The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering

Book review by Deane Barker tags: disney, creativity

This is a magisterial history of the Imagineering department at the Walt Disney company. These are the people who create the theme parks – they come up with the ideas, they decorate the themes, they figure out the rides, etc.

The book was development along with a six-episode docuseries on Disney+, with the same name. I both watched the series and read the book at the same time.

The book boils down to a history of all the Disney parks around the world. And, it turns out, there are about 12 of them, some of which I had barely heard of. In addition to the American parks, there are two in Tokyo, one in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai, and one in Paris.

I’ve always loved the parks. I love the fantasy of it – getting lost in another world and all that. And this is the book that explains how that’s done. It’s the entire history, from when Walt thought up the idea of the original Disneyland in the early 50s, all the way through the very latest changes to the parks.

And they do keep changing. Walt referred to this as “plussing the parks” – they would continually evolve. New rides were added, and rides were swapped out.

Every famous attraction is discussed in deep detail. Pirates of the Carribbean, It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion – the book talks about why they were built, how they were imagined, how they were created, and how they evolved, both their original incantation and how they were changed to be installed in other parks.

It’s not sanitized. Some of the parks sucked. A couple of parks almost failed badly. Some rides were terrible. The book covers it all. (Although, it wasn’t recent enough to talk about the disastrous Star Wars hotel debacle. It talks about the development of it, but not that it was an epic failure. I imagine that happened after the book when to press.)

You learn the names of a lot of Imagineers. Many of them loom extremely large in the history of Disney. And the group grows and evolves and shrinks over time. The book takes such a long view, that you get a since of the “eras” that the Imagineers worked in.

When Walt dies in the mid-60s (just months before the first Florida park opened), there’s an acute sense of loss. He was the driving force behind what the Imangineers did, and they felt it. His death was a shock. Few people knew how sick he was.

Also interesting is how the parks evolved through disasters. The Tokyo parks have gone through many earthquakes, not to mention the tsunami and Fukashima disaster. And the parks had to deal with COVID.

If you love the Disney parks, this is your book. It’s huge, but you’ll get lost in it.

Book Info

Leslie Iwerks
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A hardcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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