Book Review: “Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career” by Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty

Hi everyone!

We received the book Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career by longtime Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty to review. This has been one of books I’ve been most looking forward to this year, and it releases on September 10th, 2019. The text inside does not disappoint, the stories from Raffery are told in an interesting and often fun manner. The stories seem endless as one leads into another and then into another.

First, take the dust cover off. You’ll be rewarded with some terrific artwork that includes the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Radiator Springs Racers and a lot more – plus artwork of Rafferty himself writing his book among it (similar artwork also divides chapters and lines the left side pages). Second, note that the text size is very small compared with other books. There is a lot written within 320 pages and the book should have been physically much larger to accomodate a more standard text size. But now on to what lies inside.

The foreward is by Rafferty’s son, Kevin Rafferty Jr. (himself a Disney Cast Member), and he speaks glowingly about his dad and also about opportunities he has had because of the connection, including getting to visit Imagineering and meet Disney Legends like John Hench. Rafferty Jr. also says that his dad has always gone to work to create happiness and magic.

Kevin Rafferty began his WED career in 1978, at a time when Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland were about to take shape. Marty Sklar and John Hench were heading up the projects – and at that time, Tokyo Disneyland would be the first ever foreign park. Rafferty’s pay was $5.00 an hour for the entry level (noncreative) position, down from what he’d been making inside Disneyland at Club 33 prior to that.

Four years before he began at WED, Rafferty was studying to be a priest. There is even a photo of him in a priest’s robe, though he does say that he was wearing Mickey Mouse shorts underneath it. This is even when the name AquaDuck came about, though it wouldn’t be used on the Disney Cruise Line for almost 40 years. Rafferty did eventually leave seminary for California State University. And he got a job at Disneyland (that nobody else seemed to want).

Remember I mentioned the small print – by page 9, you will learn about Rafferty’s time in the seminary; about his job washing dishes at the Plaza Inn (a position which had very high turnover in the stories Rafferty tells); how he met his future wife and her unimpressed parents, and how he accidently mucked Dick Nunis and didn’t get fired for it. And by page 11, he changes his career path to Imagineer instead of artist – though the road to get there was not as easy as he thought it might be. There are a lot of stories worked into this book – I can’t stress that enough. Rafferty eventually moved from The Plaza Inn to the prestigious Club 33, working his way up until he eventually moved to WED. Even then he was on the low rung of the ladder and worked his way up there as well.

Magic Journey is a very text rich book with stories that include how attractions came about. For example, Rafferty was asked to create a land for Disney California Adventure. He chose a car theme – but there was no Pixar Cars movie yet (this was 2004), and he did not know that Pixar was working on one. Two passions that Rafferty has are classic cars and oldies music and he thought it’d be great to be able to incorporate those into a new ride or a new land. And you can see in the words and concept art (again, I wish this book was a much larger format) how everything was able to come together perfectly. At the end of the chapter, Rafferty talks about a moment when a child is SO excited about being at Cars Land that he never wanted to leave. And I personally saw that once with a young child as well, thanking his parents at the top of his lungs for bringing him to Cars Land.

There are stories about his friend and boss, Marty Sklar (and notes in red pen from Sklar), who Rafferty was close to as well as X. Atencio and other Disney Legends. Rafferty worked with and was friends with many of the Imagineers and artists who knew Walt, including Herb Ryman. Rafferty talks about how Walt met Harper Goff. The stories include Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jean Shepherd as the latter became the voice of the father in Carousel of Progress (but not the singing voice, as Rafferty talks about in the book).

Rafferty’s final major project for Disney is Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which opens next year at Walt Disney World and later at Disneyland. And at the end of the book, he marvels how the park he didn’t really want anything to do with (Disney California Adventure) ended up holding the most attractions he’s worked on.

What I expected from Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career was a sanitized version of Rafferty’s career, after all the book is an offical Disney book. And I’m sure it is but it doesn’t feel like it is. The tone is conversational and never boring. Rafferty’s career has truly been “fantastical” and it’s amazing what he’s done and seen in 40 years. But a book I want to read this much should be easier to read and I really feel that Disney should – in the future – make this a larger one. It would make a fantastic moderately sized coffee table book. There is so much history within the pages that it’s something I will want to refer back to again and again.

If you love Disney park history, I recommend Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career.


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