Saturday, March 15, 2008


The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom, by The Imagineers; New York: Disney Editions, 2007, 128 pp.

A couple of years ago, Disney came up with a great concept for a series of books. Each book in the series would take the casual guest on a tour of the Disney theme parks led by the Imagineers, giving them an idea of what went into creating the theme parks and showing them a few of the little details that went into creating new and unusual attractions and environments for the guests to enjoy. The series started out with a book on Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and followed up with a book on Epcot. The latest book in this series, on Disney's Animal Kingdom, came out last year, and I hadn't had a chance to read the book until now, so I decided to use the Imagineering Field Guide to Animal Kingdom to take an armchair tour of the park. It was a very quick read, but I came away with a greater appreciation for what the Imagineers do and a better understanding of the themes expressed in the park.

The book starts out with a very brief history of Walt Disney Imagineering, then gives brief overviews of the various creative disciplines at WDI and a quick run-though of some of the language used by the Imagineers to describe what they do. This was probably my favorite part of the book - if you've always felt that your dream job is to be an Imagineer, you can use these first few pages to get an idea of what type of job you could actually do there if you had the chance!

After your introduction to Imagineering, the book takes you section by section through the theme park, explaining the overall theme or message that a particular land in the park is trying to convey and how the various design elements work together to convey it. This book isn't so much about telling you about every single detail you might see and explaining what it means and how it got there (although there is certainly quite a bit of information about many details you'll see in the park); the purpose of the book is to point out the overall idea and a few elements that help get across that idea, in the hope that you as a guest will spend the time looking for more details and trying to figure out how they contribute to the story the Imagineers are trying to tell.

The main impression I walked away with after reading this book is that anybody who complains that there isn't enough to see at Disney's Animal Kingdom just isn't trying hard enough. As you read through this book, you get a real feel for how much there is to experience and enjoy about this park and how much work goes into creating the overall feel of your surroundings. The amount of effort that goes into creating elements of the park that most people may never notice is absolutely amazing. I've always been impressed by what Imagineers do, but after reading this book, I'm even more impressed. I can only hope that the casual park guest who picks up this book and takes it with them on their park visits is equally impressed
and takes the time to really focus on what they're experiencing.

So, is this book the perfect guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom? As much as I love the book, I have to say "not quite". My main objection to the book can be summed up in three words: It's too small. Now, I realize the concept behind this book (and all of the Imagineering Field Guides) is to provide something that a guest to the park can lug around in their back pocket or purse as they visit, and that's fine. The problem is, I came away feeling that there were more stories to share and more details that could be pointed out, but that I wasn't going to be able to find out more because the book was constrained by the need to keep it down to a manageable size. Worse, the size of the book demands that the WDI concept art that's included also has to be kept small, so you can't take in all the rich detail that went into creating it. I'm not sure how you could get past these limitations - a larger size edition of this book? An online supplement? - but I'd love to see someone try. Are these limitations severe enough that you should leave this book and the others in the series on the shelf? Absolutely not.

Most of us are never going to get to explore a Disney theme park with an Imagineer as their personal guide, but the Imagineering Field Guides are a pretty good substitute. Although the hard-core Disneyana fan may be a little unsatisfied with the amount of information and art shared in the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom, this book and the other books in the series provide a good jumping off point for exploring and appreciating the little details that make the Disney theme parks so special. I can't wait to see the rest of the books in this series!

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