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Disney In Depth: Book Review: ‘Poster Art Of The Disney Parks’
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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Poster Art of the Disney Parks
Written by Daniel Handke and Vanessa Hunt
Disney Editions
Release Date: September 11, 2012

These images summon us to enter the Disney theme parks, prompting us to come up with fantastical ideas of what they hold in store. The poster art found at the entrances of Disney’s Magic Kingdom-style parks, as well as at Disney’s many other theme parks and destinations, are sometimes as fascinating to visually digest as the attractions are to experience. I know I felt that way as a child, always attracted to the visual majesty of such simple teasers. Apparently many others felt that way, too. As Disney Legend and renowned Imagineer Tony Baxter writes, that artwork remained in his mind in anticipation of entering Disneyland.

The 2012 book Poster Art of the Disney Parks possesses glossy, gorgeous visuals of tons of attractions (up to the release of the title), as well as some helpful commentary on their development and symbolism.

This is a pure art book by all intents and purposes. Some text that provide context on posters appear intermittently, and certainly all artwork give proper credit to the artist and list the year, but the art is the star. After a synopsis of the area (or theme park) at the start of each chapter, pages center on the art.

Editorial decisions likely dictated which pieces could cover a whole page, as opposed to one-quarter of a page. Most of the choices based on size make sense. Indubitably, the more ornate and meticulous pieces obtain more space for the most part. Disneyland Paris’s menacing and embellished Phantom Manor absolutely deserves a whole page. Should a couple of the plain Main Street, U.S.A. posters share a page? Probably not. I’d rather delve more deeply into some of the other images in the same section, in which four are forced to share the same page. I understand that thematically, some decisions must have been made to keep all related posters together, but that comes with the sacrifice of reducing the sizes of some that would have benefited from taking up more room.

Poster Art Of The Disney Parks Jungle River Cruise

Certain major attractions obtain more scrutiny that others. Often, that one commences each chapter. The Jungle Cruise alone takes over four pages, and legitimately so, as it represents a signature Magic Kingdom-style park icon. One page depicts various poster renderings by Sam McKim. Witnessing ideas, some of which would be adapted into the finished product, show the elements that stand out to the artist. In McKim’s pieces, he emphasizes both the conflicts and synergy among the attraction’s featured animals. At times, a singular attraction’s artwork remains mostly the same when translated for the other parks, with only text and some color choices altered for stylistic reasons.

The book’s major strengths come from the lovely, restored images that are as vibrant and beguiling as when they first debuted, some of them six decades ago. Each section of the book, most organized according to land, features images of certain attractions, according to location (Disneyland, Walt Disney World, etc.) and also depicts them in different eras. For instance, the signature railroad poster varies according to time and park, and we can see all of them.

Some fun facts about the attractions and their respective poster art that readers may glean from the book include the following.

– Indiana Jones Adventure, albeit not debuting until 1995, had a piece of poster art conceptualized as far back as 1989, as seen in a piece by Nina Rae Vaughn that shows the attraction’s original design of integrating a mine train ride element.

– The Haunted Mansion, as well as attractions similar to it, appear in different lands at each of the Magic Kingdom-style parks. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion exists in the deep south of New Orleans Square. Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion evokes more of a colonial vibe in Liberty Square. Disneyland Paris’s Phantom Manor can be found in Frontierland. Tokyo Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion is in Fantasyland. Meanwhile, Mystic Manor, considered a departure from The Haunted Mansion, yet possessing some identifiable themes, exists in Mystic Point, unique to Hong Kong Disneyland. No Mansion-like attraction opened with Shanghai Disneyland, however.

– Often, artists were known for creating posters for attractions in one specific land. For example, Bjorn Aronson developed posters for Art Corner, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Space Station X-1 and Rocket to the Moon for Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

Poster Art Of The Disney Parks The Haunted Mansion

– The Matterhorn Bobsleds was considered to belong in two lands (Tomorrowland and Fantasyland) based on conflicting sources. It was later finalized as a Fantasyland-based attraction.

– Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride received new poster art in 2008 from artist Danny Handke.

– Greg Maletic, graphic designer for Mad Hatter Tea Cups at Hong Kong Disneyland, altered the poster’s design because the White Rabbit’s hands were up in the air, viewed as unsafe behavior by Disney legal. I guess it goes to show a ton of thought must be put into every element of the art.

– According to the selected bibliography, the authors interviewed more than 20 Disney artists, Imagineers, and historians to gain insight regarding the poster art.

One disappointing element of the book lies in its reliance on primarily the Magic Kingdom-style parks. Though these account for a large percentage of Disney attractions, several pages could have been allocated to just Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, for instance. A few appear in the introduction, but more would have been appreciated. At least we get a sampling of the international parks with some Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea imagery. That minor quibble does not undermine the quality of this massive and stunning coffee table book. You’ll want to display this to share with others.

Here is a preview of the book via the DisneyD23 YouTube channel.

Reconciling the divide between non-Disney aficionados – who may not have any familiarity with the meaning of these posters – and also those who sip the Disney Kool-Aid, reveling in all obscure details related to the Mouse, Poster Art of the Disney Parks can appeal to any reader who finds joy in observing stunning artwork. As a reader acutely familiar with the images and variations among attractions’ posters according to time and place, I was nevertheless enthralled in scrutinizing these pieces within such a sizable and sleek book.

This subject matter may prove niche. But the book’s visual finesse, compiled by adept authors whose time commitment to the project is clear, stands out. A worthy entry to any art book collection, Poster Art of the Disney Parks, whose content features imagery that aim to sell the attractions to guests, does just that. It is in some ways a well-constructed advertisement for the Disney theme park experiences. In others, it serves as a representation of how to create a balanced, consuming art book. By all accounts, that’s a winning combination. I’m sold. You should be, too.

Grade: A

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

Poster Art Of The Disney Parks Book Cover

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