Book Review: “The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky”

Hi everyone!

It is just a month until “The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky” by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt and Paul Wolski releases on September 15th, 2020. This has been one of the most anticipated books of the year! We received an advance copy, and the 208 page book lives up to the hype. The stylish cover by Wolski gives way to a stunning jacket interior of Epcot 1975 early concept art.

The official information about the book: Walt Disney is renowned as a cartoonist, filmmaker, showman, and entertainment icon. But he was also a farsighted futurist, a transportation buff with practical roots in the past, and visionary sights set on the future. In imagining Disneyland, Walt saw it not only as a destination for diversion and entertainment, but also as a means of presenting practical demonstrations of new ideas and new technology with real-world applications.

In The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky, readers will discover the parallel stories of the development of a new form of transportation and the evolution of Walt’s prophetic creative mind, which together resulted in the first daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere. Since June 1959, this mid-century modern marvel has captured the hearts and imaginations of theme park and Disney fans everywhere; it has inspired, as Walt hoped, the creation of working monorails in practical transit applications in varied locations all around the world.
Through a lively and succinct narrative and a stunning collection of unique historical photographs and rare concept and development art (much of it never before published) readers will be transported into a future where yesterday’s dreams are tomorrow’s realities!
The foreward is by Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who as the daughters of Richard Nixon cut the ribbon in 1959 to open the monorail. They talk about their memories of that day, including about having Art Linkletter as the driver and lovely memories of Walt. There are several photos from the day.
The authors start out with information about the earliest monorails, the first one patented in 1821 – “Propulsion was by horse”. The first known monorail was the Cheshunt Railway in England and not designed to carry passengers but bricks. People did jump into it, so it became “the first passenger monorail in the world”. There is a history of other monorails through the 1800s and 1900s, with some very unique ones including the Wuppertal Suspension Railway in Germany (1901 and still in use today) and the Bennie Railplane.

There is so much concept art from Herb Ryman within the book as well as from Claude Coats, John Hench, Bob Gurr and more. Honestly, you will want for lithos of much of the artwork after reading. There is a quote from Herb Ryman saying that sometimes Walt’s ideas weren’t “hitting the mark”, so the way to dissuade him was to make a drawing. Then Walt would say, “Why, that’s terrible. We can’t do anything like that”.

Bob Gurr discusses how Walt always wanted a monorail in the park, “If you look at the original sketches made up for Disneyland, it was kind of an overhead hanging type of monorail.” So while the idea evolved, the monorail was always planned. The book also features plenty of photos throughout, including of the monorail though the years and other vintage pictures and monorails from the beginning through current times.

Several pages take a look at the Viewliner, which Bob Gurr says he looked for an old car that he could turn into a train. And then it moves into how Walt saw an Alweg monorail in Germany and the events that led to Disneyland having its own system.

The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky” isn’t nearly as heavy on text as it is on images, so reading will take maybe an afternoon at most. But looking through image after image of concept art and photographs will likely be where you spend your time – not that there isn’t enough text, it just is more image heavy. To see old Tomorrowland at Disneyland with early monorails and the Skyway buckets passing the Matterhorn…or an overhead photo with a monorail passing by a submarine while a climber heads up…or Mickey close up scaling the Matterhorn with a monorail behind him. There are photos of monorails in various stages of being built, and many photos that include Walt. And eventually the book turns its sights to Walt Disney World as the more extensive monorail system becomes the focus with information and some gorgeous photos. There are a couple of pages on Jack Wagner, and then the Disney Resort Line at Tokyo Disney Resort.

The last page says “Next Stop…Play”! with artwork of several monorails, and it says “Calling all Pilots! A new way to play arrives at the PLAY! Pavilion at EPCOT in 2021”.

The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky” shows really how much a visionary Walt was in terms of transportation as he was in many other ways. He knew what he wanted and as Bob Gurr said, it was “serendipity” in how the Disneyland monorail came to be. This is a FANTASTIC book, it will be in my top 3 Disney books of the year I’m sure – the artwork and pictures make it a must-have. If we had not received a review copy, we would have purchased it.

We may add some images to the article once the book is about to come out.


This article includes Amazon affiliate links that help support Mousesteps.