For years, we have anxiously awaited Leslie Iwerks’ documentary about Walt Disney Imagineering. Well, it’s finally here as part of the launch of Disney+.
The first episode spans the course of an hour and basically covers the advent of WDI through to the end of Walt Disney’s life. In the course of the program, we see the creation of Disneyland, it’s evolution into a world renowned tourist destination, Walt’s triumphs leading him and the folks at WED Enterprises to create attractions for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, take a trip through Pirates of the Caribbean, and delve into his final dream, Walt Disney World.
In the midst of this introductory episode, we are briefly introduced to the earliest Imagineers such as John Hench, Harriet Burns, Marc Davis, Alice Davis, and Mary Blair, just to name a few. The documentary doesn’t delve too far into the full stories of these individuals, rather introducing them and enough about them to adequately tell the tale of the development of Disneyland and WED Enterprises from the early 1950’s until 1967.
Even as a well-versed Disney Parks aficionado, I was delighted to see some footage I had never seen before related to classic attractions such as The Jungle Cruise, the Autopia, and the Matterhorn. For example, actual footage is shown of Autopia cars smashing into each other (violently, I might add) before the bars were added in to keep the vehicles traveling in their own lanes. I had certainly heard this story told a million times regarding Disneyland’s opening days, but I had never seen the playful car crashes for myself. The Imagineering Story offers plenty of moments like this, along with remastered clips and captivating visuals that will keep you entertained, even through those stories you’ve already been told.
While it certainly could go further on controversial topics, there were moments of surprise in the documentary where Disney allows it to be brutally honest. I was surprised to hear mention of buckling to political correctness overtime on Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as references to the many amusement and theme parks that tried to rip-off Disneyland following its many successes.
I see that websites like IGN have reviewed this show and given it mediocre ratings. I’m sorry, but this isn’t for you. It’s for us. Disney+ seems to have an opening lineup striving to reach every one of the company’s fans in every corner of the fandom. If you read this website, you love the Disney Parks, and it is likely that you have seen every documentary, TV special, or anything of the like about these places because there are really so few. We are in many ways starved for content as a fandom in the grand scheme of things (to the point where many of us have made careers of creating our own content at the parks), and now we have a brilliantly assembled documentary series about what we love. It is thoughtfully put together with footage and interviews never-before-seen, enough to make a hardened curmudgeon like myself remember what it was like so many years ago to learn new things about the parks for the first time. I felt that same childish wonder I once had hearing the story of the creation of Disneyland for the first time as I did seeing footage of a bobsled gliding through the unfinished Matterhorn. Moments like that made me forget that I had stayed up past 2am to watch this. Moments like Bob Gurr sinking a basket in the Matterhorn basketball hoop and Marty Sklar walking amidst the audio-animatronic cast of Pirates of the Caribbean made me feel more awake at 3am than I did at 3pm yesterday.
Yes, the Imagineering Story will undoubtedly tell you things that you already knew as a hardcore fan, but there is enough in the way of glorious visuals, never-before-seen footage, and appearances from those who created this magical thing we love so much, that you will be enthralled every moment of the first episode. Disney+ has offered more than enough reasons for you to get onboard already, but The Imagineering Story honestly would have been enough for me to feel good about my subscription.