Imagine having access to a documentary series that explores the business of designing Disney theme parks with the same level of care and attention to detail as Cosmos. Now remind yourself that it’s a reality and can be yours for $6.99 per month through Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+. While the service may be pushing the live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp as its raison d'être for subscribing, Disneyphiles will soon discover that The Imagineering Story gives them a taste of what they’ve been begging Disney to offer for years.
I was privileged to screen the first two episodes of the upcoming series and it took less than 10-seconds for my jaw to drop. The amount of research that Leslie Iwerks and her creative team have done is phenomenal. They not only provide some truly rare and never-before-seen footage, but most of it has been fully restored. For example, infamous footage from the black-and-white Disneyland opening day TV special is juxtaposed against rarely seen color footage in high definition of the same event.
The debut episode is called “The Happiest Place on Earth” and is a necessary starting point for the series, but this is the episode where most Disney buffs will confess to not learning much that wasn’t already widely known. Most of the footage of Walt Disney used in the episode has been seen countless times in other documentaries or theme park experiences. All the same, there are some really fun moments, like Bob Gurr visiting the basketball hoop inside the Matterhorn, and the format of the series keeps it fun and engaging. The episode also does a great job of both humanizing and mystifying Walt Disney, with several of the talking head interviewees giving anecdotes of butting heads with the boss and then getting teary eyed when reminiscing about moving forward without him.
The second episode, “What Would Walt Do?,” is where I really felt like I was learning a lot of new information. It covers the post-Walt period of the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s, encompassing the building of Walt Disney World’s first two theme parks and Tokyo Disneyland. It explores Walt Disney’s plans for Epcot and how Marty Sklar used them as the source of inspiration for the theme park of the same name. It also underscores the shaky ground the entire company was on at the time and just how big of a gamble expanding the theme park business was for Disney.
Legends of Imagineering like Marc Davis, Alice Davis, Herb Ryman, Marty Sklar, Harriett Burns, Leotta Tombs, Bob Gurr, Rolly Crump, Mary Blaire, and Yale Gracey get their credit in the series, and it's clear that as the series switches to the modern era we will get to know some of the modern creative masterminds behind our new favorite shows and attractions. It offers a highly entertaining peek behind the curtain at the dream makers who keep all of us coming back to our favorite Disney resort destination time and time again.
With an ever-changing opening sequence and rare footage of the creation of some of your favorite Disney experiences, The Imagineering Story is a must-see and worth the cost of a Disney+ subscription all on its own. It’s the kind of show where you’ll want to scroll back through each episode to rewatch specific sections or to pause a shot to linger longer on some of the incredible sights it offers. While it’s definitely aimed at a fanbase of diehard Disney fans, it’s easily accessible to more casual fans and I hope all Disney+ subscribers check it out.
I give The Imagineering Story 5 out of 5 Imagineers talking about sending guests “Up a waterfall.”
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.