Building a Better Mouse by Steve Alcorn

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Epcot, Features, The Disney Review, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 06, 2013 at 2:00 am with 14 Comments

Building A Better Mouse relates the story of two Imagineers, Steve Alcorn and David Green, and their work during the three years of designing and building Epcot. Steve begins the story at the end when the project is over and he has to deal with being let go from the company. Pretty auspicious. From there, he takes us back to his beginnings with WED Engineering working in Department 510, a group of electronic engineers. Steve delves into a fairly standard introduction to Walt’s dream for Epcot and the development of the theme park before beginning the real adventure: building the American Adventure!

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What you get with Building a Better Mouse is a deeply satisfying look into what it was like to work for Disney during the design, development and construction of the world’s most expensive theme park (and the largest private construction project) at the time. Although it is written by an electrical engineer (Alcorn), the narrative is very enjoyable and fun to read. Green steps in to offer his thoughts and “contributed all the sections that sound like they were written by an English major.” (Alcorn–Acknowledgments)

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About halfway through reading Building a Better Mouse, I realized that I would never look at any theme park attraction in the same light. Attractions at Disney parks are usually so polished that you take everything for granted. Reading about Steve working more than 24 hours in a row in order to get a lift functioning is mind-boggling. Steve describes the size and scope of the infrastructure of the American Adventure and relates it on a level in which you can comprehend the grandness and inter-operability of each part. It’s amazing to think of the systems that were developed that keep the attractions running all day, day after day.

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Steve and David take us behind-the-scenes at WED in California where we share a glimpse of what it was like to work at Disney. When they write about their time in Lake Buena Vista where all WED employees were given a rental car, a trailer at Ft. Wilderness and the ultimatum of finishing Epcot by October 1, you’re amazed how it all came together. It’s hard to imagine the demand that was pressed upon these young and idealistic engineers, but after seeing the results, it must have been well worth it.

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Building A Better Mouse is a fascinating look at an amazing time in Disney history; especially one written by an insider who loves the magic as much as most enthusiasts. There’s nothing else like it that looks into the development of a single attraction or the life that Imagineers lived during the heyday of building a theme park. If you are a fan of Imagineering, theme parks or Disney, then you will love this title. I wish that it had been a little more in-depth, but I am not sure what else the authors could have added.

About the Authors

Steve Alcorn and David Green wrote this book to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Epcot in 2007. Steve worked for WED during the construction of the American Adventure (the subject of the book) and currently runs Alcorn McBride. He is still heavily involved in the theme park industry and teaches a class on theme park design at Imagineering Class. David spent many years working for the Walt Disney Company on the Fantasyland refurb, Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland. He is the principal creative at Monteverdi Creative with a long list of accomplishments.

Have you read Building a Better Mouse? Do you have a favorite theme park-related book?


By George Taylor

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About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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14 Comments

Comments for Building a Better Mouse by Steve Alcorn are now closed.

  1. I’ve got to read this book! Steve is fascinating and the American Adventure was such a clever and ambitious project.

  2. I read this book a couple years ago and found it thoroughly enthralling. I finished it within a couple days and was tempted to start re-reading almost immediately. The reader is taken so thoroughly into the word of the talented, though often inexperienced individuals that made Epcot a reality and it is not difficult to wonder what other stories have been left untold. I could read 100 firsthand accounts of the creation of Epcot if each one comes with the careful and brilliant storytelling that Steve shares with his readers in this book.

    • I agree! I would love for more people to come forward with their own stories about creating the pavilions and attractions at Epcot. Maybe we should start a petition.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. I remember all the WED stories I heard about living in Fort Wilderness during the building of Epcot, and believe they thought that would work at EDL as well in Camp Davy Crockett – Ranch. I just wonder if you had access to River Country while staying at Fort Wilderness? That would have been a plus to stay there. At TDL and TDS, there were no such on site camps, or cars to get around in for most of the team. I remember in 1979 going out to the Epcot site in jeeps and seeing them send up floating colored heavy balloon markers on tethers to mark each Pavilions location in the middle of a jungle of growth. What a difference 1979 was from 1969 at WDW and looking at it today.

    • I imagine that the Imagineers had no extra time for River Country…

      Where did the team stay at TDL? Local hotels?

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I really enjoyed this book when I read it about a year ago. It has especially changed my perspective on The American Adventure. I mean, I knew about the War Wagon and all the sets moving down there, but I didn’t realize that they move around under the audience seating. Very very interesting to a techno-Disney geek like me!

    • Agreed! I was completely blown away by how much went into these amazing attractions.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

  5. Steve and David were wise to write everything down back when it happened. I had the same experience working on the Energy Pavilion but after 30+ years cannot remember the details. I think Steve could write the same story about Imagination and his success in rescuing the ride system.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I’d love to hear more about your time working on the Energy Pavilion. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen and share! :)

  6. Read this booked quite awhile ago and loved it. If anyone has any interest in the building of Epcot or the Disney parks in general, this gives great insights into what it was like to do just that and be an imagineer in the early 80′s at Disney. Great book, go get it!

    • Thanks! I have to agree that the book was a lot of fun.

  7. I’m so glad you reviewed this one, George. As a software engineer, this is probably my favorite Disney book for all of the technical info about the Imagineers’ work. My favorite part are the extensive quotes from Imagineer Glenn Birket’s tape recorded logs created while building the American Adventure. In fact this book made Glenn Birket one of my favorite (if not so well-known) former Imagineers.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I’m always thrilled when I run across a gem like this. Especially when it’s from a smaller publisher and I can help promote the item.

  8. about 10 years ago I took an online course – taught by Steve – that allowed us to try and be imagineers – well, ok, attraction designers – from concept, layout, backstory, pre-show, online ride, and post-ride. We learned about hydraulics, pneumatics, paint and scene creation, audio and video sync, guest throughput, likes and dislikes, etc. Fascinating course over several weeks. Oh, and the book was good too ;-)