REVIEW: LIFE Magazine: Inside the Disney Parks

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This edition of LIFE Magazine started out with Walt Disney, the man. It explained his obsession with trains, which is one of his most endearing and childlike qualities, and it talked about how it merged with intricate miniature worlds. When those two came together, Lillian Disney said, “It was one of those moments when Walt’s imagination was going to take off into the wild blue yonder, and everything will explode.” And explode, it did. When bankers scoffed at his idea of opening a theme park, Walt wondered where he was going to come up with original 11 million dollar price tag for an amusement park like he wanted. So, he took to television. The highest bidder was none other than ABC network, who needed a television show so bad at the time, that they bought Disneyland for 15 million, with a 35% stake in Disneyland park. Ironically, the Disneys lost money on the television show, despite its hit success. Luckily, it hadn’t been created to generate revenue, but more as a real-time ad for his park. Walt’s vision for Disneyland included five different “lands” and we’ll talk about the inspiration behind them to give you a little taste of everything this magazine has to offer:

  • Frontierland: This tied together Walt’s vision of America’s past, while also romanticizing his childhood in Marceline, Missouri. Walt had this to say, referring to Tom Sawyer Island, “I put into it all the things I wanted to do as a kid, but couldn’t, including getting into a ride without a ticket.”
  • Adventureland: Walt had this to say, “To create a land that would make this dream reality, we pictured ourselves far from civilization, in the remote jungles of Asia and Africa.”
  • Tomorrowland: This was the most difficult land for Walt, being that he had trouble keeping up with the future he was so desperate to celebrate. It was also the last land to be completed.
  • Fantasyland: “What youngster hasn’t dreamed of flying with Peter Pan over moonlit London?” The heart of Walt and his brand were the romantic notions of fantasy. Sleeping Beauty Castle was the most important project to him at the time; originally planned to be Snow White Castle, it was changed to promote their 1959 film, Sleeping Beauty.
  • Main Street, U.S.A.: Where his love of trains came into play. The centerpiece of Main Street, U.S.A. was a locomotive, circling around the entire park.

Walt Disney cared deeply about the details, once throwing out a tree for seeming “out of character” in his park. Recycling names that meant something to him, you’ll see them spread out throughout the park. For example, Elias Disney, Walt’s dad, has his name featured on a window sign. He also liked to initiate little hide-and-seek games with guests, having hidden Mickeys sprawled throughout the park, and a little lesser well-known Donald Duck (The magazine explains where you can find him.) From here, we dive into what LIFE calls, “The California Years: How Walt changed America’s entertainment landscape – literally – by building the first theme park that told a story.” From there, you find tons of fun facts, some of which you may not know.

Before Walt Disney left us for good, he had a new idea. When he needed a new challenge, he dreamt up something else, something more. Once quoted as saying, “The last 10 years have sort of just been a dress rehearsal. We’re just getting started,” Project Future was adapted. Hello, Florida. Orlando governor, Haydon Burns, asked, “Will it be a Disneyland?” And Walt replied, “I’ve always said there will never be another Disneyland.” But what about a Disney World? His design wasn’t what we fully know today. He had big and ambitious plans for EPCOT Center, shortened because Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow is quite the mouthful.

The magazine goes on to explain what the “World” was like after Walt, with his brother, Roy, taking over. It also discusses our overseas parks, and big dreams that are hoped for the future. And while it was all started with a mouse, it was also all started by a man. A man, who started, just by playing with his toy as Imagineer Bruce Gordon said. He dreamt big and didn’t let anyone stop him. He was determined to bring guests lands of magic and worlds of imagination. This LIFE edition keeps you captivated the entire way through and teaches you a lot about not just the parks, but the man behind the parks. He is, after all, the reason you all read our articles and continue to want more information. Walt Disney, who struggled with celebrating the future while trying to build Tomorrowland, ended up contributing to the future in a massive way; one that will most likely never be replicated.

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About the author

Whitney

I have been visiting Walt Disney World annually since I was 7 years old and haven't mentally left it since. Living in Arkansas, but dreaming of Orlando. You can find me at [email protected] and @whitydarling on any social media channel.

4 Comments

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  • This article has (i presume) a nice description of the magazine…but very little, if any, actual review.

    • Hey! Sorry you feel that way. Like I stated in the review, it’s a very captivating read. You learn a lot about Walt and his visions for the parks. It’s worth picking up and reading. Hard to give a very detailed review when there’s so much information available. So, like I said in the review, it’s very captivating and enriching to learn about the man.

  • Whitney- I’m only half finished with the magazine, but I’m really enjoying it! Have you noticed mistakes though? On page 40, the author is writing about Disneyland’s early years and refers to “Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island”. It wasn’t re-themed to that until 2007. On page 45 the photo is captioned as Casey Jr’s Train…it’s not. There may be other mistakes I haven’t noticed yet. Editors should have caught those…disappointing.

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