I would assume that most people who read MiceChat (especially those reading Samland) are the type who visit the Disney parks more frequently than the average guest. Just a wild guess. With that in mind, I am pretty sure that we may have shared this experience:

You are chatting with friends, relatives, coworkers when somebody mentions your upcoming visit to a theme park. All of sudden the group recoils, some roll their eyes back in their heads while others ask, “Again?” “Why?”

Try doing that in a room filled with architects and urban planners. For many of my peers, Walt Disney represents everything that is wrong with the built environment. The term “Disneyification” was not meant as a compliment. Although many of them might not admit it in public, some quietly have come to me to share their passion for theme parks knowing that I won’t rat them out.


As much as they might bemoan the parks, architectural historian Beth Dunlop got it right when she wrote in the new edition of Building a Dream, “Urban planners study Disneyland to understand ideas of proportion and perspective and to learn, more technically, about the flow of pedestrians and the placement of public spaces. Disneyland simply changed the way we think.” Hard to argue with that one.

The park’s importance to the image for the Los Angeles region cannot be overstated.   New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger once called Disneyland “the town square of Los Angeles.” In 1966, architect and philosopher Charles W. Moore once called the park the “most important single piece of construction in the West in the past several decades.” This was the man who coined the phrase, “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment.” Nobody understood that better than Walt Disney and his Imagineers.


Another booster was shopping center developer and town builder James Rouse. In 1963, he was the keynote speaker at the Urban Design Conference at Harvard University and said, “I hold a view that might be somewhat shocking to an audience as sophisticated as this – that the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland.” As proof he stated, “It took an area of activity – the amusement park – and lifted it to a standard so high in its performance, in its respect for people, that it really has become a brand-new thing.”

Even science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury chimed in when he said, “In Disneyland, he [Walt] has proven again that the first function of architecture is to make men over, make them wish to go on living, feed fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind.” Why would you not want to visit a place like this? Bradbury suggested, “Disneyland liberates men to their better selves. Here the wild brute is gently corralled, not used and squashed, not put upon and harassed, not tramped on by real-estate operators, nor exhausted by smog and traffic.” I want to go there.


Part of this was due to an underlying operating system that controls how this urban space works. Historian Karl Ann Marling compared the park to television. She said, “Each ride [was] a four- or five-minute segment, slotted in among snacks, trips to the restroom, and ‘commercials’ in the form of souvenir emporia.” What could be more like home? Instantly comfortable.

What is most strange is how the park plays with the frequent guest’s mind. For example, superstar Disney historian Jeff Kurtti said that visiting the park frequently “is revelatory in the drastic change you will see – and the almost complete lack of change you will see.” He is right.

Long-time Imagineer and Disney Legend, John Hench, tried to document the formula. He was quick to point out, “It’s all very obvious, careful communication, watching what you say, and being explicit – and having something to say in the first place.” For the park, a three-dimensional experience, the early Imagineers drew from their experience making movies.  Hench said, “In motion pictures, you start out with an establishing shot, a long shot, a wow.” Keep that in mind  when you walk up to the turnstiles or pass through the tunnels under the railroad tracks, walk through Town Square, and see the Castle off in the distance for the first time.

John Hench's concept art for Space Mountain
John Hench’s concept art for Space Mountain

For the formula to work, more was required according to Hench. He said, “Walt wanted all the details to be correct. What it amounted to was a kind of visual literacy.” Walt told his team, “I want them to feel they are in another world.”

For almost sixty years, we have been able to test these ideas. However, I think it is time for another research trip. Oh one more thing. When you are done explaining this to everyone and they are still not convinced remember, you will be the one having a Dole whip.

There are so many more reasons. Anybody?


Some very brief book reviews.

Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters by Jack Kinney (1988 – Out of Print)

One of the best books I have ever read about Walt Disney in the early days. This is an unvarnished look at life at the studio from February 1931 until 1957. Kinney adds punch to his stories with delightful quick sketches. Although Walt Disney Productions created some of the best family entertainment ever, the crew of artists were a bit more, how shall we say it, adult. The studio politics, the tensions generated by the creative process, and colorful descriptions of many of the eclectic artists who worked there are captured in Kinney’s book.

I bought the book online.


Walt Disney: Saving Americas Lost Generation by R.H. Farber (2012)


Did you know that there was a Mickey Mouse Club before the famous 1950s television show? And this group was bigger than the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America combined. Deep in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s, took comfort by joining like minded children in their love for the little mouse.

Farber tells of how Harry Woodin of the Fox Dome Theater in Ocean Park, California asked Walt Disney if he could start a fraternity for children. Both men saw this as a win-win and a new cultural institution is born. Within in a couple of years there would be more than 3,000 local clubs. More than three million children were involved in the organization. All sorts of rituals and merchandise were created for the club and the book is loaded with historic photos. The book is a reminder of the power of Disney in the 1930s and how his studio captured the imagination of a generation.

Author sent me a copy for the review.


Work in Progress By Michael D. Eisner with Tony Schwartz (1998)

The book was written at the height of Michael Eisner’s power and prestige as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Although Eisner strives to live up to the books humble sub-title (Risking Failure, Surviving Success) the book is quite entertaining now that some time has passed. The book opens with the sudden death of Frank Wells, Eisner’s partner at Disney, and ends well before his trouble with shareholders in the “Save Disney” movement of 2003-2005. The book is not a revisionist’s history of historic events. It is Eisner’s point of view and quite valuable when compared to other narratives dealing with the same historic events.

I bought the electronic edition.


The First Earth Battalion: Evolutionary Tactics Operations Manual (1979) by Lt. Col Jim Channon, US Army

Ever seen the movie Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)?  The film was based on the British documentary by John Sergeant and the book by Jon Ronson and begin with an ominous title card that reads “More of this is true than you would believe.” Throughout the movie, the lead characters constantly refer to The First Earth Battalion Operations Manual. That manual is available online. I can’t really say anymore for national security reasons. Good luck future Warrior Monks.

Available online.

The Thinking Fans Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom by Aaron Wallace (2013)

When is a travel book not really a travel book? When Aaron Wallace takes on WDW’s Magic Kingdom. The book is organized as a traditional guidebook. The author tackles each land with a quick introduction and then goes attraction by attraction. Basic facts are presented right up front then we are treated to a deeper look. Stories range from the original inspirations for the rides, a focus on a particular topics such as that special Disney humor or an introspective essay describing why we react the way we do while enjoying the rides. As you can imagine, I love this stuff and Wallace does a good job. At the end of each ride description is a sidebar featuring a movie that you should watch before your visit. Sometimes the films deal directly with the attraction and at other times they help to provide additional context and not directly related. The footnotes are well worth the read. I would think that anybody who enjoys where I go with my writing would really enjoy this book.

The publisher sent me the book for this review.



Amazon link. Barnes and Noble link.
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  • Sam, I absolutely sympathize with you regarding Disney and coworkers. I work in a technical industry. NO ONE I work with understands why I want to spend my weekends at Disneyland and most of my vacations at Disney World. They think I’m nuts.

    Of course, all of you really know that they are right. 😉

  • DobbysCloset

    Thanks, Sam, for sharing your appreciation of my favorite magical place from a serious adult viewpoint.

    I visit Disneyland each night as I try to clear my mind from the day and make a “happy brain” before sleep.

    And I remember my first visit to Santa Clarita’s “Magic Mountain” or “Six Flags” or whatever one calls it, wondering why anyone would go there after having been to Disneyland.

    There are so few places in this world one can go that have been designed to feed the spirit as well as some corporate pocketbook. As a child I took Disneyland for granted; as an adult I appreciate it so much more.

  • chesirecat

    Great article!

    As said James W. Rouse in 1963 in his keynote address before the Urban Design Conference:

    “the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland. If you think about Disneyland and think of its performance in relationship to its purpose, it’s meaning to people—more than that, it’s meaning to the process of development—you will find it the outstanding piece of urban design in the United States. It took an area of activity—the amusement park—and lifted it to a standard so high in its performance, in its respect for people, in its functioning for people, that it really does become a brand new thing.”

    It was this sort of praise for Disneyland’s design that spurred Walt in the direction of Epcot.

    The early Imagineers had a lot of great experience in the film industry when designing Disneyland, maybe that is partly why Carsland is such a hit, you’ve got those “wow” vistas that look lik they’re straight out of a movie.

  • rwsmith

    My next door neighbor was a security guard at Disney in Burbank until last month. He would bring my children Disney magazines and different things that were to be thrown away. The last thing he gave us was Work in Progress stamped WDI IRC and hand written inside “Rec’vd 12-7-98 $16.47 Ingram”. It’s interesting so far.

  • rwsmith

    As for friends that don’t understand a Disney interest/addiction. I have few friends who aren’t also Disney fans to one degree or another, but I did have a Facebook friend who shares an interest in a obscure hobby that we share ask “what’s the deal” with all of the Disney posts? I just I’m just into Disney. It’s DISNEY for goodness sakes!

  • CCS

    At my mid-sized firm in Century City, there are three “known” Disneyphiles. There may be more, but they’re under wraps and have not been outed. 🙂 We Three Geeks talk the talk all the time, and share a bond that is incomprehensible to most of our co-workers and colleagues. Far from being a secret society, embarrassed by our benign obsession, we are loud and proud and love sharing the latest news of the Parks. In fact, I leave for Anaheim after work to celebrate my birthday there this weekend. My fellow geeks are jealous as I write this. I was a one year-old when Disneyland was built and my parents took my brother and me for the first time. I have been visiting it ever since. The magic and the mindset that is Disneyland doesn’t just get under your skin — it becomes part of the tapestry of your life.

  • heather102581

    I read this article and my jaw dropped. This is exactly how I try to explain my love of Disney – not the movies, not the songs, just THE PARKS! I think people doubt my explanation but it all started with my father and his hopes that I would someday become an architect. It was his dream profession (although he was a firefighter up until he passed) and I, unfortunately for Dad’s dream, have one huge learning disability surrounding all things mathematical and, so, have fallen into the completely math-free world of Human Resources.

    Back to the point – I grew up in San Diego and my Father and I would often sneak away to Disney to visit the parks. Imagine taking a young child (before I hit double digits) to the park and, instead of riding all day, sitting across from buildings on Main Street, Adventure Land, and the French Quarter just admiring the buildings together. I remember visiting Tomorrow Land and falling in love with the beautiful, pseudo future that Walt planned for us. My Father and I wondered together if the sea life in the Submarine Adventure was real or created for maximum enjoyment of guests, or a combination of both.

    Beyond the “pretty” of the park, we were fascinated with the operational side. As I grew older, my very first internet searches were queries to determine just how many tons of trash, per day, Disneyland was able to process in such an immaculate and “undercover” way. My parents were divorced and you can imagine my Mother’s delight when a trip to the Wild Animal Park resulted in comments from me not about the cute monkeys but about the trash “situation.”

    To this day, I am fascinated with the parks and all the operational, engineering, and architectural wonders that combine to make the most comforting place I can ever be, at any moment. I’ve moved to NYC so only make it twice a year (once to WDW and once to DLR) but I hope to work in Orlando at some point in my life.

    I lost my dad when I was 22 (about 10 years ago) and the parks provide a wonderful place to reminisce about our special love of Disney. And, even though my Husband doesn’t believe that the magic, for me, lies solely in the Parks (he just thinks I like pub crawls around Epcot) it’s one place that (mostly) stays the same since my visits with Dad and reminds me of the time we spent, just admiring the magic that surrounded us.