Friday, September 12, 2008


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