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Category Archives: Amusements

Book Review: Designing Disney

hench_bookReading John Hench’s Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show reminded me a bit of my trip to Las Vegas last December. Although we usually think of Imagineering in terms of Disney theme parks, the core ideas of the job apply to most anywhere people gather to relax and have fun. In that respect, Vegas must be the biggest example of Imagineering on Earth. While exploring the various casinos, I was very aware of how everything was designed in a way to create a world away from the world, preferably to get patrons plopped down at the slots. While some casinos treat this idea as an afterthought, the immersive themeing of places like New York New York or Paris, Las Vegas (where even the men’s bathrooms have a quaint “Paris in 1900” aura) never failed to impress. It made me wish that everything in my life was Imagineered.

Which brings me to this book! Amongst Disney Imagineers, John Hench had the most durability (having served at Disney for an astonishing 65 years) and was the one whose ambition and scope most resembled Walt Disney’s own. He’s the one responsible for conceptualizing much of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (original and 1967 remodel), the Enchanted Tiki Room and Main Street U.S.A. Beautiful achievements all, and all the more impressive when one realizes the work encompasses architecture, signage, interior design, costumes and even the floors below guests’ feet. The proof of this is displayed throughout the book in fabulous renderings that called to mind the work of Syd Mead. Check out the costume designs below — wonderful!

The renderings are really what makes this book special. Unfortunately the great imagery is offset with lousy, unprofessional looking fonts. Hench’s text itself (co-authored with Peggy Van Pelt) is rather rudimentary and textbook-like; I would picture the ideal audience for this book as young would-be Imagineers in their teens. Despite those disappointments, there are a lot of great anecdotes in here. I was especially fascinated with how Hench and his fellow Imagineers explored color possibilities for a hotel exterior in Disneyland Paris by factoring in the area’s climate and lack of sunlight at various times of the day. Tiny details like that are something that an ordinary theme park guest would never consider, but added together they complete the immersive experience. All in a day’s work for Mr. Hench.


Related: Justin Jorgensen’s memories of working with Hench.

Who Will Win?

The Academy Awards are almost upon us, but what I find frustrating for us anal retentive types is that most of the online predictions only cover the major award categories. I want my Live Action Short and Sound Mixing predictions, dammit! Comprehensive lists are out there if you look hard enough; this guy’s are as good as any, I suppose. Have you entered Kris’s Oscar contest yet? A Twilight sparkly sock monkey playset (infinitely more adorable than Robert Pattinson) can be yours with the right guesses.

Christopher and I are having our own little Oscar party Sunday night. We all should know that the only awards that ever truly mattered can be seen below:

The Geekiest Book on Earth

book_dlandencycChris Strodder’s book The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, Restaurant, Shop, and Event in the Original Magic Kingdom (whew) was a holiday gift from my spouse that I just finished reading — cover to cover. What Strodder has done here is compile every attraction, restaurant, and shop that has ever existed within Anaheim Disneyland’s perimeter berm (even the berm itself gets an entry!). Also included are profiles of notable people involved in the park’s history and tantalizing glimpses at lands and attractions that were planned, but never built. This book contained a lot of fascinating info that even a Disneyland History geek like me didn’t know. Stoddard’s writing style is enthusiastic and well-informed, full of delicious factoids — and blessedly different from the upbeat blathering that characterizes most Disney fansites. Just read his little bio of Walt Disney himself to get a feel of the even-handed but fun tone present throughout this book. Want to know more about Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House, the Main Street Electrical Parade, Princess Fantasy Faire, the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry, or even the expertly themed restrooms? It’s all in here.

Funny postscript — one of the first things I checked in this book was the Wizard of Bras shop (did you know one could shop for ladies’ unmentionables on Main Street?). Sure enough, it’s listed in here. I mistakenly thought the shop itself was called Wizard of Bras, but that was actually the name of a display that was housed inside the more humbly monikered Intimate Apparel store which only operated during the first two years of Disneyland’s existence. You learn something new every day.

Miracles from Molecules

Posting our Wednesday video on Thursday (the mind is the first thing to go, doncha know), we have a short film from on one of Disneyland’s best-ever attractions — Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Inner Space. This was the ride where, riding in a capsule-shaped buggy, one got shrunk down to explore the molecular structure of a common snowflake. The thrills began in the ride’s queue, with a giant microscope and that super-cool rainbow hued snowflake on the wall (seen at 2:07 in the video). Sadly, the guest shrinkage ceased in 1986 and things were never quite the same in Tomorrowland. Star Tours swallowed up the same space in the park, not a good substitute in my opinion. Pee Wee Herman replacing Paul Frees? Phhhtt.

Deliver de Letter

A set of Vintage Christmas Seals got added to the Scrubbles flickr photostream this morning. I vaguely remember our family getting these from the Red Cross American Lung Association every year in the ’70s and ’80s — are they still making them?

Update — they are still being made.

A Funky Space Reincarnation

A viral video cleverer than most: the Star Trek opening credits reimagined in the style of the Space: 1999 opening credits. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Best. Theme. Ever. (via TV Squad and Lileks)