Skip to main content

Disney's Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World


Disney's Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World

"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing --- that it was all started by a mouse."

"Disneyland is like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass; to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world."

The above quotes, of course, come from Mr. Walter Elias Disney. I grew up watching Walt Disney on television every Sunday night, which continued for years after his death. He was iconic and extremely recognizable, and I came to refer to him as Uncle Walt. My first trip to Disneyland as a toddler was magical. I was fortunate to have grown up in Queens, New York, during a time when Disney movies were still shown in local theaters. As much as I loved those films, spinning the records on my grandmother's turntable while acting out every scene, nothing came close to stepping foot inside Disneyland. It was like a portal to another world where I could immerse myself in all those movies I had grown to love. It was pure magic.

I can blame Walt for making me an actor. Watching and imitating his films got me started on characterization, vocal training and becoming all sorts of different characters. I’ve always had a penchant for the villains, and still do. I've also gone out of my way to read everything by and about Walt Disney. He was a complicated man who was driven by a need to provide the greatest family entertainment possible and was determined to see his vision brought to life. I've been proud to be a Disney cast member for the better part of the last decade. This has included uprooting my family from NY to Central Florida with a transfer to Walt Disney World, where I currently work in a leadership role in the Entertainment arena.

"DISNEY'S LAND is essential reading. Snow details everything in chronological order, allowing you to strap in and go along for this eye-opening trip down memory lane."

It would be an understatement to say that I was more than a little interested in reviewing this book by Richard Snow about the creation of Disneyland. DISNEY’S LAND opens with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY: “Can't repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can! I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before.” The speaker of those words very well could have been Walt Disney himself.

Those who know the history of Disneyland will recognize that it was created primarily for two reasons. First, Walt noticed on one of his daddy days with his daughters that there needed to be a place where the entire family could go and be together. Secondly, he was looking for a way for fans of his films to be able to step out of their own lives and into the stories that have been brought to life for them. We all know that he achieved both of those modest dreams, and then some. There are now 12 Disney theme parks around the world, and in true Walt Disney style, they will continue to change and evolve and eventually make way for additional theme parks as need and demand require.

On July 17, 1955, the front gates to Disneyland opened. Initially, Walt and his brother, Roy --- along with the rest of the Imagineering team and countless investors --- had no idea what to expect. They were all overwhelmed by the fact that their annual forecasted numbers for year one were actually achieved in the first month the park was open. Walt was so obsessed with its construction that he had an apartment built for himself above the Main Street U.S.A. Firehouse. There's a funny story about him being sealed in one morning as the Firehouse had been painted overnight, which prevented his door from opening. A call to the construction crew got him safely free.

Snow recounts this and many other stories about Walt and the creation of Disneyland. One that I especially love is when he was approached mere hours before opening day by the head of the plumbing crew, who indicated that water access would not allow them to have both water fountains and working restrooms. For Walt, the choice was easy; he indicated that “people can drink Pepsi-Cola, but they can't pee in the street.” The first day was a huge success.

Those who are intrigued by the corporate side of things and the organizational development behind the Disney Corporation will find much to dig into here. Walt was a determined and sometimes difficult boss. He was also a visionary who surrounded himself with the best and brightest minds that would help make his vision a reality. He wished to operate without an organizational chart and valued every single cast member as being an integral part of the team that kept the park alive. It was Walt's longtime business partnership with a man named Van France that would be especially valuable. France was an expert in organizational development and was the creator of Disney University, which still operates today, providing education and training for all cast members. I am proud to say that I am a regular facilitator there, and the place is world class. For those who may want to dive deeper into this side of the business, I recommend DISNEY U by Doug Lipp, which chronicles the work of Walt and France in vivid detail.

Whether you are a lover of all things Disney or simply interested in how the greatest theme park in the world came to be, DISNEY'S LAND is essential reading. Snow details everything in chronological order, allowing you to strap in and go along for this eye-opening trip down memory lane. Most of all, it will give you a greater appreciation for all that Walt Disney had to go through to achieve his vision --- never losing sight of that playful little mouse who started it all.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 18, 2019

Disney's Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World
by Richard Snow

  • Publication Date: December 3, 2019
  • Genres: Entertainment, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1501190806
  • ISBN-13: 9781501190803