Friday, September 12, 2008

Unfortunatley...

I'm still technically on hiatus here, but I thought I'd give a general heads up that I was able to look through Walt Disney World: Then, Now & Forever - by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon - last night and I regret to say that I was duly unimpressed. Their very nice Disneyland: Then, Now & Forever was an interesting way to organize information, where one could go from Big Thunder Mountain to Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland to Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules by turning a few pages. That book becomes a pretty disorganized mess near the end as the desire to create a pictorial souvenir which was also a Disneyland history book begins to manifest, but this flaw is apparent throughout the WDW incarnation.

Too much attention is paid to Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios which are still fairly close to their original forms, and too little to The Magic Kingdom & EPCOT. Those moments where good information is being imparted are often overshadowed by a far sloppier layout than the first book, and subjects come and go at a chaotic whim. Worse, most of the pictures in the book are Pana-Vue slides commercially available at Walt Disney World in the first few years and still common in second hand markets. These pictures can be downloaded for absolutely free online, which makes the book even more superfluous. The comparative lack of text, lack of new pictures and information, and chaotic disorganization utterly does the book in.

I'm not sure how to diagnose this. Kurtti is no stranger to Walt Disney World history and his very nice, text heavy and graphics light Since The World Began from twelve years ago is still the best Disney-authorized beginner's look at the history of the Florida Project. He also had a hand in the 1997 - 2000 publication A Magical Year-by-Year Journey, which published solid information and unusual pictures in a logical format. Moreover his just-published Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering is a concise, cutting and essential book and his text for that project shows a writer who has evolved from a chronicler to a critic. I am very hesitant to blame Kurtti for putting out a subpar product.

Length restrictions may have had a role. Disneyland: Then, Now & Forever doesn't have enough space to fully be all it can be, and that book is covering two parks, three hotels and a shopping district. The WDW version is covering over twice the amount of subjects in roughly the same number of pages, and some of the omissions are unfortunate. The resorts are given a very brief mention and there is fairly little said about the Shopping Village or the golf courses. If You Had Wings is relegated to a photo caption about Dreamflight. Although I realize that my level of obsession with Walt Disney World minutia is coloring my perception of the book, if you came to the book expecting lots of weird pictures and unusual information, you'll be a little let down.

In a larger sense the book is pretty indicative of Disney's larger attitude towards Walt Disney World's history, which is that there is none. Disneyland is successfully marketed as the "history park" while Walt Disney World's varied past is often and sloppily swept under the rug. While the Disneyland volume is well-resourced enough that we can be shown cool things like an original Show White painted flat, the Walt Disney World volume seems parched for content. Was Kurtti given too little to work with and too little space?

It pains me to say this, but after being thoroughly annoyed by the book I must warn people with my level of interest in Walt Disney World to purchase with caution. Give the book a through inspection. I declined to buy it. Others with a less strong expectation of WDW history reportage may want it, but consider this an advance warning that it will not be for all tastes. Of course I may be an outlier because I considered Realityland to be a crashing disappointment also. Let's hope that The Art of Walt Disney World, supposedly forthcoming, proves more exciting.

Amazing Quote of the Hiatus No. #2: "The sounds and sights of Tomorrowland are sometimes young... and sometimes old!" - A Pictorial Souvenir of Walt Disney World, 1972

8 comments:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

I was afraid you were giong to say that.

So, when are we going to write THE history of WDW?

Eric Scales said...

Well I'm sad to hear that the book is so poorly done, but grateful to hear it before I've bought it! Actually I'll probably still buy it, and I'll probably grumble at how bad it is, but at least then I will have nobody to blame but myself.

I have mixed feelings on the the DL version of this book (Then, Now, and Forever). On a positive note, after years and years of the same stock photos, that book was full of unique images that must have been dredged up from the bottoms of several dusty files. But unfortunately the same images were used in just about every Disney publication done for the 50th, so if you got all the Disney books that year, the "new" pictures quickly became old. I guess that's a bit nitpicky. The text was minimal, as they usually are in those books, but a bit more unusual than the previous volumes, as the more historic approach warranted. I'm not a huge fan of Bruce Gordon's design style, lots and lots of stuff piled on a page overlapping and Photoshop drop shadows everywhere, but that's a minor complaint compared to what he's given us.

As for WDW, while the execution of these new books may leave us wanting, I think it is encouraging that so many are in the lineup. Perhaps the Company is finally ready to start acknowledging WDW's unique history. I mean it took a good 25 years or so before DL really started exploiting it's heritage- as long as it happens, I'll be happy. The bigger fight I think will be sifting through the MGM and DAK material to get to the good stuff- Magic Kingdom and pre 90's EPCOT!

Amazon seems to have changed the status of The Art of WDW from upcoming, to unknown. I really hope this book still happens- do you have any idea if it will?

FoxxFur said...

Disneyland Then Now & Forever had its' share of issues to be sure. It did, however, have some nice images that were new to me at the time and of course anytime I can be inside the West Coast Disney I'm in a fairly forgiving mood all around. I still pull it out fairly often to look at it. The WDW version is just a huge mess, not that I don't suggest looking through it anyway to see the two pieces of concept art I've never seen before (both from Frontierland). It even commits the mortal sin of failing to produce new pages for several topics, including one on Adventureland which prominently features Masked Trader Sam. Did they even care?

And, yes, The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management is presented as "A Fresh Spin On Things!".

The Art of Walt Disney World is supposedly still on track and will supposedly be an inpark-only book, which may explain its' status on Amazon. As far as I know, and I'm not in any loop please remember, it's still happening.

Know what I want Disney to do? Start producing books either on just one park or just one decade. Even then in order to be satisfactory a book on Walt Disney World: The 1970's would have to be very large and furthermore an actual improvement on the staggeringly wonderful Walt Disney World: The First Decade from 1981. Probably around the size of the library edition of Richard Beard EPCOT book. I'm sure the price would be highway robbery but, hey, I bought The Art of Disneyland back when it was $75....

Eric Scales said...

You are a dreamer, foxxfur...

FoxxFur said...

I'd like to think of that as being a polite euphemism for somebody with impossibly high standards. =P

Eric Scales said...

I'd have to say, that the Disney book that I've been most satisfied with (lets say %99) was the book that came with the 6 CD set for Disneyland's 50th. I knew from the beginning what it was going to be about- it was simply focused on the music, and it had a great mix of info and unusual images. The text was very informative and anytime it deviated from it's focus was just a bonus. Disney has just gotten so big now, and has so many varied areas of interest, that trying to do one book for even a single resort is like trying to do a History of the U.S.A in 100 pages or less. Fortunately I don't think the future is too dim, but I think the great Disney tomes we get in the future will continue to be from outsiders.

KINGCRAB said...

And, yes, The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management is presented as "A Fresh Spin On Things!".

That's because it IS a fresh spin on things.

Anyway, I think that this new book is great for what it is and does contain its share of rare photos as well, including some of that even I never saw before.

Then again, anything from WDW that acknowledges its past and heritage in a manner similar to DL is good enough in my book.

ericpaddon said...

If it weren't for "Widen Your World", "Walt Dated World" this blog and a few other places on the net, we would be suffering through a black void regarding WDW history because of the lack of respsect the company gives it (which I think is exclusively tied to do wanting to forget the decade of the 70s and Card Walker/Ron Miller, which also coincides with WDW's Golden Age).