Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Artful Duo

The Art of Disneyland and The Art of Walt Disney World, by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon. New York: Disney Editions, 2005; 131 pp. (Art of Disneyland)/2009; 139 pp. (Art of Walt Disney World).

Before we get started, I'd like to apologize to the folks who read this blog regularly for my extended absence. I wasn't planning to be away from here for so long, but some major speedbumps in my life got in the way. I'm not sure they're completely gone, but I enjoy bringing these reviews to you so much that I couldn't let this blog die. I hope you'll forgive me. Okay, so much for the mea culpas - on to the review...

Every theme park attraction begins as an idea. Long before the ideas become reality in the Disney theme parks, some very talented people use their skills as artists to give others a feel for what those ideas will look like when they reach fruition. It's safe to say that many of our favorite attractions - in some cases, our favorite theme parks - might have never become reality without the drawings and paintings these people created. Unfortunately, we seldom get to see these beautiful pieces of concept art created for the Disney parks, which is a shame; not only do we miss out on seeing some significant pieces of Disney history, we miss out on the chance to enjoy some beautiful art. The books we're going to look at today give us a chance to enjoy and appreciate some of this artwork.

The Art of Disneyland and The Art of Walt Disney World are two coffee table books that show us a few of the many pieces of concept art created by artists at Walt Disney Imagineering to inspire fellow Imagineers to create attractions or to inspire the public to visit those attractions. Some of the artists whose works are featured in these books - such as John Hench, Marc Davis, Mary Blair, and Sam McKim - will be very familiar to Disney theme park fans, as will some of the images, but there are many more drawings and paintings done by less famous names that are also featured.

You'll see art for world-famous attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion and lesser known-attractions such as the Snow White Grotto at Disneyland, as well as concept art for attractions that were never built; you'll also get a look at Disney artists' visions of lands in the theme parks from several different periods in the parks' history, as well as see art for attractions that have long since disappeared from Anaheim and Orlando.

The Art of Disneyland organizes the artwork by the lands the attractions were built in or were intended to be built in; The Art of Walt Disney World organizes the artwork by themes, such as nostalgia, adventure, and fantasy. Both books feature biographies of some of the artists whose art is featured in each book and a little bit of text providing some background on the lands or the categories by which the books are organized. Most of the artwork is printed sideways, allowing the art to be presented in a large enough size for the reader to fully appreciate it, but small enough for the art to fit onto a single page.

I enjoyed both of these books from the minute I opened the cover, and the last thing I wanted to do was to put either book down. The artwork is beautiful and is well reproduced, and there's a nice variety of artwork; unless you have friends who have taken you through the archives at Imagineering, I guarantee you that there will be art in each of these books that you've never seen before.

Jeff Kurtti and the late Bruce Gordon took a lot of care in choosing the art featured in these books, and it shows; in addition to including some of the drawings and paintings of the parks that are so iconic that you'd expect them to be in books like these, they included a nice selection of more obscure but equally beautiful work. For example, I'm a big fan of attraction posters, so I really enjoyed that The Art of Walt Disney World featured mini attraction posters created especially for the Main Street vehicles in the Magic Kingdom. Once you get used to holding the books on their sides, you learn to appreciate the decision of Jeff and Bruce to print the artwork sideways - in addition to enabling them to reproduce much of the art large enough to really take in the details, you avoid having to struggle to try and appreciate the art while a crease runs right through the middle of it.

Both The Art of Disneyland and The Art of Walt Disney World are amazing, but they're not perfect by any means. The biggest issue any Disney fan's going to have with these books is what you'll be paying for what you get; to put it bluntly, these books ain't cheap. The Art of Disneyland originally sold at the theme parks for $75.00, but is now available for a still pretty expensive suggested retail price of $49.95; The Art of Walt Disney World is available for $49.95 as well. That's a pretty steep price for books that are about 130 pages in length! As much as I'd love to buy multiple copies of these books and take them apart so I could frame and hang pages from them on my wall, I won't be doing it when these books cost that much. I wish both books had included some additional material, especially The Art of Walt Disney World; considering how much has been built at the World, I can't help but think that limiting the book to 130 or so pages meant that some really nice artwork was left out. (Well, I guess I can hope for a sequel to each of these books...)

The Art of Disneyland and The Art of Walt Disney World offer a fascinating glimpse into the archives of Walt Disney Imagineering, featuring some of the beautiful art created for the American Disney theme parks. While the books are a little thin and more than a little expensive, these books are a "must have" for any fan of the Disney parks. The Art of Disneyland is available through major retail booksellers like Amazon.com, as well as stores that carry a good selection of Disney literature, such as Compass Books at Disneyland's Downtown Disney district. (Please note that, aside from different art on the book jacket and some minor corrections, the current edition of The Art of Disneyland has the same content as the edition previously sold exclusively at the Disney theme parks.) The Art of Walt Disney World is currently available only at the Disney theme parks, although it can be purchased (at much higher prices than suggested retail) through the secondary market.

1 comment:

George Taylor said...

I admit that the books are pricey, but you are getting full-color printing and, in some cases, full-page color. Also, many of the images, until these works were published, had not been seen before. Jeff and Bruce did a lot of work to find these images and put together two of the most beautiful theme park books ever. You will find a treasure on every page.

The Art of WDW is unique because of the amount of "land" that needs to be covered. I hope that Jeff is able to work on a second volume.

Besides the Nickel Tour and Since The World Began, these two books are my favorites!