Sunday, September 21, 2008

Book Review: Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park

Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park by Jeff Kurtti, 146 pp, 2008.

This has been an eagerly anticipated book in the Disney community. Since their inception with the creation of Disneyland, the Imagineers have always been the architects and dreamers of Walt's visions. Many of the names that you read about in the book will be familiar to Disney enthusiasts; as the name of the book implies, these are the legends of Disney Imagineering.

Jeff Kurtti is a well-known and much-admired name in the Disney community. He has written many seminal works on the history of the theme parks, animated films, characters and theater. Since The World Began is one of his more treasured books. Jeff is also known for his work on several award-winning documentaries and as a consultant for film and theater. Currently, he is working with the Walt Disney Family Museum. The late Bruce Gordon served as editor on the project and his talents are seen throughout the book through the layout and design. Bruce was the author of The Nickel Tour, Walt's Time and The Art of Disneyland (with Jeff).





In an interview with Didier Ghez, Jeff talks about the motivation behind the book:

The inspiration for Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends was John Canemaker's Walt Disney's Nine Old Men. I say inspiration, since my book comes nowhere near the depth and erudition of John's great work, but the inspiration was to create a work that would familiarize people with the core team of creative people within the initial development of Disneyland.

The animation group, as a rule, is more familiar to people, and the Imagineering group is less well-known, the history of how they came together is much less documented. It's very important for new generations of fans to get a proper introduction to this information, it's important for the Company to preserve a record that illuminates and contextualizes key periods of its history.
--http://disneybooks.blogspot.com/2008/07/next-month-will-see-release-of-jeff.html

I am not sure I could have said it better myself. In looking at a group as large and nebulous as the Imagineers, it is obvious that any work on them could not be inclusive. Many people have iterated their complaints about the lack of certain key members, but that is to be expected. Jeff has already stated that he hopes to create a second volume.




Imagineering Legends is able to meld several key ideas into one book: an introduction to 30 of the most famous and key Imagineers; an insightful look into the creation of the theme parks; and a journey through a history of Imagineering. There has not been another work published on this scale or within the same pages. Each of the Imagineers chronicled is presented within their holistic context. The classifications are well-reflected and well-thought. Jeff bestows the following categories: the Prototype Imagineers; the Place Makers; the Story Department; the Model Shop; the Machine Shop; the Music Makers and the Unofficial Imagineers. Special places are reserved for Walt Disney and John Hench.



Most of this information can be found in other sources, such as The E-Ticket, Walt Disney Imagineering, The Art of Disneyland, Disneyland: The First Quarter Century, The Nickel Tour and Disneyland: Inside Story. But Imagineering Legends is the only place you will find all of this information. That is the true brilliance of the book. Jeff presents a seamless and well-organized view into the Imagineers and the creation of Disney theme parks.



Bruce Gordon did an amazing job with the layout of Imagineering Legends. There are new photographs and concept art throughout the book. The layout is very contemporary and very appealing; you never feel lost in columns of text (although, Jeff is a great writer). My only issue with the layout is that some of the artwork and photographs are spread across two pages. Sometimes, it is difficult to get a good view of the artwork.




Bottom Line: This work is for everyone. Jeff has created a book that lays a solid foundation of knowledge for Disney enthusiasts of all levels. Whether you are new to the Imagineers or a seasoned researcher, this compilation solidly portrays Imagineering and their importance within the Disney Company. This book will be within constant reach on my bookshelf for many years. It will also be an essential addition to every enthusiast's library. Future Disney researchers will be thanking Jeff for years to come. You need to own this book.




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