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

When it comes to the Disney Parks, one of their many immediately identifiable icons familiar to people around the world surely must be the monorail.

The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky  ©Disney

Sleek, quiet, and comfortingly futuristic, they have been a symbol of the optimistic future that technology can afford us from the time Walt Disney cut/ripped the ribbon on the Disneyland attraction in 1959 to the present day.

In their new coffee table book, The Disney Monorail:  Imagineering a Highway in the Sky, Kurtti, Hunt, and Wolski  give readers a quick overview of the history and development of the monorail system, as well as an abundance of beautiful historical photos and concept art–much of which has not been previously published.

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Your hotel view for the morning.

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The book, although titled The Disney Monorail, actually spends a great deal of time covering the history of monorails in general.  Of the book’s seven chapters, only the sixth (the longest one) is actually about the monorails as they exist in the parks.

The first chapter gives a nice background of Walt’s interest in futuristic technology, while the second and third review examples of the development and early international iterations of monorails.  The fourth showcases the development of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, and the fifth talks about the precursor to the monorail at Disneyland — the earth-bound Viewliner — and goes through Walt’s discovery of the Alweg monorail in Germany.  The seventh and last chapter details all the monorails currently running around the world.

EPCOT Monorail

The text of the book in general is pretty slight, mostly serving as captions or side-boxes to its terrific graphics.  It’s a little curious that so much ink is given to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland even before it had a monorail, while relatively little time is spent talking about the more extensive Walt Disney World monorail system.

As a company history, one wouldn’t expect much about the various challenges inherent in maintaining and operating such a complicated and heavily-used piece of transportation–the breakdowns and accidents–and one would be correct in this instance.

The many examples of extra-Disney monorails are interesting but ultimately a little depressing, as virtually none of them were embraced as the innovative conveyance prototypes that they were.  Walt Disney and Japan alone seem to have seen the advantages in the few monorails that ended up in public use, and the rest generally wound up abandoned and decaying in a field somewhere.

But the main selling point of this book of course, is the gorgeous photos and rarely-seen-before concept art that grace virtually every page and even the inside lining of the dust jacket.

The vintage photos and early renderings of the original Tomorrowland are particularly swoon-worthy, and enough to make anyone wish desperately for a time-machine.  If you are sufficiently Disney obsessed (and who among us here are not?) as to enjoy perusing the magnificent creations of Imagineers such as Herb Ryman, John DeCuir, Sr., and Bob Gurr, this is a book well worth having in your collection…so long as you are moderate in your expectations of new information or insight.

Herb Ryman’s artistic interpretation of Tomorrowland in Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]
Although our travels and movement around the world seem pretty limited right now, The Disney Monorail reminds us that we can continue to dream of the clean, peaceful, vibrant, kinetic World on the Move that Walt Disney always provided us, and the monorails that will still take us there.

The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky
Authors: Jeff Kurtti  (Author), Vanessa Hunt (Author), Paul Wolski (Author, Illustrator)
Hardcover, 208 pages, Disney Editions, List Price: $40
On sale September 15, 2020

[An advance copy of this book was provided by Disney for review purposes without restriction on thoughts or opinions.  No photos/art from the interior of the book are reproduced here.]

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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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