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Designing Disney (A Walt Disney Imagineering Book) Paperback – January 6, 2009
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About the Author
The late John Hench, a true Disney legend, came into his office at Imagineering each day, well into his ninety-fifth year. Although he passed away in 2004, his legacy continues to play an integral role in the design of Disney theme parks and attractions-just as he himself did more than fifty years ago when Walt enlisted him as one of his closest colleagues and confidants.
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What's so strange about other reviews and Frank Gehry's preface is nowhere is it observed without John Hench "Tomorrowland" might have been an embarrassing overreach - causing much mirth from Hollywood rivals expecting Walt to fall flat on his face.
It's clear from his sketches in this book and other Disneyland publications the only WED man with "a handle" on modernity was John Hench. Without him "Space Mountain" would not have its iconic spaceship form. Without him Disney's contribution to the 1964 New York World's Fair would never have produced the spin-offs which they then used to updated a large section of "Tomorrowland".
But nothing about the original "Tomorrowland" was behind the times. John Hench's designs are still valid interpretation of future forms of travel and curvy architecture. Added to which they provided the spark for Walt's imagination to move onto the creation of EPCOT.
Much as I appreciate Michael Eisner launching the "Disney Decade" (providing jobs for so many of us) it has to be said his architectural taste was lamentable. His preference for a "nothing style" called "Post-Modern" set a trend which had dire consequences for the entire Disney Company. If the boss has no belief in the Future then all of Walt's plans for creating Experimental Communities in Florida become null and void. The modern township of "Celebration" gets Cape Cod cottages etc. "Tomorrowland 2011" is cancelled and its rocket ships are replaced by a Jules Verne "Orbitron". The thin edge of the wedge leading to all of "Tomorrowland" being given a destructive irrelevant Jules Verne "makeover".
It goes without saying I never met a cartoonist who didn't wonder what Walt would have thought of this French invasion. But these orders were coming from above. Thankfully the orderers have now all retired and with a cartoonist John Lasseter in place at Disney HQ America can now reclaim "Tomorrowland". First move - obtain a NASA spaceship to allow young guests to go inside - as they do in Airforce One at the Reagan Library.
This might appear to be a personal digression but as I spent several hours talking to John Hench I've a feeling he would not object to my revealing one confidence. The cruelest of all the cuts he lamented was the "People Mover". Because it was his and Walt's brainchild, based on a method of moving steel bars they saw in Detroit. The double irony being their driverless method of safely moving people from place to place is now used in airports around the globe. PS Ironically "Rocket Rods" bit the dust after only 2 years! Leaving nothing!
Ditto Walt Disney's plans for EPCOT were exactly what America needed to keep up with the Future. All the new housing technologies the President is now forced to implement on a Governmental level would have been in place had Walt Disney's EPCOT ideals been pursued by those he trusted to keep the Disney Company ahead with the support of private sector investors. The method he used to make all his groundbreaking projects get done fast.
Because John Hench was an incredibly discrete gentleman none of his misgivings as to how different WED would have been if Walt lived another 20 years found a place in this book. Nevertheless I think every fan inwardly knows it's almost criminal to turn one's back on Walt Disney's version of the "American Way". Which, in his case, was to be constantly forging forward with NEW IDEAS AND NEW DREAMS.
My company is in the theme park design business so we naturally gravitate towards any Disney related books that we can learn from, and speaking from that "point of view"... anyone interested in "details" about how Disney thinks and works (How their designs happen) should certainly add this one to their library.
As time goes on the 'greats' who created the Disney magic are leaving us one by one, and from what we (at Denny Magic Studios) observe in the theme park business...Other parks are really not paying enough attention to what these old timers did, and what they had to say... So in our humble opinion, we think that the existence of these written "words of wisdom" are really important jewels that should be studied and put to work well into the future.
Right now in 2009 we are all in this "rough" economy, but things WILL improve soon and pundits have said that we are moving from an industrial society to a creative society, and creativity needs to be fed with a healthy dose of entertainment. Fellows like John Hench had the right ideas, and those ideas and techniques are even more important to preserve, and put to good use... today, more than ever before.