The Disneylands That Never Were: A Book Review

The Disneylands That Never Were, a new book by MickeyNews.com columnist Shaun Finnie, (available from Lulu.com, 248 pages) has at its core a great idea. What Disney fan wouldn’t love to spend a few hours learning about all of the thrilling Imagineering projects that never got off the ground? And what self-styled Disney historian wouldn’t love cataloguing them?

Since most of the people who read this column are Disney die-hards, my next request won’t seem like much of a stretch: imagine that you yourself are trying to write this book. It shouldn’t take long to realize that you’ve picked quite a challenge for yourself. Though Disney Imagineering frequently leaks like a sieve, officially, it’s tight-lipped. Any book dealing with the topic of unrealized (and potentially to-be-built-in-the-future) ideas will have a hard time getting the official stamp of Disney approval. And without that, your book will be missing out on quite a lot. No Disney drawings or illustrations. No interviews with Imagineers; at least, no on-the-record ones. No rifling through the Disney Archives for long-forgotten project proposals. In short, no access to almost everything you’d want in order to write the definitive book on the subject.

Then thank god, you’ll say to yourself, for the Internet. A treasure-trove of information on discarded Imagineering projects, it wouldn’t be hard to fashion a book from all of those web postings on Westcot, Disney’s America, and Edison Square. The downside, of course, being that you’ll end up with a book filled with stories and details easily obtained by anyone through just a few Google searches.

Yet even that doesn’t necessarily have to spell doom for the project. Where the book could succeed is by weaving all of those disconnected Internet vignettes into a coherent story, to provide the “big picture” on these unrealized Disney monstrosities. But how to sum up a topic that is, as its heart, a disconnected one: the most outrageous, unbuildable ideas that Disney Imagineering has come up with? This is a story about outliers, and as such, it’s not easy collecting them into a narrative.

It might be at about this time that you’d give up on the project. Fortunately for Disney fans Mr. Finnie didn’t, though. The Disneylands That Never Were does in fact suffer from all of the problems already discussed. Mr. Finnie recognizes this in a disclosure in the book’s epilogue that probably should have appeared in its introduction:

Within these pages there are descriptions of many entire theme parks, individual attractions, rides and hotels take from the pens, brushes and keyboards of the Imagineers. What you won’t find in most cases however are reasons for these new developments’ non-appearance. Sometimes the reasons were financial, sometimes political. Others were simply the victims of poor timing. The reasons are usually many and varied. But that’s not what this book is about: it’s about simply informing you, the reader, of what might have been.

So if the book is essentially a catalog of stories that can be found elsewhere, does it have any value? I think it does, though it depends on the reader. If you’re an avid follower of Disney Imagineering history, there may not be a lot in this book that you didn’t already know. But if you’re relatively new to Disney, this book may be just the thing you’re looking for. (Finding these stories via Google implies that you know that they exist, and without a primer like this one that may never happen.) The ideal audience for The Disneylands That Never Were would seem to be the individual who, having recently experienced his or her first Disneyland trip and being enthralled with the experience, wants to jump further into Imagineering lore. It’s a good starting place, a much broader review of Imagineering concepts (though not necessarily deeper) than Disney’s own Imagineering: A Behind The Dreams Look.

The Disneylands That Never Were is available at Lulu.com in two formats, a $14.99 paperback version or a $5.49 downloadable PDF. Expecting that a non-sanctioned Disney book would contain a lot of text and very few pictures (none, in fact) I went for the PDF edition and found it relatively easy to read on my computer screen. I haven’t seen the paperback edition so I can’t comment on the quality of the printing or binding, but at $14.99 it seems reasonably priced for those who want to enjoy the book while away from their computer.

It would be nice if Mr. Finnie were to evolve this book over time. In addition to updating it with the latest in rejected Imagineering proposals, the book could use a sharp editorial eye. Its text is certainly readable and easy to follow along with, but there are occasional missteps. With regards to a description of Disneyland’s Rocket Rods:

This high speed slot car ride ran around a track high above Tomorrowland, but was so prone to breaking down that it was permanently mothballed within three years of its opening. Even worse, no corporate sponsor could be found for the ride, so its planned high speed banked curves never materialised.

Not finding a corporate sponsor was “even worse” than the ride being mothballed after three years? And this paragraph on Disneyland Paris’ Sequoia Lodge:

In its original plan the impressive Sequoia Lodge hotel would have been called the Forest of the Giants. Instead of the collection of mountain wilderness lodges that the resort holds today, its first incarnation had the buildings actually located in the branches of giant sequoia trees. Sadly the man-made “trees” proved too costly and fraught with safety issues, but the name survived to the final product.

Yet the name didn’t survive to the final product. The original name was “Forest of the Giants,” right? Other head-scratching moments occur due the lack of source attribution. In a section about scuttled plans for a Disney Vacation Club in Times Square:

In hindsight of course, it would have been a wonderful idea: visitors could see a Disney show on Broadway and then carry on the overall experience by staying in the Disney Hotel. Ex-Disney chairman Eisner apparently regarded the failure to move this project along as the most important business decision that the company got wrong during his leadership.

Perhaps Michael Eisner does regard this as his biggest mistake. If so, he’s delusional. In fact, the notion that he considers not building condominiums in Times Square his biggest mistake is so absurd that it’s practically inconceivable that it’s true. And unfortunately, there’s no way to find out whether it is or not. A footnote would clear up the confusion immediately, but there isn’t one to be found anywhere in the text. The book does have a bibliography, and I’m certainly not suggesting that there’s any deliberate attempt on Mr. Finnie’s part to claim ownership of others’ work. But there are too many surprising statements in the text that are just crying out for attribution.

Despite its flaws, for the right kind of fan—one presumably new to the Disney fold—this book will be a fun read. It’s sincere, well-intentioned, and it’s clear that Mr. Finnie has a huge enthusiasm for his topic. I hope that he does evolve the book, as mentioned earlier, so that it really can become the definitive source on this interesting topic. Maybe someday it can even gain some Disney-sanctioned respectability and feature actual illustrations and Imagineer interviews. It’s a long-shot, but this is a book about dreams, right?

Note: This Disney article first appeared on LaughingPlace.com, where I’m a semi-regular columnist.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s