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A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World: Volume 1

by Andrew Kiste

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When a reader asks about the story behind a Disneyland or Disney World attraction, he or she is usually referring to the history of that ride or show. However, there’s another history to consider: the history that inspired the attraction. How do historical pirates from the seventeenth century compare to their theme park counterparts? What real-world landmarks inspired the architecture behind Disney World’s restaurants and lands? In A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Volume 1, Andrew Kiste explores the history behind some of the most famous attractions at Disney World, from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland to the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland.

Kiste’s essays take a unique approach to Disney World; there are many books out now that will talk about the development of an attraction and its role in theme park history, but I can’t think of another book that looks at the historic record to find the source material that inspired Disney rides, buildings, and shows. Each essay is packed with historical trivia. When he writes about the Carousel of Progress, a theater that moves theme park guests in a loop around a series of staged Audio Animatronic scenes, Kiste convincingly pulls together evidence from character dialogue and objects in each scene to pinpoint the exact date and year in which it is set. He zooms in on small details, like the narrating father’s passing mention of a new film starring Al Jolson that will feature talking and singing, and expands on them, introducing the film The Jazz Singer and its impact on the film industry.

Sometimes, I think Kiste goes a little overboard in his elaboration. In an earlier Carousel of Progress scene, a girl is seen wearing a corset and bloomers as she curls her hair. Kiste writes, “The use of corsets was also common to create the illusion that a woman was thinner than she really was.” (p. 97) That seems unnecessary; most adult readers already know the function of a corset and don’t need it explained.

A little extra information isn’t a bad thing, so long as it is properly cited. Kiste does include a Selected Bibliography at the back of the book, but he never directly his names sources in the essays themselves. At least six sources in the bibliography must have been used for the chapter on the Crystal Palace, a restaurant off Main Street in Disney World based on real nineteenth century buildings in London and New York City. However, for other chapters he includes no source material at all. One of his longer chapters is a twenty-two page essay on Pirates of the Caribbean and historical pirates, and there are no books or scholarly articles listed in the back for potential sources. I’m left to wonder where Kiste got his information from. Did he pull it from Wikipedia? Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates? Current archaeological research? I would love to know where he found a legend that pirates wore earrings because they believed the jewelry would prevent drowning and, if killed, send their soul to the afterlife. Maybe it’s common knowledge to sailors but I’ve never heard this particular superstition before.

In another chapter – an introduction to the book’s Adventureland section - Kiste claims that the fictional town of Agrabah, in which the film Aladdin was set, dates to around 400 BC. Where did he get that number from? I have no idea. The movie takes place in an Islamic kingdom, but Muhammad wasn’t even born until the sixth century. Is it a weird typo, or did I miss some major evidence pointing to that date as I roamed through Adventureland? The architecture in the park seems inspired not by Achaemenid architecture but by later Muslim buildings, which is consistent with the movie. It bothered me enough that I wanted to contact the author and ask for clarification, but couldn’t find a website or Twitter or e-mail account through which he could be reached. Maybe I’m just overly nitpicky, but I can’t help but question the rest of his research when this seems such an obvious mistake and there’s so little source material for other chapters.

This is the first volume in a proposed series, so the book only focuses on seven of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions. If you’ve ever wondered where Imagineers found inspiration for the Jungle Cruise, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Carousel of Progress, the Crystal Palace, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrowland, or Main Street USA, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1 might teach you something new. In the end, I felt the book was a little unfinished. I'm not sure if this is due to the lack of citations, the absence of a conclusion, or the fact that this is just the first volume. ( )
  makaiju | Jul 22, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 194150034X, Paperback)

History Made Magical

In A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Andrew Kiste not only pulls back the pixie dust curtain on some of the most iconic rides in the Magic Kingdom, but also pulls back the next curtain, revealing the historical and cultural influences that inspired Walt Disney and his Imagineers.

Did you ever wonder why Walt wanted a Jungle Cruise? Or how closely his pirates were based on real pirates? Or why the original conception for Tomorrowland didn't work out? Or how the Crystal Palace is really the work of a forgotten Victorian architect?

Learn the history BEHIND the history of such popular Magic Kingdom locations and attractions as:

Main Street, U.S.A.: It's always the Fourth of July on Main Street, and everything there has a purpose that might surprise you.

Jungle Cruise: Despite the skipper humor, this ride has its roots in European colonialism and the scramble for Africa.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Yo ho ho, me hearties, but did the real pirates of the Caribbean act like those in Adventureland?

Crystal Palace: The first two Crystal Palaces burned to the ground; how much is Disney's popular restaurant their carbon copy?

Tomorrowland: Disney's original plan to faithfully represent the future fell apart when the future didn't cooperate.

Find out where the Imagineers got THEIR ideas!

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:44:46 -0400)

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