Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream by Sam Gennawey

Disneyland is one of my favorite places, and I've been visiting it for years. I know a lot about the park, but I haven't been obsessive about how things have changed and developed over the years. I also don't know that much about its history, beyond what I've seen in various TV specials, at the park, and at the Walt Disney Family Museum. I recently decided I wanted to learn more about Disneyland, but found there weren't a whole lot of comprehensive histories of the park. Fortunately, one was due to come out, and I purchased it as soon as it was released: The Disneyland Story, by Sam Gennawey.


Gennawey tells the entire history of Disneyland, from its earliest conception in the mind of Walt Disney, all the way up to 2012. The book shows the obsession to detail of a true fan, but Gennawey presents his history objectively, without judgment. This doesn't read like an Internet obsessive's guide to the good old days followed by where things went wrong. Instead, we get a true sense of how the park has always been a growing, evolving thing. There were attractions that Walt Disney championed at opening day that failed to catch the public's imagination. There are more recent additions, created long after Walt's passing, that because hugely popular. Gennawey treats all those stories equally.


While he doesn't seem to have an ax to grind as far as favoring nostalgia over innovation and change, he doesn't shy away from problems, either. This is particularly evident in the details of the park's ongoing negotiations with the City of Anaheim and its residents, trying to work out the best deal for a business that has tremendous impact on the community around it. As a Disney fan, I was more interested in the history of the park, but Gennawey keeps the politics to a minimum, getting the important information across without getting caught up in dry minutae.


Overall, this sums up the approach to the book: we get a timeline for new attractions opening, and details about them as they open, but things are kept brief enough that the story keeps moving along. If the book is lacking in anything, it is in illustrations, presumably due to this being an unofficial publication. However, Gennawey creates enough images through his prose that we can almost see the park in the eyes of our minds.


Fans looking for a guidebook to Disneyland will be better off with other publications, as will fans looking for an opinionated document written to advance a specific point of view. What readers will find here is an interesting recounting of the development of what has become, for many visitors, a magical place. He doesn't skimp on the park's successes, and it's fascinating to see how a place that means so much to so many people developed the way most businesses do, driven by ordinary men. A definite must-read for people who want to see the evolution of Disneyland over the decades.


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