But the one revelation I feel moved to share today was one of the most unexpected of all. Storybooks based on Disney/Pixar movies really suck. UnknownFellow parents of little ones know this already, of course. But as a new parent, I was seriously blindsided by this fact. They are awful. They almost make me angry. Why? Because they try and cram the entire, complex plot of a 90-minute animated feature into the handful of pages of a simple storybook. So what you end up with is not actually a story. It’s a synopsis. And a breathless one at that. There’s no craft to the language, it’s just “this happened, and then this character showed up, and then they had this problem, but then this other thing happened”. There’s no breathing room to describe character, or to build up tension or suspense. Y’know, like an actual storybook. And as a result they aren’t much fun to read. Those of you without little ones may say, “hey – it’s a kids’ book, not Proust. It’s supposed to be simple.” But that’s just not true. Like anything, simply written storybooks can be done well or badly. frog-and-toad My favourite stories to read are probably Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books. I only discovered them only in January of 2014 when I attended an exhibit of Lobel’s work at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, but I quickly grew to love them. They manage to incorporate subtle observations about friendship and human behaviour, and whimsical humour that works on both a child and adult level, within their beautifully simple prose. They are worthy of being called classics. Sure, it can be charitably said that the dreaded novelizations, by capitalizing on movies that kids know and love, are encouraging them to develop their reading skills. But I think it’s more accurate to say that they’re simply filling a market need: parents who are looking for the familiar, and kids who are drawn like a magnet to anything connected with their favourite animated features. Granted, the fact most kids have seen these movies so often already and know the stories forward and backward probably makes these books work much better as more of a recap than an original storytelling experience. The kids’ll fill in the gaps. But they deserve better than that – a real book, not a rushed regurgitation of something that worked better in another medium. It’s emblematic of the soullessness of these books that they never even credit an author or illustrator. It’s just the “Disney Team” or some such. Not that the artwork is terrible, it’s often very nicely done, but as an actual book the whole affair is a failure. boingAnd most of them are published under the “Little Golden Book” imprint. Geez! To present something like this under the name of a beloved book series that goes back generations is just distasteful. These books used to be well done, and even though they sometimes tied into films or even cartoons, they were carefully adapted to the different format. I’m not just basing this on idealized memories, either – I picked up some recently reprinted “classic” golden books including a retelling of the UPA classic (and Oscar-winner) “Gerald McBoing Boing“, and it’s nicely tailored to the Golden Book style. Not so these glorified movie tie-ins. So, to summarize, for all you new parents: avoid Disney and/or Pixar books at all costs. Check out these fine alternatives instead for a start. And enjoy reading really good stories to your kids!

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