Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench


Author: John Hench
Title: Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show 
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2009)
Summary/Review:

John Hench joined the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939, became an Imagineer in 1954, and continued working up until a few days before his death in 2004.  So there’s no one better to write about how Disney Parks are designed with an emphasis on detail and drawing the viewer in as an active participant.  I particularly like how he talked about a three-dimensional cross-disolve, using a film term to describe the ways in Disney Imagineers design transitions between different lands and attractions.  Hench also goes into great detail about how different colors are used, and how he gave a lot of thought to the color of the sky in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.  This is a nice, richly illustrated dive into the world of imagineering, although I admit I’m still looking for the book that will really get into the nitty-gritty.

Recommended books: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real by The Imagineers and The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 16


There’s a rich crop of podcasts this week!  I wont be posting any podcasts next Saturday, so if you hear any good ones I shouldn’t miss, let me know in the comments.

Throughline :: How The CIA Overthrew Iran’s Democracy In 4 Days

The overlooked history of one of the worst crimes ever committed by the United States government.

Hub History :: Apocalypse on Boston Bay 

The indigenous population of New England suffered significant casualties from epidemics of infectious disease that swept their communities in the 1620.  The colonizing English saw these plagues as the grace of God to their settlement.

Tomorrow Society :: Peggie Farris on 50 Years at Disney and Producing Spaceship Earth

An interview with a remarkable woman who rose from being a ride operator at Disneyland to an influential Imagineer at Disney Parks across the world.

99% Invisible :: National Sword

China has enacted a program to no longer import recycled materials, which means that recycling collected from many US communities no longer is actually being recycled.  This podcasts prods consumers to “reduce and reuse” more than they recycle, but also questions placing the burden on the consumer and suggest industry needs to reduce the material created in the first place.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cheech Marin Gets Antsy

Cheech Marin, famed for starring in stoner comedies, now works to bring attention to Chicano art in galleries and museums.

Planet Money: The Indicator :: The Strike That Changed U.S. Labor

The 1937 General Motors strike presaged a highpoint for union membership in the United States and a period of shared prosperity.  This podcast discusses how we got from there to today with record low union participation.

The Truth :: Meet Cute

A romantic comedy where one the members of the couple dies before the first date.  There’s a lot of clever twists in this story.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Walt Disney Imagineering by The Imagineers


Author: The Imagineers
TitleWalt Disney Imagineering : A Behind-the-Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real 
Publication Info: New York : London : Hyperion ; Turnaround, 1998.
Summary/Review:

This is a coffee-table size book with historical plans, concept art, models, and photographs of various works at Disney Parks over the years created by Disney Imagineering.  They work to create 3-D experiences based on animation, landscaping, architecture, and of course engineering, many of which have to be created in house because they’re creating things that have never been done.  I would’ve liked if this book had more behind-the-scenes, how-did-they-do-that detail instead of lots of hokey quotes about “sparks” and “dreams,” but I suppose Michael Eisner didn’t want to give the secrets away.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Disneyland Story by Sam Gennawey


Author: Sam Gennawey
TitleThe Disneyland Story
Publication Info: Birmingham, AL : Keen Communications, LLC 2014.
Summary/Review:

This book caught my eye when I was looking for guide books for our Walt Disney World trip and since I’ve long had a fascination with amusement park history, I decided to read it.  The story documents the origins of Disneyland in California from Walt Disney’s fascination with model trains and miniature villages and the desire to give something for fans of Disney films to do when they requested to visit the studios in Burbank.  It eventually grew to be the theme park built in an orange grove near the then remote town of Anaheim.  Disney’s monomaniacal commitment to building and then tinkering with Disneyland over the last 15 years of his life makes one wonder how he found time to work on the studio’s film and television project. This is doubly true since he was bringing a lot of the talent from the studios to work on Disneyland, becoming the first imagineers.  For all the artifice of Disneyland it is fascinating how many real things – from train engines to architectural details – were salvaged to build the park.

The book is basically in two parts.  The 1950s and 1960s are more intricately covered with the focus on Disney’s dream and the projects completed and started in his lifetime.  From the 1970s to the present, the book is more of a listing of annual changes to the park, and the sense that Disneyland is getting neglected due to the company’s focus on new parks in Florida, Japan, France, and China.  The Michael Eisner era seems to be wrapped up in red tape and bad ideas as the company continually fails to expand Disneyland and the initial disappointment of the Disney California Adventure when it finally opens in 2001.  This period is also marked by the Disney company seemingly doing everything in their power to avoid ever paying any taxes to the city of Anaheim.   Nevertheless, while the book is rightly critical it also celebrates the imagination that went into creating and changing Disneyland and the joyous role it plays in American culture.
Favorite Passages:

Disney archivist Dave Smith said, “Disneyland’s true appeal, we admit now, is to adults. Children don’t need it. Their imaginations are enough. For them, Disneyland is only another kind of reality, somewhat less marvelous than their own fantasies.”

According to architect Robert A. M. Stern, “Ironically, Main Street and the very way the theme parks are designed would probably be, much to Walt Disney’s surprise, the actual genius of American Urbanism captured at a time when it had no value to most people, certainly in the architecture and planning profession.”

According to Crump, when he started working on the project, Ken Anderson took him aside and said, “Now you guys remember that when you’re designing anything for Disneyland, you’re the gods! You tell them what you want, and you make sure that they do it your way no matter what!” Then Crump met with Walt, who told him, “You gotta remember that there are electricians, there are plumbers, there’s air conditioning … you’ve got to work around that … they’re just as important as you are.”

At lunch with Walt one day, Ray Bradbury asked, “Walt, why don’t you hire me to come in and help you with ideas to rebuild Tomorrowland?” Walt replied, “Ray, it’s no use … you’re a genius and I’m a genius … after two weeks we’d kill each other!” Bradbury was flattered, “That’s the nicest turndown I’ve ever had, having Walt Disney call me a genius.”

Ray Bradbury recalled a time when Walt told him “Nothing has to die.” He wrote, “Walt was right. Nothing has to die. Just rebuild it. Steamboat America, lost? Carve a river bottom, flood it, and send your Mark Twain paddle wheel down the riverway. Victorian train travel, gone? Nail up a rococo scrimshaw station, steam in the 19th-century locomotive, carry passengers from Civil War territories through African jungles into AD 2000.” Disneyland was a way to live forever.

Recommended booksInside the Mouse by The Project on Disney, Mouse Tales by David Koenig, and Amusing the Million by John F. Kasson
Rating: ****