For several decades, the Walt Disney Co. has produced a multitude of documentaries across countless subjects. For Disney fans, enthusiasts, and aficionados, perhaps none are more compelling than the films focusing on the various aspects of Disney itself — particularly when it comes to the Disney Parks division and the people who work behind the scenes.
Behind every Disney Park is the design and development team at Walt Disney Imagineering, the incubator for all of the fantastic ideas that spring to life in order to constantly surprise guests of all ages. Considered to be a studio, design center, think tank, and innovation laboratory, the division is the subject of The Imagineering Story, a new six-hour miniseries on Disney+.
Ahead of the Nov. 12 launch of Disney’s long-awaited streaming service, two episodes of the series — “The Happiest Place on Earth” and “What Would Walt Do?” — were provided to media as an early look at what’s yet to come.
Quite simply, The Imagineering Story joins The Mandalorian as one of the streamer’s first must-watch series right out of the gate.
From filmmaker Leslie Iwerks (The Pixar Story), daughter of Disney Legend Don Iwerks, The Imagineering Story takes things back to the beginning when WED Enterprises (WED = Walt Elias Disney) laid the groundwork for the development of Disneyland Park, which opened in 1955. The company evolved into Retlaw Enterprises (Retlaw = Walter backward) before ultimately being renamed Walt Disney Imagineering in 1986.
Named for Walt’s own nickname for Disneyland Park, “The Happiest Place on Earth” explores the development of an attraction that was erroneously reported by the press to have been a failure — with 10,000 guests — on its opening day. Mirroring the recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, many potential visitors simply stayed away to avoid the opening day crowds.
“What Would Walt Do?” explores the era that followed Disney’s death, and how Imagineering continues on as if Walt is still around — constantly pushing the envelope to develop new technologies that tackle any challenge presented. During Disney’s era, he challenged his Imagineers to create, which led to innovations including “Circle-Vision 360°,” developed by Don Iwerks and his father, Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
In just the first two episodes, viewers see the genesis of Disney Parks staples, such as the animatronic depictions of real people, including Abraham Lincoln (who Disney cites as an influential figure that he became enamored with while growing up in Illinois), and the creation of iconic attractions, such as Autopia, It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion. Additionally, we’re granted a look inside the completion of Walt Disney World Resort, and the construction of Epcot Center, inspired by one of Walt’s last big ideas: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
Narrated by Black Panther‘s Angela Bassett, the first two episodes rekindle a lot of the wonder that I recall from viewing the Sunday night anthology series that’s now known as The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC. Many of the archival clips that were shown to audiences in the ’70s and ’80s already felt “vintage,” but seeing similar footage here feels entirely fresh. As the doors to Imagineering open, we learn the purpose of things that many Parks guests have always known to be there. It’s a compelling history lesson.
Since Disney+ is going in a non-binge direction, the third installment of The Imagineering Story will debut on Nov. 22. That said, if the remaining episodes play as well as the first two, The Imagineering Story will make for a tasty six-hour binge.