By Steve Daly
Updated November 22, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Don’t let the clunky title fool you: Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists is no bland tie-in tome. John Canemaker, a respected animation historian who has brought a curator’s exactitude and an artist’s insight to books about Little Nemo creator Winsor McCay and Felix the Cat, among other subjects, here diagrams the gears that have oiled many of the mouse factory’s most successful cartoon features. Nobody else has gathered in one place so much bracingly adult biographical detail about the cultured, highly idiosyncratic men and women whose suggestions and sketches generated many of the strongest moments in Pinocchio, Bambi, and other ”golden age” Walt Disney features — or so deftly sketched an evocative, unvarnished portrait of Walt himself as a driven tyrant genius. Surveying intimate studio politics from the 1930s right up through next year’s feature Hercules, Canemaker doesn’t appear to censor himself or his material: Get ready for penile dwarf proboscises in sketches for Snow White, randily priapic Fantasia revelers, and doodles of babies decapitating themselves. What a treat — a ‘toon history that’s not Gerberized. A-