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by Ken Pellman (archives)
August 24, 1999
The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life by Steven Watts is a text-like book on Walt Disney and his influence on, and from, the America around him.

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The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life
Steven Watts
Houghton Mifflin Retail: $30.00

Buy it at for $21.00

Rating: 4 out of  4

I've read a lot on Walt Disney, his accomplishments, and the company he left behind. But I gained a lot through this author's detailing of Disney's influence on and influence by the rest of American culture, history, and society.

This book, by Steven Watts, is a must for all but the most casual admirer of all that is Disney. Exhaustive, profound, and offering information and insights that I hadn't come across before, this commendable work traces the professional life of Walt, what his influences likely were, and how he in turn influenced America and became such a legend.

Watts uses this text to show how there was no better time than the mid 1950's for Walt Disney to bring about Disneyland. World Wars I and II were history, babies were booming, television was entrenching itself, and families were looking for new, wholesome entertainment for their leisure time and dollar. America was firmly established as the leader of the free world, humanity was looking to outer space as the new frontier, and the turbulent 1960's were many years away. Through film, television specials, and other endeavors, Walt Disney had successfully presented himself as an icon of America, a Midwestern boy making the best of the free enterprise system.

Disneyland was a reflection of the world through Walt's eyes, a view that resonated with millions of people. Main Street U.S.A. was a polished walk down memory lane for many middle-aged and elderly Americans. Adventureland represented what an American considered exotic. Frontierland was an homage to the nation's past at a time when westerns were hot. Fantasyland was an American's (Walt's) look at fairy tales and classic literature. Tomorrowland painted a optimistic, American-corporation-led view of the future.

Television was exploding and Walt used the young medium to ingenuously market a new entertainment medium, all while raising capital. By building at the time he did, and promoting Disneyland in the fashion he did, Walt Disney gave his dream a chance to become a nostalgic institution to the baby boom generation. Their children would grow up not knowing of a world without Disneyland. The author details how this was done.

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