I just finished The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell.
What a great read. No, strike that. What an amazing read!
Concept art, stories, ride photographs and some great insider (re: Imagineer) information. You will read how the Imagineers started the Mountain concept and how the art of storytelling through the actual rides became what it is today.
We start the journey with Walt’s need to fill an empty spot at Disneyland that was created by removing dirt from the moat around the castle. Originally named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, not only was it an eyesore, but the Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out for some of the park’s more brazen guests. Unofficially, the area became known as lover’s lane. After a trip to Switzerland to oversee the filming of Third Man on the Mountain, Walt fell in love with the Matterhorn. Thus began Walt’s quest to build a mountain at Disneyland
The book focuses on every Disney Mountain ever created, but most of the book is spent on the big five: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Splash and Everest. Sandwiched between Matterhorn and Expedition Everest are sixteen other mountains (counting each one at all of the parks); including Candy Mountain–the Mountain that never was.
The concept art is simply amazing. Works by John Hench, Herb Ryman, Mary Blair, Tony Baxter, Clem Hall and Dan Goozee are scattered throughout the book. The original concept art for Space Mountain called for parts of the track to circle outside the lower part of the building and near the spires. Mainly to entice people to ride it. The Imagineers feared that people would shy away from the ride if they didn’t know what to expect. The ride tracks at the top would have simply been a smaller version of the ride tracks and vehicles with small dummies in them. Weather, costs and engineering kept the original idea from fruition.
In addition to discussing Candy Mountain, a good section of the book is devoted to Imagineer Marc Davis’ swan song concept for the Western River Expedition. Marc, much like Walt, never wanted to repeat himself. He agreed that Walt Disney World should not have a Pirates attraction and he began to devote a lot of his time to the creation of the Western River Expedition.
…An audio-animatronics extravaganza that would outdazzle Pirates in every respect. The water ride was to be the centerpiece of Thunder Mesa, an expansive show complex that would also be home to hiking trails and pack-mule rides along its slopes and ridges, and a runway mine train ride down its hills and through its valleys.
Western River Expedition would be a wild and woolly musical adventure starring cowboys and Indians, masked banditos, and high-kicking cancan dancers, culminating with a raging forest fire and a final, dizzying plunge down a waterfall to the shores of the Rivers of America.
Of course, you will need to read the book to see what eventually happened with Thunder Mesa.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Splash Mountain section. Being the Disney Geeks very favorite ride at Walt Disney World, I was happy to see fifteen pages dedicated to the most awesome and incredible ride ever. Even though the concept is from 1983 (yay, Tony Baxter), the ride has its roots much earlier. Marc Davis created the 103 animatronics in Splash for the America Sings attraction in 1976. X Atencio also had a hand in designing one of the characters.
Beautiful paintings, at times, cover the entire fold. There are pictures of the Imagineers working on scale models, standing in front of humongous concept art and working on the Mountains. Jason Surrell relates wonderful stories from Imagineers spanning almost 50 years of designing and building the Disney Mountains.
You need this book!