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by Ken Pellman (archives)
April 15, 2004
Ken discusses some of Walt Disney's unique talents.

The Talented Mr. Disney

"He's not talented."

"She has no talent."

How many times have you heard people say that of world-famous pop culture sensations?

When I saw Thomas Kinkade painting Sleeping Beauty Castle, framed through a view of the newly overhauled Central Plaza landscaping, I saw him creating something of which I might want to purchase a reproduction. I also thought of how some people think he's not talented, presumably because you can actually recognize the subjects in his paintings.

I distinctly remember a musician telling me that John Williams wasn't talented. Plenty of people think Britney Spears isn't talented, or that top nationwide radio show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh lack talent, or that Stephen King has no talent. I can't believe I just mentioned Stephen King and Britney Spears in the same paragraph.

The thing is, such people clearly are talented, even if you think they aren't good painters, composers, singers, dancers, radio hosts, writers, or whatever. Their talent, if nothing else, is getting enough people to buy what they are selling.

You can argue that Kinkade's paintings are artistically lacking, but you can't argue that they’ve made a lot of money. You can scoff and John Williams, but how many people recognize (and can't get out of their heads) the scores from the "Star Wars" films or number of other pieces?

What does this have to do with Mr. Disney?

Well, actually, he insisted on being called "Walt". He was known to correct people like Disneyland cast members with that insistence.

Although Walt Disney started his career drawing and animating, he was never known to be particularly talented at drawing or animating. He wasn't known to be a talented architect or musical composer. Yet, we associate some of the finest animated films of all time with him, and we associate some of the world's favorite songs with him, and we associate some of the most famous landmarks in the world with him.

Why? Because he was talented. Other studio moguls often looked down their noses at him. Plenty of critics despised him. Snooty architectural and theatrical types derided his Disneyland. Yet Walt had a talent for leading a shareholder corporation even though, as I understand it, he didn't hold an official corporate administration office with Walt Disney Productions (though his brother Roy did). He didn't need to have the tile "CEO" or "Chairman" to get things done.

He had the talent to create what became Walt Disney Imagineering, which was initially separate from the shareholder company. He had the talent to lead people in taking animation to new heights, creating some of our most cherished common experiences in the form of animated features.

Walt Disney had the talent to jump start a new industry with Disneyland, revolutionizing location-based entertainment and the design of public spaces. You can see the influence of Disneyland all over the world now.

Most of all, Walt Disney had the talent of building up his own name, and making it connect to us on a personal level. By building up that name, he wasn't just making himself larger, he was creating key to a culture. "Disney" meant something besides a surname.

Just look at this site. Here we are, writing about Disney, reading about Disney, and buying things (you are buying things here, aren't you?) because we get some pleasure brought to our lives from Disney.

So, before you dismiss someone as "untalented", consider how some people considered Walt Disney untalented. You may not think William Shatner isn't much of a singer, but who else could play James Trapper Kirk besides Shatner? You may think it is silly that someone gets paid millions of dollars to toss a ball into a hoop, but let's see you go one on one with Michael Jordan. You may scoff at professional wrestlers, but I think it must take some level of talent to put on a different live, theater-in-the-round choreographed and improvised stunt show several nights a week.

Okay, so I'm all over the place with this topic. The bottom line is- you don't have to buy a replica of Kinkade's work when it becomes available. Maybe he isn't your cup of tea. But he does have talent, even if that talent is simply getting millions of people to buy his work. There are some that would say that the very castle he painted is a hokey reminder of an untalented man. You and I know better, though. We can think of the billions of people inspired by the sight of Disney castles.

A man no talent could hardly inspire his own staff, let alone the world. What's more, he did it all on a first name basis.

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-- Ken Pellman

Ken Pellman has been inspired by Walt Disney. He has a degree in Thematic Environmental Design and is a theme park nerd. Learn more about Ken at and reach him directly at Kenversations[at]flash[dot]net.

Kenversations is most often posted during the second and fourth week of each month.

The views, opinions and comments of Ken Pellman, and all of our columnists, are not necessarily those of or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

--Posted April 15, 2004
©2004 Ken Pellman, all rights reserved. Licensed to



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