Book Review: Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century by Don Hahn

We received a copy of Don Hahn’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century to review. Hahn has produced some of the biggest Disney films of all time (we interviewed him about Beauty and the Beast earlier this year, which was our 3rd or 4th interview with him over the last 9 years), and he is also an author, director, painter and more. His latest book (releasing November 14th) is a large format book, really a perfect coffee table book for the Disney fan. Here is part of an official blurb about the book, followed by the review.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow is a valentine to an era of optimism, relaxed lifestyle, and innovative design; a large-format, general audience book, illustrated with rarely seen art and photography of the mid-20th century reflecting the unique style that Walt Disney and his artists contributed to the era.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century is a taller book than I expected, and runs just under 200 pages. The last book I reviewed before this one was a children’s book that had one tiny picture each page, and I made note that it wasn’t going to be for kids who like photos/artwork with their stories. Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century is the opposite. There are often large-scale photos and artwork, along with smaller ones. While there is a decent amount of text, there is so much eye candy here.
There are 26 chapters in the book, which runs very loosely on a timeline through mostly the 50s and 60s. The beginning of the book talks about Walt Disney being influenced heavily by California and the book ends with the purchase of the land that eventually became Walt Disney World. In between that, the chapters are generally chronologically placed but moreso divided up into topics that can run on a similar timeline. Topics include Cinema, which talks a little about Song of the South and how Eyvind Earle was brought in for Sleeping Beauty but there were a lot of friction between him and other animators. A nice segment of the book is about Disneyland with photos I have not seen before, discussing how each land had its own art director and a lot about the design of the park – plus one chapter on the Disneyland Hotel and its origins. There is a chapter on Walt and architect Welton Becket, who designed the House of Tomorrow. The short Cars of the Future chapter talks about Bob Gurr and includes some early photos of him. By the end of the book, I had a renewed sense of appreciation for this well respected Imagineer.  Working with Bob on projects was Arrow Development, and they receive a chapter as well as more space in the book (as does Gurr and Becket). The art and design of Disney is so much a part of this book, including from Mary Blair and Ward Kimball.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century doesn’t spend a ton of time on most topics, moving between the hiring of the Sherman brothers to a very interesting space exploration chapter to Cal Arts and to Disney’s investment in a bowling center in Denver. Besides Disneyland, a larger segment of the book is devoted to the 1964 World’s Fair, including about how Joan Crawford was instrumental in getting “it’s a small world” approved through Pepsi for their pavilion. Disney didn’t need another pavilion for the World’s Fair, they already had three – and Pepsi wasn’t gung-ho on “it’s a small world”, but apparently Crawford put her foot down with Pepsi and now its one of the most popular Disney attractions in the world.

The topics are so varied in the book though they are bound together by – as the blurb mentions – optimism, which is mentioned often, and innovation and looking to the future, which is what Walt Disney always did. While the book is considered for a general audience, it will be the Disney fan who will have the most interest in it. The concept art running through the book is stylish, and it Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century just one more excellent choice for reading this fall and for Disney gift giving this holiday season. I recommend this alongside Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons, Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food and They Drew as They Pleased Vol. 3: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age – a myriad of excellent books released in the past couple of months that focus on the history of Disney in different but similar ways.

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