Book Review: “Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks”

Hi everyone!

We received the book “Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks” by Pete Docter and Christopher Merritt to review. This massive two-volume set about the Disney Legend, animator, artist and Imagineer weighs in at over 10 pounds – so when you see the retail price of $150.00 (which is usually lower on Amazon, sometimes around $100.00), that is part of the reason why. This was on our list to purchase if I was not reviewing it. The writing is impeccable and easy to read, and the research is thorough. It is a must-have for any Disney parks history fan and is available to purchase now.

The preface of book is by Bob Gurr, and President of Walt Disney Imagineering Bob Weis handles the foreward. He talks about how Chris Merritt credits Alice Davis with giving them “unprecedented access” to her house, which held rarely viewed artwork and photos. Marc and Alice Davis would open their home to artists and students, which Merritt and Docter were both beneficiaries of. Merritt started recording Marc Davis in the early 1990s, capturing stories that weren’t in print until now. It is amazing to think of Merritt and Docter unearthing treasures that we may not have otherwise seen.

Marc Davis began his career at Disney in 1935 – but the 25 years between then and when he went to WED in 1960 are a brief blip as the book delves into his time working on the various Disney parks, but mostly at Walt’s original Disneyland.

Starting with Chapter 3, most individual chapters encompass an attraction and look at it from concept to fruition. Jungle Cruise. Enchanted Tiki Room. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Haunted Mansion. Nature’s Wonderland is delved into, as is the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair in two parts. Country Bear Jamboree. It is a greatest hits list of many of Disney’s most beloved attractions and how they were created – and features a ton of concept art and photos that include Walt Disney. The book is told from many viewpoints – those of the authors, those of Marc Davis (essentially narrating much of what is shown), and then there are stories from a wide variety of recognizable names like Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar.

We find out in the Nature’s Wonderland and Jungle Cruise sections that Walt wanted rides that were repeatable. He liked when guests could not see everything in one ride, which would keep them coming back for another. And the “Trapped Safari” with the rhino at the bottom was never meant to be in the ride itself – Walt decided it should be. Walt was very involved with Disneyland and there are terrific photos of him there. The Jungle Cruise may have been Walt’s favorite attraction.

The Enchanted Tiki Room was originally conceptualized as a restaurant or a “tiki tearoom”. The amount of detail including tons of concept art throughout the books is incredible, sharing attractions from concept to reality.

Abe Lincoln (from Disneyland) is featured and how the figure was developed in secret for a year. The Carousel of Progress is profiled and so much more including large chapters on Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion (in two sections). What I found of interest during the Haunted Mansion section (in the second book) is that Marc did not consider attractions like The Haunted Mansion storytelling. This is something I do not remember reading from him before, though I do find it online now – so it’s not unheard of, but newer to me. For Davis and apparently Walt as well, the Haunted Mansion is a series of stories but not a “storytelling medium” – it does not have a beginning, a middle and an end. If you miss something on the attraction, it doesn’t disrupt a story. Davis essentially says if you want a story, see a movie. Honestly, this is sort of against everything I’ve ever thought about Disney attractions but makes sense.

There are some Walt Disney World segments including the Electrical Water Pageant. And Chapter 14 features unrealized projects. “Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks” is not as text dense as some books, but there is a lot to read – with about 750 total pages, there are so many stories, so many pieces of concept art and photos. If each page only averaged 2 photos or pieces of concept art, that would be 1500 images. There are pages that have much more than that. Save room on your coffee table as this is a set you will want to revisit – just like Walt and the Jungle Cruise, there is always something easy to miss and so it will take repeat viewings to see everything.

Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks” is an invaluable set for those who are interested in Disney Parks history. The amount of time and thought put into it and the artwork, photos, stories – it’s priceless.


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