Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Animal Kingdom Imagineering Field Guide

The latest entry in the Imagineer's-Eye Tour series of field guides has arrived in book stores. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World is every bit as extensive in content and pleasing in execution as its two predecessors.

Animal Kingdom is literally dense with theming, making this tome especially enjoyable. The book is a treasure trove of concept art and design sketches. It was a real treat to see two very interesting concept ideas by Joe Rohde--the elaborate Oasis carousel that eventually evolved into the Tree of Life, and a Noah's Ark gateway that was an early idea for the park entrance.

The book truly serves to illustrate how in many ways the Imagineers' penchant for details if often overlooked or not considered by the average visitor. One excellent example of this is the outdoor theater that hosts The Flights of Wonder show. The Caravan Stage is in fact derived from a caravansay, a place where caravans would take respite from their journeys. It is intended to evoke the setting of the Silk Road as it traverses through the Taklimakan desert of Asia. And here you thought it was just a shady spot for the "bird show."

The book is filled with similar background expositions that will surprise and delight even those who consider themselves seasoned theme park experts. Like its already published Magic Kingdom and EPCOT counterparts, it's a great read for even the most casual of Disney tourists but also an indispensable reference for any Disney park enthusiast.

My only quibble with the book is that its small field guide format does not do justice to its many wonderful illustrations. Hardly a fair criticism considering the field guide nature of the publication, but it does make one hope for larger format collections of Imagineering concepts both realized and unrealized.


Rough and Tumble Boy said...

Hey Jeff. Love you site.

Just finished reading the Ak Field Guide over the weekend. I have to say I really enjoyed this! So much has been written about the other parks that I knew most of the information in them. This one offered a lot of surprises, for me anyway.

The one thing that really stood out was Animal Kingdom's entrance. Every 'land' is filled with such detail and 'placemaking' and history except the entrance. The concept art, however, shows quite a few different ideas that really would have shined. The concept art on page 20 at the top is my favorite. Stepping between those canyon walls would have been like entering a 'lost world' or sanctuary where man and beast co-exist in harmony and appreciation. The current entrance is something you might see working at the Detroit Zoo, but not at a Disney theme park.

When I'm outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom, I think, "Do I wanna spend $65 to get in there?" With Cinderella's castle in the distance and the architecture of Main Street, my answer is yes. At Epcot with Spaceship Earth, same answer. But at Animal Kingdom, my answer is no.

There's a lot of talk on the internet about California Adventure's lack of placemaking in the Sunshine Plaza, but I think it does a much better job than the current entrance of AK.

I sure wish they'd reconsider some of those initial designs and make walking up to the gates of AK as magical feeling as MK or Epcot.