Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell, a book review
Wearing your lederhosen? We’re going to climb some Disney Mountains!
The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak was published in September 2007 and has 128 pages. Jason Surrell might be a familiar name to most cadets. He also wrote the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean books—the ones that have the subtitle From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies! (They’re pretty amazing and the de facto histories of those attractions.) He was an Imagineer in Florida and currently works for Universal Creative.
This book is one of my favorites. I know, I say that often, but it’s true! Basically, Jason looks at all of the Disney mountains, their history, how they transformed Disney parks and theme parks worldwide and their litany within the company.
The first mountain is Matterhorn Mountain at Disneyland. Jason spends a lot of time on this section and with good reason. The Matterhorn was the first in so many areas. We learn about the initial spark for the mountain, how it was built and the changes throughout the years. 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.
Through each chapter we’re introduced to the Disney legends and Imagineers that made these mountains real. There’s concept art, drawings and stellar paintings—my favorites are the ones from the different Splash Mountains all over the world. Jason interviewed a lot of Imagineers and the stories shared are wonderful. There’s not another resource that looks at the Disney mountains in such an in depth manner.
So, here’s the list of the mountains covered: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Typhoon Lagoon (Mount Mayday) and Blizzard Beach (Mount Gushmore), Splash, Grizzly Peak, Mount Prometheus and Expedition Everest. There’s even a few pages dedicated to Candy Mountain, which had been shown at Disney California Adventure.
A majority of the book is dedicated to concept artwork instead of behind-the-secenes or narrative-style information about the Disney mountains. It makes sense in this case, simply because Surrell has to cover so many Disney mountains in so many Disney parks. 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.
It’s a great title and one that I’d like to see Disney (or another publisher) do more of. Jason is a natural storyteller and highlights a lot of the anecdotes from the Imagineers that show how special the Disney mountains are. That’s what makes this book so entertaining. Not only are you learning Disney history, but you’re enjoying yourself, too! Just like listening to Communicore Weekly (the Greatest Online Show
This is a definite must have and should be part of every cadet’s library. It is out-of-print, so it’s fairly expensive on the second-hand market.