'The Imagineering Story' debuts with Disney+

November 12, 2019, 1:23 PM · The Walt Disney Company today premiered its much-hyped new direct-to-consumer video streaming service, Disney+. Designated the new online home for the Disney catalogue, plus (thus the name) those of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, and even the family-friendly(ish) elements from Fox (i.e. The Simpsons), Disney+ also offers a new original series for the company's millions of theme park fans.

The hour-long first episode of The Imagineering Story takes viewers through the early days of what is now known as Walt Disney Imagineering. Begun as WED Enterprises in the early 1950s, this new company of Walt's was his "sandbox" for the development of Disneyland. Long-time theme park fans probably won't learn anything new from The Imagineering Story - the history of Disneyland is well known - but even the most knowledgable fan will geek out over the visuals here. From pristine historical footage of the park's construction to rarely-seen concept art to interviews with the people who designed the park and its attractions, including Marc Davis, Mary Blair, and Bob Gurr, The Imagineering Story serves a visual treat to Disney's theme park fans.

Disney+ is not dropping all episodes of its new series at once, so you can't binge-watch the whole thing in one sitting. The first episode covers the years leading up to Walt's death in 1966, though it does reference the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean in 1967, which was designed before Walt's passing. But the episode does give us at least a glimpse of the modern, behind-the-scenes access that has kept theme park fans anticipating the show's debut ever since Disney announced that it would be part of the new service.

At 29 minutes in, Bob Gurr leads us inside the Matterhorn to see its backstage areas, including the fabled basketball hoop in the cast break area. No, it's not a full basketball court, but we get to see Bob shoot a couple baskets and even add his name to the collection of cast member signatures on the wall inside the mountain.

From there, The Imagineering Story leads us through the early triumphs of Walt Disney Imagineering, including the development of Audio Animatronics and Disney's attractions for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Throughout, the show depicts Imagineering as an almost improvisational effort — where a creative team of individuals literally makes stuff up as they go along, motivated by curiosity... and a little bit of fear, instilled by the ever-demaning Walt Disney.

Even 67 minutes is hardly enough time to tell the story of the first 15 years of Disney's role in the themed entertainment industry. There's no mention here of Harrison "Buzz" Price and the equally fascinating process of determining the locations for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Nor does The Imagineering Story acknowledge the projects that never happened, such as the Mineral King Resort. But the show does eventually acknowledge competitors in the theme park business, noting how Disneyland inspired the creation of Six Flags, SeaWorld and the Universal Studios Tour.

But it's just episode one. Directed by Leslie Iwerks, The Imagineering Story offers a compelling origin story for the Disney theme parks, illustrated with enough detail and insight to satisfy everyone from casual to dedicated theme park fans. As Disney CEO Bob Iger suggests at the beginning of the episode, this inside look into Walt Disney Imagineering really does help deepen a fan's appreciation for the work that Disney's Imagineers have done over the years.

And I can't wait to watch even more.

Replies (15)

November 12, 2019 at 2:44 PM

I am so nerding out on Disney+. Woke up at 5:00 a.m., the time in my time zone that the service went live just to be one of the first to watch The Mandolorian so social media couldn't spoil it for me! The theme park documentaries are also high on my list. Disney has another gold mine on their hands with this streaming service!

November 12, 2019 at 3:16 PM

As much as I love Disney, I feel it’s just another way for them to make money. How much more money do they need?

November 12, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Given what I and many other Disney fans paid for this (the D23 preview rate) and what Disney must be spending today on last-minute tech support, I don't think the company is making much money on D+ just yet. LOL.

November 12, 2019 at 4:27 PM

Robert Niles, that’s true, lol. I know it’s only $6.99 per month. My mom did purchase it, lol. It is cheaper than Netflix too. But for some families, that extra $6.99 a month doesn’t fit into their budgets. I know they haven’t made much money yet, lol. Especially since it only began today, and already experiencing technical difficulties. But in the long run, it will be another money maker for them. Listen, I love Disney. I love the parks, shows, movies, shows, merchandise, etc. But sometimes you just have to wonder - when is enough, enough?

November 12, 2019 at 4:48 PM

I bet "the imagineering story" left out the first part of the story, where the company was personally owned by Walt (and later his estate) and their only customer was the Walt Disney Company. No shady business practices going on there lol

November 12, 2019 at 5:23 PM

Yeah, it acknowledged that Walt formed WED as another company but did not make explicit that it was separate from Walt Disney Productions.

November 12, 2019 at 5:29 PM

>>As much as I love Disney, I feel it’s just another way for them to make money. How much more money do they need?

Making money is the only reason why for-profit companies exist. If they just happen to make you happy along the way, then thats extra.

November 12, 2019 at 5:55 PM

You guys are right. I know Disney+ is going to be great! It has a lot to offer. I also know they are competing with Apple, and Netflix. But I have no doubt that it will be great.

November 12, 2019 at 6:04 PM

That's an odd thought. Theme Park innovations aside, to me Walt Disney has always been about the movies. This isn't a cash grab. It's a gift! They're basically opening up their entire back catalog, aren't they? I never got "Fantasia" on blu ray, so having it available in HD will be a blessing. They're making some fairly rare stuff available.

November 12, 2019 at 6:14 PM

I think a subscription will actually save me money in the long run. Now my wife won't be purchasing every single Marvel and Pixar title that comes out.

November 12, 2019 at 9:25 PM

Yeah, Disney+ exists because Bob Iger decided that Disney needed a product for people who decided that they couldn't afford to pay $100+ a month for cable TV anymore and were going to services like Netflix instead.

November 13, 2019 at 5:14 AM

I watched The Imagineering Story twice, of course taking a break between viewings...to watch old "Disney Afternoon" episodes while beaming from ear to ear. Oh yeah, I'm loving this. But when I went back later in the evening, I was greeted with the "Oops, something went wrong" screen. So I kept trying until I got back in.

The footage in the Imagineering Story was nothing short of remarkable and it looked so pristine, I said to my wife "does it look to you like they restaged some of these scenes by dressing people in 60s attire?" It looked THAT good and I couldn't wrap my head around the fact this footage existed and no one had EVER seen it before. This IS Disney after all! They make magic! I don't even care if they did, I LOVED IT!

November 13, 2019 at 12:03 PM

I already have enough shows on my other services to get another but might break down on this eventually. This show is a must as well as Mandolarian and the various Marvel shows coming.

Plus, all of "Gargoyles" which remains the best Disney animated series ever.

November 13, 2019 at 1:41 PM

I can't wait to watch it! Unfortunately, yesterday I was met with the now notorious "Oops!" screen when trying to access this and virtually all the original shows. Eventually The World According to Jeff Goldblum loaded, and I'm completely hooked on it. I also checked out the first episode of the new Forky Asks a Question show, and I was pretty underwhelmed. But, hopefully that one finds its groove soon. The Mandalorian was, well, amazing. So, tonight I shall head home and attempt to watch The Imagineering Story!

November 13, 2019 at 1:42 PM

Oh, and more Tailspin, of course!

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