21st Century Disney is a massive, monolithic multimedia entertainment operation that, at times, seems to be intent on steamrollering its way across the world swallowing up everything its path in its quest to create a real life Disneyworld where everything we watch in the multiplex and on TV is stamped with the House of Mouse seal of approval.
But it wasn’t always thus. The Disney Empire we know and are occasionally wary of today has its roots in the dreams and ambitions of Chicago-born imagineer Walt Disney, who grew up in Illinois and Missouri and arrived in California in 1922. A year later he found his way to Hollywood, having begun his career in animation and with one failed film studio already behind him. He set up his next studio in his uncle’s garage, and by 1926 he and his brother Roy had begun building their first proper studio and were working on the early Mickey Mouse cartoons. The rest is history... and much of it is a history Chris Nichols’ wonderful book isn’t particularly concerned with. Disneyland isn’t a biography of the late, great Walt Disney; it’s the story of his greatest dream, his extraordinary vision of the ultimate theme park, a towering, immersive wonderland cut off from the woes and worries of the outside world, a place where adults can become children again and where dreams come true and memories are made that will last forever.
Whether you’re a Disney fan or a Disney cynic, there’s no denying that Disneyland is an astonishing, beautiful book. It’s a genuine thing of beauty, a massive, weighty (seriously weighty) tome that details the history of Disneyland from the moment it was just a twinkle in Walt’s mind’s eye through its earliest visualisations, its building and creation (every inch of it working to Walt’s very particular vision), its opening ceremony in July 1955, the initial less-than-enthusiastic critical response, and its incredible history in the years since it first opened its doors to the public as its rides and attractions have evolved and embraced changing tastes fashions and technological expectations.
Nichols’ crisp text, littered with archive quotes from Walt Disney himself and commentary from those still alive who were involved in the realisation of Disney’s dream, guides us through the history of Disneyland and its four main ‘territories’ (Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland), but this is first and foremost a vivid and enthralling visual journey, a massive Disney ride in itself, taking us through Walt’s own early days and Disneyland’s beginnings on the site of a quiet orange grove in Anaheim.
Every page reveals a new and evermore stunning photograph - Disneyland under construction, Disney taking distinguished guests on tours of the early attractions, celebrity appearances (including the likes of Mohammed Ali and Frank Sinatra), evocative images of visitors in the 1950s and 1960s enjoying the magic of Disney. It’s all peppered with schematics, early design paintings and drawings, behind the scenes secrets and all points in between, a timely reminder that Walt Disney’s greatest feat of imagination – which itself inspired Disneyworld in Florida and similar parks across the world – was the magnificent, breathtaking and genuinely magical miracle of the greatest theme park the world has ever seen. Disneyland is a magical book about a genuinely magical place.
DISNEYLAND / AUTHOR: CHRIS NICHOLS / PUBLISHER: TASCHEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW