The Archives of Robert Tieman
About Robert TiemanThe Disney TreasuresThe Disney KeepsakesQuintessential DisneyMickey Mouse Treasures
Behind the scenes of the books by Robert Tieman

  • Quintessential Disney, published in 2005
  • Paper engineering by renowned pop-up book artist, David Carter
  • Featuring five favorite sceens brought to three dimensional life
  • English and Japanese versions


From true love's first kiss to the unlikely friendship of a deer, a skunk, and a rabbit, from a boy who can fly to a puppet that becomes a real boy, every Disney moment to me seems tinged with magic. This book brings some of my favorite scenes to life in three-dimensional displays.


Some of my partner's favorite Disney pop-up books and records, arranged to inspire me.

Sometimes old sayings are really based on truth. Take for instance “when it rains, it pours.”

I had just signed the contract with book producer becker&mayer to do “The Disney Keepsakes,” when my editor there contacted me with a completely different proposal for a new Disney book. They had just done a pop-up book filled with really beautiful images of Tibetan altar pieces. Don’t ask me how their synapses made the connection between that subject and Disney, but the next thing I knew, they asked me to write the text for five short essays that would accompany five pop-up images from classic Disney animated features. It was going to be relatively quick work, and my partner Dennis collects pop-up books, so I thought “Why not?” and agreed to do the job. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was also supposed to come up with the idea for what the Disney images would be in the first place!

All I had to go on was a pre-determined title, “Quintessential Disney.” Apparently, they thought it would be a no-brainer to come up with five images that—pow!—just like that, would define what Disney is. Uh, easier said than done. I have to admit that I had several sleepless nights trying to figure out how on earth I would pick just five images; how I could possibly leave some things out; how, how how?

I came up with a very long list of possibilities—scenes from Disney animated films that I thought would lend themselves well to the 3-dimensional pop-up format. And then I had a conference call with my editors who had, in the meantime, gotten some guidance from Disney Publishing in New York. Rule number one: keep all the images from films made by Walt Disney during his lifetime. Okay. That would keep the book in line with the two “Treasures” books, and it had the benefit of limiting the number of films I had to consider. Rule number two: no princesses. WHAT?! This was going to be tricky, since I had already penciled in a spot for a pop-up image from Sleeping Beauty (which most people know is my all-time favorite Disney animated feature. Love that Prince Philip.) It turned out that Disney Publishing was already considering a completely separate Disney Princesses pop-up book to tie in with the new line of Princesses merchandise from Disney Consumer Products. But whatever, the reason, this eliminated from consideration not only Princess Aurora, but also Cinderella. (Somehow, though, little Snow White managed to sneak in.)

Even with the list of films had been whittled down, this still left me with the dilemma of what images were “quintessentially” Disney. I felt like there had to be some universal truths out there just waiting for me to pick up on, but I could never quite reach them. Then, literally while lying awake one night, I had the thought: “It’s not what images are quintessentially Disney, but what is quintessentially Disney.” In other words, what overall concepts make the best of Walt Disney’s films stand the test of time? Almost before I could completely wake up, I had my answers: music, adventure, friendship, fantasy and romance. I fell right asleep (ahhhhh, nothing like a flash of revelation to relax one), and the next day started to figure out which images went with those five attributes.

The easy one first: “romance.” If you eliminated scenes with princesses, what’s left? But of course: Lady and Tramp and their Bella Notte. (And by the way, pop-up master David Carter outdid himself on this one by stringing the laundry up in the background on real string. I thought that was a fantastic touch.) For “music,” pretty much my first choice was Walt’s first animated feature, and the happy-go-lucky entertainment sequence with Snow White and the Dwarfs.

Still determined to get a scene from Sleeping Beauty in the book somehow, my first choice for “adventure” was to be a vibrant tableau of Philip fighting the dragon Maleficent amidst the thicket of thorns. Maybe it would’ve posed some paper engineering challenges, but that would be someone else’s problem. For “friendship,” I proposed the serene scene of Mowgli and Baloo floating down the river surrounded by 3-dimensional vines and flowers. Lastly, my strongest thought was “how can you do a book about anything remotely quintessentially Disney and not include Mickey Mouse?” so for the “fantasy” element, my idea was to have Sorcerer Mickey surrounded by an army of renegade brooms. For those of you who have the book, you’re by now wondering where these last three ideas ended up. Yep—on the cutting room floor. I was never really given any explanation for why those ideas didn’t make the grade. Perhaps they didn’t inspire the paper engineer; perhaps they didn’t excite the folks at Disney Publishing. Who knows? But the bottom line was, I had to come up with three replacement images.

For “adventure,” I started to think of rowdy boys for some reason, and the sword fight between Peter Pan and Captain Hook rushed to mind. Done. For “friendship,” someone else suggested Bambi and Thumper. I thought it was a bit trite, personally, but it’s a classic image and I threw Flower in for good measure. “Fantasy” was the theme that really tripped me up. I was so stuck on Sorcerer Mickey that I just couldn’t think of anything else, but in the end somehow decided that if a wooden boy coming to life wasn’t “fantasy,” then nothing was, so Pinocchio and Geppetto got a spot in the book.

For artwork, I submitted stills of these scenes from the different movies. And then I got the most interesting question from the art director: “These are great scenes, but what’s behind Snow White on the wall?” Uh, well, the wall, I guess. And because the still I sent from Lady and the Tramp was framed as a medium shot, the question was “What kind of shoes are the waiters wearing?” Anyway, long story short – it quickly became obvious that you couldn’t just make a completely 3-dimensional image out of a 2-dimensional frame of film. So a former Disney artist, Toby Bluth, was hired to completely redraw the five scenes and “fill in the blanks.” When I found out Toby was hired, I couldn’t have been happier. More than most people, Toby really “gets” the old-school Disney look: delicate watercolors, muted yet colorful tones. He’s just got the perfect style, and I think the book turned out all the richer because of his artwork.

I’m not sure if there will ever be any “sequels” to this book—there are certainly enough images from Disney films to merit one—but I’m pretty happy to have a pop-up book included in my list of author credits.