I have over 600 books in my personal library that are dedicated to Walt Disney, animation and the theme parks. One of my most frequent email requests is for books related to the history of Walt Disney World. Jeff Kurtti’s Since the World Began covers the first 25 years, but there isn’t any single source that covers it all. I have published a bibliography that collects Walt Disney World books and you can find it here. There are a few that look at the individual theme parks of Walt Disney World, but not many that just look at one park.
Let’s take a look at one of the most impressive books and one of the few that is dedicated to a single theme park: Walt Disney’s EPCOT by Richard Beard.
Walt Disney’s EPCOT (also known at Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center) is a title that every theme park fan should own. It is a treasure trove of photographs, concept art, anecdotes and attraction descriptions that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s also a hopeful time capsule of the EPCOT Center that existed during the early 1980s. At 239 pages it’s also one of the most comprehensive books about a Disney theme park that has ever been produced (Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality comes pretty close).
The book unfolds just like a visit to the theme park. The first section of the book is a 20-page introduction written by Marty Sklar that introduces the concept of EPCOT Center and how Walt’s ideas evolved. After that, we are introduced to EPCOT Center as any visitor would experience it, pavilion by pavilion. It is still more of a look at the art than the artists, but anyone familiar with Imagineering can easily pinpoint the artists behind the images.
As you can see from the images, this book is a treasure. The concept art, photographs of models and pictures are one reason that every fan of Epcot should own this; the other reason is the text. Richard Beard takes us through the concept and development of each pavilion. When applicable, he takes us on a ride-through and tour of the area. Since there is not one Future World pavilion that has remained untouched, this is one of the few opportunities to experience the first version of the ride. Looking at the text from the eyes of a smart phone user, if is almost comical they way the computer-based attractions and shows are described.
Although my list of favorite and important Disney books is getting fairly crowded, this one is always in the top five. It is a constant go to book when I want to look back at EPCOT Center or lose myself in some amazing concept artwork and models.
As of this writing, there are three different versions of the book. There are two large ones (239 pp.) and one small one (127 pp.). The biggest difference between the larger books is when they were produced, either pre- or post-opening. The first difference is obvious: one is titled Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center and the other is Walt Disney’s EPCOT. The other difference is minor yet offers the most compelling reason to collect both version–the different pictures in each book. There aren’t many photos that are disparate, and they are usually the difference between a pre-opening model of the pavilion and a post-opening shot. Either version is wonderful and will provide hours (if not days) of happy reading
The book also does what Disney no longer does which is providing concept art for attractions that are in the early planning stages. This is the go-to book for Meet the World, the Rhine River ride and the Africa Pavilion. It is almost like Disney learned their lesson and now they only release artwork that is fairly far in the approval stages.
The book does have a few fold-out pages that show larger artwork developed for the park. When you look into a copy of the book, make sure that that pages are intact (the smaller version of the book doesn’t have the fold-out pages). You can also ask which version of the book it is (pre- or post-opening) to make sure you complete your collection.
I’m always surprised and pleased when I re-read one of my copies of this book. It was obvious a huge undertaking to present it and it something that Disney no longer does. I can’t imagine a book being created that details the history of the Magic Kingdom or the resort property. (The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is good, but not as awe-inspiring as the Epcot book.)
Are you an Epcot fan? Do you like the Epcot of old or the current park better? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
By George Taylor
The Disney Review is written and edited by Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor
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