Babes in Tomorrowland

Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930–1960

Babes in Tomorrowland

Book Pages: 488 Illustrations: 36 b&w illus. Published: July 2005

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

Linking Margaret Mead to the Mickey Mouse Club and behaviorism to Bambi, Nicholas Sammond traces a path back to the early-twentieth-century sources of “the normal American child.” He locates the origins of this hypothetical child in the interplay between developmental science and popular media. In the process, he shows that the relationship between the media and the child has long been much more symbiotic than arguments that the child is irrevocably shaped by the media it consumes would lead one to believe. Focusing on the products of the Walt Disney company, Sammond demonstrates that without a vision of a normal American child and the belief that movies and television either helped or hindered its development, Disney might never have found its market niche as the paragon of family entertainment. At the same time, without media producers such as Disney, representations of the ideal child would not have circulated as freely in American popular culture.

In vivid detail, Sammond describes how the latest thinking about human development was translated into the practice of child-rearing and how magazines and parenting manuals characterized the child as the crucible of an ideal American culture. He chronicles how Walt Disney Productions’ greatest creation—the image of Walt Disney himself—was made to embody evolving ideas of what was best for the child and for society. Bringing popular child-rearing manuals, periodicals, advertisements, and mainstream sociological texts together with the films, tv programs, ancillary products, and public relations materials of Walt Disney Productions, Babes in Tomorrowland reveals a child that was as much the necessary precursor of popular media as the victim of its excesses.


Babes in Tomorrowland is a thought-provoking and substantive cultural study that ties together the developing field of child psychology and the growth of the Walt Disney empire, especially during the postwar baby-boom years.” — Kathy Merlock Jackson, Journal of American Culture

Babes in Tomorrowland provides an engaging, scholarly account of how watching Beaver Valley and going to Disneyland became central to the socialization of modern American children and the national future.”

— Erika Doss, Journal of American History

“[C]arefully researched and richly detailed. . . . Babes in Tomorrowland provides a critical and engaging investigation of a most important subject.” — Amy L. Best, American Journal of Sociology

“[I]mportant, even indispensable, book in the growing field of interdisciplinary children studies. — Gerald Early, The Figure in the Carpet

“[Sammond’s] project is extremely ambitious but also extremely successful and important to the field . . . . Sammond deserves congratulations for tackling several key questions in childhood studies and articulating what for many years has been a popular topic of discussion in literature, theory, and film: namely, how much power does Disney have, and of even more importance, where and how did this power originate and become naturalized into our current understanding of children, childhood, and media.” — Stephen Gennaro, H-Net Reviews

“For those interested in a broad and soundly theoretical discussion of our changing social conceptions of childhood, and the economic and social sources of those conceptions, this book makes for valuable reading. . . . [A] vivid, extremely detailed history of child rearing in the early twentieth century, and a media company that blossomed alongside it.” — Chris McGee, The Lion and the Unicorn

“Marvelously rich in source material and thoughtful in approach, Nicholas Sammond’s Babes in Tomorrowland is a history of American child-rearing practices in the mid-twentieth century. . . . [It] will be engaging reading for all interested in American childhood studies.” — Martha Hixon, Children's Literature

“Sammond effectively supports his history of Disney’s attempt to construct the ideal American child with detailed research in the sociology of childhood and compelling readings of the narratives of Disney films. Highly recommended. All readers; all collections.” — J. Belton, Choice

“Sammond is erudite, and Babes in Tomorrowland contains one especially penetrating chapter on postwar politics and childrearing. . . .” — Stephen Lassonde, Journal of Social History

“Sammond makes a compelling case for the ways in which Disney tapped into parental concerns and the latest child-rearing wisdom. . . .” — Julia L. Mickenberg, American Quarterly

“This is a magesterial and richly illustrated history of ‘American’ values.” — Ruth Zanker, Media International Australia

“With Babes in Tomorrowland, Nicholas Sammond offers a fine genealogy of Disney (the man and the industry), middle-class tastes and the intellectual and market regulation of ‘the good child’ from the Great Depression to the early 1960s. Sammond draws upon a staggering wealth of primary and secondary sources to make an impressive case about how the rise of Walt Disney was closely tied to the rise of child development theory, media standards and anxiety over childhood.” — Randal Doane, Journal of Consumer Culture

"[E]xtensively researched. . . . The evidence Sammond supplies to explain [the] evolving perception of childhood is immense, and his historical purview is fascinating. . . . [O]ne of the book's strengths is its comprehensive, interdiscipinary approach. . . . [A] valuable addition to the cultural studies scholarship on Disney." — Amy M. Damico, Teachers College Record

"Drawing on a wealth of secondary sources as well as the Disney Archives, Nicholas Sammond's wide-ranging and erudite study places the familiar story of the early Disney enterprise in the context of American culture and childrearing advice. . . . [R]ich and insightful. . . . I admire the author's scholarship and frequent brilliance." — Gary Cross, Journal of Marriage and Family

Babes in Tomorrowland is a phenomenally accomplished work. The coverage is encyclopedic, the argument masterful, and the prose consistently accessible and engaging. The amount of research is nothing short of monumental. There is no question that the book will make a significant impact on anyone working on contemporary children’s culture.” — Henry Jenkins, editor of The Children’s Culture Reader

Babes in Tomorrowland is an impressive work that meticulously documents historically shifting conceptions of the American child. This finely researched book will make a valuable contribution to our understanding of how children serve grown-up needs as adults strive to craft a better child to ensure a better tomorrow.” — Heather Hendershot, editor of Nickelodeon Nation: The History, Politics, and Economics of America’s Only TV Channel for Kids


Availability: In stock
Price: $31.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nicholas Sammond is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the editor of Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Child 1

1. Disney Makes Disney 25

2. Making a Manageable Child 81

3. In Middletown 135

4. America’s True-Life Adventure 195

5. Raising the Natural Child 247

6. Disney Maps the Frontier 300

Conclusion: The Child as Victim of Commodities 357

Notes 387

References 427

Filmography 453

Index 455
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3463-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3451-4
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