Disney's Folio: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

A popular trend for many is to go to the Disney theme parks hunting for Hidden Mickeys. That once secretive cult following is now a mainstream practice for many guests and unfortunately can sometimes divert them from looking deeper for the other hidden treasures inserted into the architecture and design of pavilions, attractions, shops and restaurants. Some of these hidden treasures are chronicled in Disney guides (official and unofficial), Imagineering books, and the Imagineering Field Guides. However, Susan Veness’s The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World is an exhaustive compilation of all of these secrets into one volume.

The book takes a look at each of the four theme parks within Walt Disney World, offering up a virtual walkthrough of each of the parks’ lands and attractions, detailing the stories behind the secrets. Backed by historical reference and frequent Imagineer quotes, the secrets are presented to the reader as a guide for their own journey through the parks looking for these secrets themselves.

I particularly liked how Veness described all of the transitions between each of the lands in the Magic Kingdom. I’ve read a lot about how Disney did this, usually referencing the transition between Frontierland and Adventureland. But Hidden Magic describes all of the transitions meticulously, at the Magic Kingdom. Veness describes how the layout of the entire park makes sense geographically in both a global and domestic pattern. (For example, she notes that you move west from the London setting of Peter Pan's Flight to colonial America at Liberty Square and then onto western expansion as you cross the bridge into Frontierland).

This was also the first time that I read that because the distant Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (at Disney's Hollywood Studios) encroaches on the backdrop to Morocco in Epcot's World Showcase, the Tower’s backside was designed to emulate the minarets of Moroccan architecture, thus blending in with the Morocco pavilion buildings when seen at certain angles.

I’m not saying that nobody else has pointed these things out, but I think it’s a testament to the wealth of information in this guide that she doesn’t just repurpose the usual popular trivia suspects, but digs a little deeper to pay respect to even the most hidden minutiae.

Depending on the wealth of hidden secrets in each respective land or attraction, the book will vary in time spent on that area. The author devotes a lot of time to Animal Kingdom’s Asia area, likely due to the amazing amount of detail that went into the development of Expedition Everest and the expansion of the land to fit the popular roller coaster. The arrival of Expedition Everest really helped cement Joe Rhode and the entire Animal Kingdom team of imagineers as a band of pioneering, devoted followers of the world's distinct cultures. As such, the entire theme park and particularly Asia is a testament to their art. The book really helps highlight the many ways the imagineers paid homage to Nepalese and Tibetan cultures, and the distinct landscape of the Himalayas. (Which really supports the recent movement of Disney fans to trumpet the reality that Animal Kingdom isn't just a half-day park!)

The biggest complaint I’d have with the book is the total lack of pictures. However, the guide is meant to supplement your enjoyment of exploring the secrets of Walt Disney World, not necessarily chronicle them. Showing pictures of anything would certainly work as a historical document, but it would also take away the fun of discovering these secrets yourself. Also, as someone who works in the publishing industry, I understand that adding the photography would likely warrant better stock of paper and more pages, which would make the book cost more money. I can respect that the author and publisher determined their production angle and stuck with it, however plain it may be, to keep the book's cost to a very affordable price. (It also happens to make the book easier to dog-ear and tote with you around the parks.) However it might have helped the book to include more maps or example photos as the writing is very clearly geared towards families, yet the presentation might bore a child.

The writing can sometimes be a little hokey, as is often the case with Disney guides. This is typically forgiven as the theme parks are such a family-oriented destination and half of that fun is adults sharing the enthusiasm with their children. As such, this book would actually be a really good read for adolescents, giving them a little more appreciation for the artistry and history behind the entertainment. And I would absolutely encourage families to point these things out to their children as I believe it’s imperative that the theme parks be cherished for more than just the thrills and quick entertainment, but also the Hidden Magic surrounding it all.


Pat said...

Who would have thought there were so many little details. So interesting and fun to read.

Pat said...

So many details, so little time, what a great read.