Don Hahn is well known as a producer of animated classics, including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, but well read Disney fans are also familiar with his writing, which includes several books on Disney history. His latest is called Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century. I would describe it as a time capsule of innovations that defined a generation and lead to many of our modern day marvels.
The overall theme of Yesterday’s Tomorrow is that Walt Disney was a modern, forward thinking man. Through 26 chapters, shining examples of Walt’s progressive ideas and innovations are highlighted. It all starts with a chapter called “The Last of the Pioneers,” about the settlement of Los Angeles and Walt’s arrival, as well as the rise of suburbia.
Topics explored include Disney’s creativity as a filmmaker, defining new animation styles and entertainment staples. Quite a few sections also cover his unusual approach to television for a film studio at the dawn of the medium and how he leveraged it to finance Disneyland. Several chapters are devoted to the Ward Kimball directed space episodes of Disney’s serial and how they helped influence the space race.
Disneyland being the eighth wonder of the world, there is a chapter about Welton Becket whose innovative designs were also implemented at Disney World’s Contemporary and Polynesian resorts in addition to The House of the Future, which gets its own chapter. Another key player in Disney’s innovations that often goes uncredited is Arrow, a Bay Area company that assisted with the construction of many Disney attractions including the Matterhorn and it’s a small world. Each chapter charts a course towards the World’s Fair and ultimately EPCOT, Disney’s unrealized vision for a city of the future.
If you’ve ever read a biography on Walt Disney, you should have a general understanding of most of the items covered here. However, Don Hahn unearths details I’d never read before and Yesterday’s Tomorrow is a large coffee table book with plenty of photos and artwork, many of which I had never seen before. There was also a project I was unfamiliar with, Disney’s Celebrity Sports Center in Denver, one of several attempts to add smaller Disney experiences around the country and the only one that was fully realized, albeit unsuccessful.
Highlighting Walt Disney’s forward thinking approach to entertainment and the key players that made him a mid-century modernist, Yesterday’s Tomorrow proves that the vision of a great big beautiful tomorrow is always just a dream away. While Disney history buffs will surely be familiar with the overall theme and many of the subjects covered, there are kernels of information that I’ve never read elsewhere and previously unreleased artwork and photos to satisfy their decision to add this to their book collection.
Don Hahn fans should also check out one of his other books, Before Ever After.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.