George’s Favorite Books of 2020

George’s Favorite Books of 2020

Each year, there are more and more Disney- and theme park-related books published. As a theme park nerd, this makes me very happy, but it also means there’s a lot of wheat to separate from the chaff. And that’s part of why ImagiNERDing exists; I always want to present a fair and unbiased look at Disney and theme park books.

With the ease of self-publishing, it means that everyone can tell their theme park story or create their own Disney book. This is a double-edged sword: not only do we get an enormous amount of material, but it also means that quality control (editing, proof-reading, copy-editing, design, etc.) is often neglected. Regardless of the content, grammar, spelling, and style are all important and are a big part of whether a book makes my list.

Books, Books, and More Books from 2020

What follows is the list of my favorite books from the past year in chronological release date.

  • Rolling Through the Years: a Cedar Point Atlas & Chronology by Ken Miller—This is the ultimate history of Cedar Point and might be one of the greatest amusement park books ever written. It’s a huge book and is the most comprehensively detailed book about Cedar Point. And I always recommend that Disney park fans spend time visiting regional parks, like Cedar Point, because they offer a look into the growth and development of themed entertainment.

  • The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt, and Paul Wolski—talk about the ultimate release for fans of Walt Disney and the history of the monorail! The book takes us on a trip through the different iterations of the monorail through history (no, Disney did not invent the monorail) and the development of monorails at Disney parks. Every Disney fan needs to own this!

  • Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter by Graham Allen, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price—this is a book that Disney fans have been waiting years for. It’s a massive book that looks at all the how the holidays are celebrated in all of parks, resorts, hotels, and cruise ships. There is a smattering of history, which is nice, but the majority of the 1900 photos are from the past few years. This is an important release, especially concerning the lack of celebrations happening in the parks in 2020 and for the many fans that aren’t able to travel. I enjoyed the book, mainly for the photos, but really with there had been more of a vogue on the history of the holidays in the parks.

  • Polishing the Dragons: Making EPCOT’s “Wonders of China” by Jeff Blythe—Polishing the Dragons is a perfect example of how small and independent publishing houses can offer incredible content that is well-written, well-designed, and, fortunately, well-edited! Disney fans will relish every sentence and they will devour Jeff’s book about the making of the Circle-Vision film. Seriously, I’m still amazed that there is a whole book dedicated to one subject. The book is awesome.

  • Boundless Realm: Deep Explorations Inside Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Foxx Nolte—I’ve known Foxx for more than ten years and her blog has been one of the main inspirations for what I do at ImagiNERDing. The Haunted Mansion is a fan favorite and the attraction has been plagued by a lack of a stated backstory. Foxx takes us very deep to explore all of the influences of the Imagineers that led them to make the spooky house on the hill. This book is amazing and deserves to be in every Disney and theme park fan’s collection.

Haven’t Quite Finished It Yet…

My Favorite Books of 2020?

There you have it: my favorite books from 2020. I’m often asked what my favorite book of the year is, and I’ve offered the ImagiNERDing Book of the Year in years past. But this year, there are so many books that deserve the title that I can’t make an effective choice. If you’re on a limited budget, the Disney Monorails, Polishing the Dragons, Imagineering an American Dreamscape, and Boundless Realm, are all fantastic titles that shed light into Disney history from vastly different points-of-view and offer a wonderful reading experience.

What Are Your Favorite Books from 2020?


FTC Disclosure: In some cases, a copy might have been provided by the company for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Polishing the Dragons Making EPCOT’s Wonders of China

Polishing the Dragons: Making EPCOT’s Wonders of China by Jeff Blyth, a book review

Polishing the Dragons is an interesting title for a Disney history book, right?

The subtitle, Making EPCOT’s “Wonders of China,” relates to the Circle-Vision 360 film that played for more than 20 years in the China Pavilion at Epcot. But maybe you’re only familiar with the current film Reflections of China?

Still, I know what you’re thinking…

A whole book about the making of a Circle-Vision 360 film?

Leonard Kinsey reached out to me about reviewing the latest release from Bamboo Forest Publishing; pretty much every Bamboo Forest Publishing book has risen to the top of my favorites list. Leonard and his crew pay incredible attention to detail and have some of the most evocative layouts of any Disney-related book (plus a special shoutout to the mad genius Hugh for his impeccable editing).

What is Polishing the Dragons?

As inferred, the book is about the making of the Wonders of China film that played in EPCOT from the grand opening in 1982 until March 23, 2003 (it also played at Disneyland). The title refers to the extreme steps that the author and film crew took to make Wonders of China. And not just polishing dragons.

As a Disney book nerd, it shocked me that someone could write a book about this. But the book equally shocked me in that Jeff could remember enough about the experience to pen a 248 page work. Polishing the Dragons will surprise you! (And maybe shock you—in a great way!)

Polishing the Dragons starts before the advent of the filming process and offers background on Jeff and his early career. We accompany Jeff as he follows his passion of filmmaking and storytelling. And that’s important to know: Jeff is a storyteller, as it comes through in this book and the projects he has worked on. After completing an IMAX project, the company Jeff worked for came to the attention of Disney. Imagine needing to coordinate the opening of the world’s largest theme park (at the time); you would need to get the best people you can. In this case, Jeff became the best person to coordinate the hauling of a massive Circle-Vision camera around China.

What Is Circle-Vision?

If you’re not familiar with Circle-Vision, it’s a massive camera set-up with nine cameras that offers a 360 degree view. The nine cameras have to be focused and synced (along with other camera and filmmaking techniques). You also have to ensure that you don’t have anything extra that you don’t want in any of the nine images is in the frame. Other Circle-Vision films include the current Oh Canada, Reflections of China, and the former Time Keeper.

The book spends a majority of the time in China as Jeff negotiates (on a daily basis) getting the shots needed. In some cases, the nine camera set-up would be hauled all day for just a few seconds of film. Imagine spending 7-8 hours of physcal labor and hiking to get a few moments captured. This book almost acts as a guide for making a film in a foreign country.

Most modern readers will probably be unfamiliar with the post-Mao China. It’s quite eye-opening to read about how closed off the country was and how difficult it was to complete the project. There were many times it seemed as if the project were going to be stopped.

From what I understand, Jeff kept an incredibly detailed journal, which explains the crazy amount of detail presented to us almost 40 years later. Jeff goes surprisingly in-depth in an almost day-to-day basis. It might seem like overkill, but it’s fascinating to relate his experiences to the finished film.

Why Should You Read This Disney History Book?

Bamboo Forest Publishing has a strong record of publishing engaging, creative, and authoritative books. The Charlie Walker books by Nick Pobursky are some of the best fiction titles related to Disney and the  Drinking at Disney title was my favorite book from 2016. And with Polishing the Dragons, they’ve knocked it way out of the park. Who could imagine a 248 page book dedicated solely to one singular attraction (well, besides the Haunted Mansion).

Jeff has a fantastic writing style and I felt like I was on the trip with him (minus the cold, heat, rain, and unfamiliar food). The book never bogged you down with useless information about the process; he actually keeps you fairly entertained during the multiple visits to China to scout and film. A circle-vision film takes so much work and time! You will never take another Circle-Vision film for granted.

Again, a single book dedicated a theme park attraction seems like overkill, but Jeff makes voyage very entertaining. You will never take the Circle-Vision film for granted. You will also walk away with a deeper knowledge of how a large project comes together and the multitude of people that partook in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and reading about all of the details that went into the film. If you’re a fan of EPCOT Center or a filmmaker, then you will devour Jeff’s book.

Are You Going to Pick Up Polishing the Dragons?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Boundless Realm Haunted Mansion Book Review

Boundless Realm: Deep Explorations Inside Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Foxx Nolte

Are you a Haunted Mansion fan?

Then simply visit your favorite retailer and purchase Boundless Realm, Foxx’s deep dive into the history, culture, myths, and designs of everyone’s favorite spooky house.

You will love it and you will glean so much from her nuanced analysis of the vaunted theme park attraction.

I would end the review here, but you might want to read more about it before you take your own deep dive.

Here’s the point to Foxx’s book:

In truth, however, the haunted mansion does not offer us many hints. The great power of the ride is that it suggests leagues more than it shows. Practically every scene offers visual input of imagistic power and internal logic but which has no larger context outside itself. Our brains labor overtime to trace links where they may not truthfully exist. It’s the theme park equivalent of a Rorschach test. —p. 52

Foxx has been pontificating on the Mansion and Disney/themed design for more than fourteen years at Passport 2 Dreams. And I’m not shy to say that she is one of the reasons that I started ImagiNERDing in 2007. Foxx’s words inspired me to look at Disney from a different viewpoint and allowed me to take a discerning look at design choices that I always took for granted. Seriously, the post on fake skylights changed my life.

Why Should You Read This Haunted Mansion Book?

Anyone who has experienced either of the continental Disney Mansions understands that there isn’t much of a narrative. Well, there is, and not the fan-based stories or the retcon that Imagineers have imposed over the ensuing years. But there is a rooted story that is based on the culture and history of the Imagineers that worked on Walt’s haunted house in the 1950s and 1960s. Foxx takes us on the dark and shadowy path that created the 1969 and 1971 Mansions (yes, I know they’re very similar, but there were/are differences).

Foxx did a majority of the 30 illustrations throughout the book!

That’s why this book is spectacular. Foxx takes us by the hand and acts as guide to all that made the Haunted Mansion the Haunted Mansion. She delves into the pop culture of the past few centuries, with a long side track into spiritualism, and brings us into the history of dark rides that led to this one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Anyone familiar with Laff in the Dark and fun house walk-throughs will enjoy these dynamic connections.

Foxx takes these conjunctions, so to speak, and shares how the Imagineers (Davis, Coats, Crump, Gracey, and others) used these influences to design the enigmatic attraction. I searched Google and YouTube for books, songs, and movies mentioned by Foxx that are antecedents to the spooky house.

Boundless Realm and Disney Fans

In Boundless Realm, Foxx’s positions might not sit well with the average theme park visitor or Disney fan (someone who never vacations outside of Walt Disney World). She disregards and destroys fan-based theories (like Constance’s wedding ring), which is a wonderful thing. Some might call Foxx elitist, but there is a reason she is one of the most respected authorities on the Haunted Mansion. Her arguments and theories posit that the Haunted Mansion is a ride that must be experienced firsthand and can only be understood by regular visits.

The book really is for Mansionites that want to experience the attraction from a design perspective in relation to the history and culture of the Imagineers. Casual fans that follow popular vloggers might find consternation in Boundless Realm, but that’s a good thing. I’ve been reading and conversing with Foxx about the Haunted Mansion and themed design for nigh on ten years, and I still felt like I learned some new nugget on each and every page.

Boundless Realm shines when Foxx brings together all of the parts that made the spooky house what it is. We start the journey by discussing how themed entertainment (amusement parks, fairs, carnivals, etc.) and horror films of the early 20th century helped lay the foundation for the iconic attraction. But there are so many more layers to the attraction that Foxx uncovers.

Foxx spends time (and words) imploring readers to discover the world outside of the Disney berms. She discusses the importance of the Haunted Mansion at Knoebels and the Whacky Shack rides, and how their influence is felt in the Mansion.

Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World (And Tokyo, Paris, and Shanghai)

Foxx focuses most of her attention on the Florida mansion. She doesn’t disregard the California attraction; she discusses both attractions when they diverge and offer similar experiences. Her favorite is the Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansion, wherein lies her obsession. And her obsession pays off in spades for us.

In thinking about the book, there were so many parts that stood out in relation to the Magic Kingdom version. Foxx tours us around Liberty Square, and she helps us to understand why the spooky house is situated on a hill and its relation to the rest of the land. (Did you know that you’re not supposed to see the riverboat from the entrance to Liberty Square? It’s the sole reason they built the dock the way it is.) I also loved anytime Foxx stepped out of her role as tour guide and shared anecdotes about time spent working at the Haunted Mansion. There are some fantastic cast member tales in this book. Tales that could not take place today!

We do get sidelines related to the Tokyo Mansion, Phantom Manor, and Mystery Mansion. Foxx doesn’t burrow far into them, but offers cursory glances as to their roles in the evolving art form that is the dark ride. She also tackles a few of the other more prominent haunted houses at Alton Towers, Europa Park, and others.

A Ghost Will Follow You Home

This is only the third title written about the Haunted Mansion. For her, it was a journey that took most of her life to make. It is a work of love, but it’s also a look—no, a gaze into the Mansion and everything that makes the Mansion tick. And why we respond to the Mansion as we do. In one part of the book, Foxx mentions watching people exit the ride, and there is palpable exhilaration on their faces and in their mannerisms. As if they’ve ridden a roller coaster. There is something deeply relatable within the Haunted Mansion that touches so many of us. And many times we simply don’t have the wherewithal to understand why.

That’s what makes Boundless Realm so important.

Are You Going to Pick Up Boundless Realm?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Imagineering an American Dreamscape, a Book Review

Imagineering an American Dreamscape by Barry R. Hill, a Book Review

The history of Disney Parks and larger regional amusement parks, like Cedar Point and Six Flags, have been well-documented. But what about the other theme parks? The ones that helped usher in the idea of themed entertainment or were part of the 1970s amusement/theme park revival? How does the growth of regional theme parks fit into the landscape of the history of theme and amusement parks? With Imagineering an American Dreamscape: Genesis, Evolution and Redemption of the Regional Theme Park, author Barry Hill shares a well-written and well-presented history of America’s theme parks. One that is sure to intrigue and take you on a wonderful stroll down memory lane of your favorite local park. Or parks.

Why Do You Need to Read This Book?

Contrary to popular belief, theme parks didn’t start with Disneyland in 1955. The term theme park was born with the opening of Walt’s nascent park, but the idea of theme parks had existed in a few parks prior to Walt’s creation. Barry wastes no time jumping into the history of parks by exploring pre-Disneyland, Walt’s influences, and, then, the major players, like Angus Wynne, Busch, Randall Duell, and so many others.

I’ve been a Disney park fan for most of my life and a self-styled Disney historian since the mid-1990s. After being on an award-winning podcast for years and writing weekly histories of Disney, I started to wonder how we got to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. What about other world-class parks like Universal and Busch Gardens Tampa? Where did they start and how did parks change over the years?

And why do so many people know so little about theme park history?

Look at that: almost 100 pages dedicated to an index, notes, a bibliography, and other important background information!

If you’ve ever visited a Six Flags park, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Holiday World, Great America, Hersheypark…or so many others, then this book is a treat. Barry takes the history of theme parks seriously and offers a condensed story of how the parks came to be, evolved, survived, and, in some cases, quietly slipped away.

If anything, this book will afford Disney fans the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and understand the larger tapestry of theme parks that exist outside of Disney and Universal. For most of the parks presented, Barry takes us back in time to wander the opening season of the park to look at the design and early attractions. It really is a stroll down memory lane.

What’s Inside Imagineering an American Dreamscape?

Barry ruminates on the successes and failures of so many parks and the forces behind the parks. When Barry talks about Carowinds (Charlotte, NC), he shares the inside story of E. Pat Hall, the Charlotte-area business man who planned to bring a Disneyland-style resort to the booming city. Massive plans included a short-lived monorail and hotels. The looming energy crisis changed everything, as it did with Taft, Marriott, and other regional parks. Some survived, some were bought out, and some just languished.

Obviously, Barry can’t cover every park, but he does share the ones that influenced the themed industry more than others. My only complaint about the book relates to the lack of maps and photographs to illustrate the work. Barry addresses this in the book by directing readers to his website: Rivershore Creative.

Randall Duell and the Duell Loop: the Ultimate Theme Park Designer

We also get an inside look at some of the most important people in the theme park industry. Barry spends pages discussing Randall Duell, the architect responsible for the modern theme park. Duell was able to take the successes of Disneyland and translate them into early Six Flags parks. He became the most in-demand designer and is responsible for being able to integrate thoughtful design, architecture, and theming.

After the main sections of the book, Barry introduces us to Mel McGowan and Rick Bastrup. Both are McGowan is Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Storyland Studios; Bastrup is President and Head Designer of R&R Creative Amusement Designs. Both offer salient chapters on Duell and other theme park design legends. McGowan and Bastrup share the stories as fans and industry insiders.

In all honesty, Imagineering an American Dreamscape is almost the story of Randall Duell. The warp and weft of the theme park industry is ingrained with so many of Duell’s deft touches and ideas. I’m so glad Barry presented the book in this way.

So, yes, you should grab this book. And, yes, you will enjoy it. Barry has written a work on a staggering subject and he has distilled it to the most important concepts and people. You will learn something from Barry’s work, regardless of your prior theme park experiences.

What is your favorite regional park? Mine is Kings Island.


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks Book Review

Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks Book Review

Missing the holidays at the Disney Parks this year? Check out George’s review of Holiday Magic at Disney Parks, the new book by Graham Allen, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price. The new Disney book celebrating Christmas and Halloween at the Disney Parks features over 1,900 photos!

Disney Publishing sent a review copy and I couldn’t wait to make a preview video for you.

Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks Video Review

If you won’t be able to visit this parks this year, is this book a good substitute?

This large-format coffee table-sized book will enchant you with photos from Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and more. It’s hard to imagine that Disney could capture all of the magical details of their celebrations worldwide. They cover the twelve parks, cruise ships, resorts, and shopping districts. There is something for every fan of the parks, including a rich look at the history of the holidays starting at Disneyland.

The price tag seems hefty at first, until you crack it open and leaf through the pages. You’ll notice that there are four to five pictures per page. And at 384 pages, that’s almost as many photos as I take each visit!

 

Along with the Disney Monorail book, you have two fantastic reads for this holiday season. Are you going to get both? As a general rule, Disney books have small print runs and go out-of-print fairly quickly. If you wait too long, the price will skyrocket.

Are you going to order the holiday book for yourself or as a gift?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Disney Who’s Who: An A to Z of Animated Films

Disney Who’s Who: An A to Z of Animated Films Book Preview

Disney sent a review copy of the revised and updated Disney Who’s Who: An A to Z of Animated Films. This 432-page book is a glossary of characters broken down by animated film. It looked like a perfect Disney book to do a preview and share with everyone.

Is this a book for kids or will all Disney fans want it on their shelves?

From 101 Dalmatians to Zootopia! Disney Who’s Who Video:

What do you think about this latest book featuring the characters from Disney’s classic and modern animated films?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Disney Mountains Book Video Review

Disney Mountains Video Book Review

Love the Disney Mountains?

Does the idea of tackling Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain make you strap on your Disney lederhosen for a fun day at the parks?

What about Matterhorn Mountain? Or Mount Mayday or Mount Gushmore? Have you ever experienced Mount Prometheus? And don’t forget about Grizzly Peak orExpedition Everest.

And if you want learn everything there is about the Disney Mountains from all of the Disney Parks worldwide…where you look?

Check out my Video Review of The Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell

What’s Your Favorite Disney Mountain?


FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Disney Monorail Book Preview!

The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky Video Book Preview!

¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!

Love Disney monorails? Then you need to check out this book preview of The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt, and Paul Wolski. The review copy just showed up and I set up the video camera to give my fellow ImagiNERDs a first look at this highly-anticipated new Disney book.

Is this going to be the ImagiNERDing Book of the Year?

Check Out My Video Preview of the New Book About Disney Monorails

Make sure to check out these other books by Disney historian, scholar, and all-around great guy: Jeff Kurtti.

Vanessa Hunt has contributed to the Disney Parks literature, as well!

Are you going to pick up the new Disney Monorail book?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Walt Disney and Trains

Walt Disney and Trains

Do you love Disney trains? Want to learn everything there is to know about Walt Disney and his fascination with railroads? How did Walt’s love of railroads influence Disneyland?

Check out Walt Disney’s Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom by Michael Broggie to get a fascinating look into Walt’s life and his love of trains.

Walt Disney’s Railroad Story by Michael Broggie Book Review

It’s still hard to imagine Walt’s first trip around Disneyland on his Disneyland Railroad. It must have been an amazing event to be part of. And Michael Broggie was there to tell the story.

Have you ever had the chance to visit Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park?

Check out these posts on the Walt Disney World Railroad.

What’s your favorite Disney train?


FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Disney Maps: a Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love

Disney Maps: a Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love

The new Disney book release Disney Maps: a Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love celebrates the Disney and Pixar animated feature films that we know and love, hence the title.

Is this book that features maps of the primary locations from the animated feature films worth adding to your collection?

There are 24 different films covered in this book. The films span the entire history of the Disney Company from its first animated feature film to the most recent blockbusters.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
  • Pinocchio,
  • Bambi,
  • Alice in Wonderland,
  • Peter Pan,
  • One Hundred and One Dalmatians,
  • TheJungle Book,
  • The Little Mermaid,
  • Beauty and the Beast,
  • Aladdin,
  • The Lion King,
  • Toy Story,
  • A Bug’s Life,
  • Finding Nemo,
  • The Incredibles,
  • Cars,
  • Ratatouille,
  • Up,
  • Brave,
  • Monsters University,
  • Frozen,
  • Inside Out,
  • Moana, and
  • Coco.

Obviously, they couldn’t cover every film ever released, but they do offer the most popular ones. Interestingly enough, but there aren’t any page numbers, but it won’t be difficult to navigate this title, at all.

Who is Disney Maps: a Magical Atlas of the Movies We Know and Love For?

Fans oft animated films that are included will enjoy the title. It really feels like the book is meant for the tween and younger set to enjoy with siblings or parents. It’s also a great title for anyone that wants to let their imagination explore the realms of classic and modern Disney and Pixar films.

What do you think about this new Disney book release?

Looking for the book on Disney Park maps?

Or a video on different park maps of the Magic Kingdom?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!