Sunday, September 09, 2007

Scaling the Disney Mountains

“As long as there are still Imagineers left in the world, there will always be new mountains to climb.”

Almost any type of media that allows one to peek behind the elaborate facades and carefully crafted make believe that is a Disney theme park is a welcome entity indeed. Such is certainly the case with Jason Surrell’s newest book that again looks behind the curtain at the wizardry that exists within Walt Disney Imagineering. In The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak, Surrell takes readers on an international journey that details the creation and subsequent impact of some of Disney’s most elaborate and beloved theme park attractions.

In recent years, Surrell has successfully penned extensive histories of Disney’s Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions. With The Disney Mountains, he sheds the obligatory movie chapters that were necessitated by the Pirates/Mansion franchises, and focuses 100% on the company’s theme park endeavors. It is a fun and densely illustrated journey across an artificial mountain range that showcases the creative mountaineers whose names read like a who’s who of Imagineering all-stars.

The book begins with Surrell scaling Disney’s first mountain, Disneyland’s now iconic Matterhorn, by taking us back to the still very early days of WED Enterprises and such notable creative talents as Harriet Burns, Fred Joerger and Bill Evans. In direct contrast to today’s globetrotting Imagineers, Harriet Burns related how their initial research consisted of “ . . . some pictures from National Geographic, a double-page spread from Life magazine, and a couple of postcards.”

The evolution of the Matterhorn is further chronicled with the addition of the Abominable Snowman in 1977, and this would foreshadow a certain Animal Kingdom mountain nearly three decades later. Expedition Everest, with a Yeti of its own, is the subject of the book’s final chapter. These pages effectively demonstrate just how far Disney attractions have developed in scope and sophistication since those early Disneyland days, yet still serve to hold true and valued the efforts of those early WED pioneers.

In between the thematic bookends of Matterhorn and Everest, readers are treated to chapters relating to the various incarnations of Space, Splash and Thunder Mountains, as well as Grizzly Peak in Disney’s California Adventure and Mount Prometheus at Tokyo DisneySea. Also included is a look at water park icons Mount Mayday at Typhoon Lagoon and Mount Gushmore at Blizzard Beach.

Highlights are many. I especially enjoyed the chapter detailing the oft-mentioned Big Rock Candy Mountain, an early concept for Disneyland’s Fantasyland. The book reveals that the ride’s interior would have featured characters from Walt’s then in development “Oz” film project, as envisioned by Disney Legend Claude Coats. The chapter on Mount Prometheus had me wanting to immediately put down the book and reserve a seat on the next flight to Tokyo.

The Disney Mountains adds another satisfying volume to Disney Press’ still expanding Imagineering library of titles. It’s a very happy publishing trend for Disney historians and armchair Imagineers alike.


Unknown said...

Beat me to the punch, Jeff!

I just got my copy on Friday and it is amazing. The artwork is phenomenal.

Can't wait to finish it.