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"The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak" will be a tiptop addition to any Disneyana fan's library

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"The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak" will be a tiptop addition to any Disneyana fan's library

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Given that the Disney theme parks are now home to a plethora of peaks (i.e. The Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mt. Mayday, Summit Plummit, Grizzly PeakMt. Prometheus and Forbidden Mountain), it may seem somewhat bizarre to hear that there was actually a time when the Magic Kingdom was virtually mountain-free.

Oh, sure. There was Disneyland's Holiday Hill. Which you can see circled in red in the photo below ...

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... But the Magic Kingdom's first mountain wasn't all that magical. Truth be told, this was just where all the dirt that was left over from Disneyland's initial construction phase had been bulldozed into a single pile. Bill Evans and his landscaping crew had done what they could to camouflage this unsightly mound. But given that it was located right next to Sleeping Beauty Castle, this lightly planted pile of earth was still something of an eyesore.

But Walt ... He saw potential. If not in Holiday Hill itself, then in its location. As Jason Surrell recounts in his excellent new book, "The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak" (Disney Editions, September 2007) ...

... a studio employee came across Walt sitting on a bench between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, just staring off into space. "What are you looking at?" the employee asked. "My mountain," Walt replied.

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Surrell then walks you through how the Matterhorn came into being. How workers from American Bridge -- following a design that WED and Arrow Development cobbled together -- turned 500 tons of steel and cement into a 1/100th scale version of that Alpine peak.

That's one of the real strengths of "The Disney Mountains." The way that Jason first makes you aware of all of the construction challenges that each individual project presented. Then he tells you about how the Imagineers went about solving those problems (Which -- in the case of the Matterhorn -- involved cutting 2,175 girders to different lengths so that they could then be assembled into a support structure that roughly resembled the famous mountain).

Of course, another fun aspect of this 128-page paperback is getting to see some seldom-seen WDI development art. Take -- for example -- this John Hench drawing from the mid-1960s. Which shows what the interior of what was then known as the Space Port could have possibly looked like. Check out the snazzy 1950s-style fins on all of the coaster cars that are rolling through this drawing.

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Surrell doesn't just talk about the mountains that actually made it off of WDI's drawing boards. He also gives his readers lots of great information about high profile projects that didn't make it into the Disney theme parks. Infamous attractions like Disneyland's Big Rock Candy Mountain or -- better yet -- WDW's Thunder Mesa ...

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Which is an attraction that was proposed for the Magic Kingdom back in the 1970s that JHM readers should be pretty familiar with.

Anyway ... Jason uses his knowledge of what's buried down deep in WDI's archives to show us these critical moments in Disney theme park history. Like when Tony Baxter proposed that the runaway train portion of the Thunder Mesa project be separated from the "Western River Expedition" attraction. Which led to the creation of Big Thunder Mountain Railway.

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

These are the sorts of surprises that you'll find as you read "The Disney Mountains." Peeks at ride vehicles that never built (Like this early lashed-together-log-raft that was originally proposed for Splash Mountain) ...

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Or -- better yet -- concept paintings that show radically different configurations of the exteriors of these attractions ...

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... Or even entire sequences that were originally proposed for these "Disney Mountain" attractions but then dropped. And speaking of dropping ... Think about how much scarier "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain" would be today if that runaway train ride still featured the scene pictured below. Where your tea train traveled across a rickety old bridge that spanned an impossibly deep chasm.

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

It's illustrations like this -- plus the great stories that go with them -- that make "The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak" a must-buy for all you Disneyana fans out there.

So make some space now on that bookshelf where you keep Surrell's other earlier Disney-theme-park-related books (i.e. "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies"). Because once you get a peek at "Imagineering at Its Peak," you're really going to want a copy of your very own.

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  • [Insert post by "Crazy 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Lawsuit Guy." Who urges us all to realize that there is a huge conspiracy involving Jason Surrell and others about stealing his Pirates movie idea]

  • Jim, I'm surprised you didn't mention that the 2007 painting of Grizzly peak shows one way that WDI is considering redoing that whole section of the park- getting rid of the Condor Flats theme and making it all more "National Park-ish". It even shows some 1930's vehicles in the Sunshine Plaza area. Or the 2 2007 pencil sketches for Grizzly Peak show little Mine trains chugging around the mountain. Of course all this stuff has been discussed but it's neat to see it.

    Honestly though I'm a bit disappointed in the book. Most of the artwork HAS been seen before, and the book is spread between so many mountains that some things are very underrepresented. For example it would have been neat to have better explanations about things like the RCA Home of Future Living (hey maybe some photos?) and maybe more than 3 Marc Davis sketches for Western River (I'm thinking a fold out- that would be cool). Neat that they did the book, but if you're a Disney nerd who's been online in the last 10 years most of it you've seen or heard before.

  • 'Tis true that a lot of the material herein has been publicly seen before, but, the quality of the prints in the book are far superior than many of the images that have been posted online.  And, the text is really superlative in information.  Of course, if a person goes for artwork only, and, is used to the imagry on the net...well, as McCluhan said, "the medium is the massage."  Personally, I think it's a great addition to the Imagineering reference bookshelf.

    I'm surprised, Jim, you didn't go into the "sordid" history of 'Holiday Hill'...it isn't much, really, just that one of the horticulture cast members in the early days was using a secluded section of the top of the mountain for growing his own private stash....;)  (True story, btw...)

  • This book sounds incrdible. I realize most of the info is still online, however I'd rather own it in book form, and this book looks beautiful.

  • Being that Jason Surrell is an acquaintance/friend that I knew from our days of hourly entertainment together, I will probably purchase this to show support for him.  I think it is great to see somebody I know, who proposed on top of Abu the Elephant float, become successful.

    I know his passion will come through in this book.

  • The book feels like an extended commercial for Expedition Everest. While a worthy attraction, Surrell just glosses over Mysterious Island in Tokyo and briefly expands on the other Thunder Mountains- Yeah, we know they're similar but different, so HOW are they different? Why didn't they add the cool explosion from Paris into any of the others? Barely mentions Tokyo's Splash Mountain and misses a ton of opportunities to go into more detail about these great rides.

    Plus, all the old chestnuts of the Walt Disney legend are getting old. No less than four of my Disney books talk about Walt looking at Holiday Hill and telling whoever asks that he's looking at his mountain. It would have been awesome to see some clear pictures of what the Matterhorn looked like when it was hollow.


    That story about Holiday Hill sounds awesome- got any more details?

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