Review: Disney+ Originals: “The Imagineering Story”

On November 12, Disney+ will launch as the dedicated streaming home for movies and shows from Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and more. 


Just looking at the pre-existing content that Disney+ will contain makes one think wistfully of all the Blu-Rays and DVDs and VHS (I am old) that will now collect dust as watching their films becomes as easy as clicking a button.  The library catalog will vary by region, but by the end of year one, Disney+ is predicted to make available more than 7,500 episodes of television and 500 movies familiar to any long-standing fan of the studio.

A whole new parcel of shows have been produced specifically for the service as well, some of which will be present at launch.  These include both scripted and unscripted series, feature films, and short-form content, a selection of which were provided to us prior to launch as previews.

Probably one of my personal most-anticipated shows coming to Disney+ is the six-hour documentary series The Imagineering Story.  Directed and Executive Produced by Leslie Iwerks, daughter of Disney Legend Don Iwerks and granddaughter of Ub Iwerks (animator and co-creator of Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,) this project takes viewers behind the scenes at Imagineering and gives them a glimpse at how the magic is made.

The Imagineering Story
Episode 101 “The Happiest Place on Earth”

“By the way, John.  You’re going to work on Disneyland.  And you’re going to like it.” –Walt Disney

Episode 101 “The Happiest Place on Earth” starts off the series at the beginning, with Walt’s conceptualization/creation of Disneyland and his collection of WED talent, and goes through to the end of his lifetime.  Although there wasn’t much new information for the die-hard Disney fan, the photos and video clips were fantastic and largely ones I had not seen before, or not seen for a long time, or only seen in worse quality.  All the old shots of Disneyland are so gorgeous,  you could just play it on loop all day on your TV with or without sound.  Additionally, the current-day interviews with former Imagineers such as Tony Baxter, Eddie Sotto, Dick Nunis, and Tom Morris are charming and insightful and makes one wish Disney would use them more frequently for their events.  It is both joyful and bittersweet to see Imagineers chatting who are either no longer with us or who rarely make appearances anymore.

[Behind-the-scenes footage, such as Bob Gurr showing us the basketball hoop inside the Matterhorn, are particularly special for those of us who have it on their “unfulfilled bucket list.”]

Episode 102 “What Would Walt Do?”

“And I think that Roy has done a lot of things against his better judgement, because he felt that I wanted to do it.” –Walt Disney

102 “What Would Walt Do?” picks up right after Walt’s death with the completion of Haunted Mansion, to the herculean project that was WDW, to the first international park–Tokyo Disneyland, to the company’s troubled times surrounding the threatened Steinberg takeover.  A look at the utilidors and even the HVAC systems might not be marquee elements to the typical viewer, but are of course, spellbinding to parks fanatics.  With the rapid expansion of the company as it takes on more projects and the influx of a new generation of Imagineers, the emphasis moves from the personalities that formed the attractions, to the parks themselves.  The EPCOT construction footage is particularly poignant, as the scope of the ambition and goals of that park at inception were clearly so much greater than what they ultimately became, however getting another quick glimpse at attractions such as Spaceship Earth in their original iterations largely makes up for it.

Ground not usually covered in many Disney documentaries is the development of Tokyo Disneyland, so that segment is particularly interesting.  The precise arrangement between the Walt Disney Company and the Oriental Land Company is one that may not be known to those whose experience mostly revolves around the domestic parks.  Similarly the credit given to OLC president Masamoto Takahashi in creating a park that compromised on neither quality or service is a welcome attribution when the filmmakers could easily have just focused on Disney’s contributions.

The Imagineering Story is a great look at a topic that is of immense interest to any Disney Parks fan and not often treated in detail outside of specialized books.  The footage, particularly of early Disneyland, is gorgeous, and the various interviewees Iwerks uses are terrific and insightful and relatively uncensored as far as their opinions of different eras of company management.  The main criticism I would have of it is that there are only six episodes–if they’ve already renewed The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series for a second season, I feel we could easily go for another round here as well.

Does hearing about how different aspects of the attractions were made decrease the magic of it all?  Maybe, if you were really determined to believe that the Peter Pan pirate ships are run by pixie dust.  Consider, though, how the immense talent and vision in this company invented everything from audio-animatronics to projection mapping, to popularizing touch screens and fiber optics to create entertainment that has stood the test of time for almost sixty-five yearsThat’s magic.

“The Imagineering Story” will be streaming on Disney+ at launch.  

Episode 101 | Premieres Nov. 12 on Disney+

Episode 102 | Premieres Nov. 15 on Disney+

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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