I own a lot of books that celebrate the history and cultural phenomenon that is Disneyland. When Taschen announced their second Disney book, Walt Disney’s Disneyland by Chris Nichols, there was no sense of urgency on my part. With so much written about Disneyland, what could this volume possibly add? The answer surprised me.
Judging just on written content, the Taschen book traces Disneyland to some of Walt’s earliest thoughts about a place “Where the parents and the children could have fun together.” Any Disney fan worth their salt can quote Tivoli Gardens and the Tam O’Shanter as sources of inspiration, but this book goes even farther, with Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and a miniature park in England directly influencing the Storybook Land attraction in particular. It also reveals just how long Walt Disney had been dreaming up this vacation kingdom, a vision almost twenty years in the making.
The level of research is exhaustive, and yet the content itself is easy to read. The origin of the iconic Mickey Mouse balloon, for example, is traced here. Did you know that it predates the park by at least a decade? This is just an example of the type of information published here that is absent from other books. Bold statement, but I would venture to guess that this is the first time it’s all been collected in one place.
The book is split into three sections. The first, “Walt’s Dream,” traces the origins of the park, construction, and grand opening. “The Park Comes to Life” covers 1955 through 1963 and chronicles the park’s earliest years, with five chapters on each land. It vividly recreates what it must have felt like to be a Guest in the park in the earliest years. The final section, “The Vision Continues,” brings us to the present with sections on the 1964 World’s Fair, Walt Disney’s unrealized vision for E.P.C.O.T., and memorable changes at Disneyland, including the resort’s expansion. It all ends with a look to the future with Galaxy’s Edge.
What sets this Taschen book apart from your typical Disneyland coffee table book? At first glance, the dust jacket looks and feels high end, with a matte finish cover and gold foil letters. The semigloss pages feature hundreds of photos, many in full color. The printing is precise, with no blurring or bleeding like you would find in a lesser quality publishing. The sheer volume of photos, expertly presented, along with the wonderful text already covered is what sets this book apart.
Is Walt Disney’s Disneyland by Chris Nichols the definitive book about Disneyland Park? I say yes. Adding to that, however, readers should at least read a biography on Walt Disney to complete the picture. This touches on his past in many ways, for Disneyland is truly a reflection of Walt’s sentiments and personal taste. To fully understand the park, you need to understand the man. My personal recommendation is Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.
As we head into the holiday season, consider this for your wish list or as a gift for the biggest Disney fan in your life. It covers the full history of Walt Disney’s magic kingdom from his first thoughts about the park to the upcoming Star Wars land. With so many pictures from the early decades of the park, it serves as a time machine back to an era where dressing up for a day in the park was normal and seeing Walt enjoy the fruits of his vision was a common occurrence. Welcome to Disneyland.
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.