Book Review: The Disney Monorail – Imagineering a Highway in the Sky

The Disney Monorail – Imagineering a Highway in the SkyThe Disney Monorail Book Cover by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt & Paul Wolski delivers a history lesson on monorails, incredible concept artwork and some great photos as it explores the evolution of monorails both in a historical and Disney context.    The Monorail has become a symbol of Disney Parks.  There are other monorails but when you say monorail to many people the Disney version jumps to mind.    This book explores the history of the transportation mode, Walt’s involvement and the growth of the system.

The book will be widely available on September 15, 2020.  I was sent an early review copy.

This 200 plus page book is a nice heavy bound and the large wide (over 11 inches for each page so 23 inch 2 page spreads) format is great to examine the artwork and photographs throughout.  Many of these images are full page or multi page spreads.  This even extends to the book jacket, where the inside of the jacket is a multi-panel piece of EPCOT concept art from the 1970s.

The Disney Monorail Book Spread
Disneyland Tomorrowland Monorail Station, southeast view from Submarine Lagoon. Herb Ryman, c. 1958 (Courtesy of Disney Editions from the Walt Disney Imagineering Art Collection)

The book opens with a foreword by Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower who were on hand to help Walt and their father, Vice President Nixon, cut the ribbon for the Disneyland Monorail in 1959.   Chapter 1 starts with a Walt Disney interview from 1963 where he said they have always made things move.  In the early years that was film and animation then at Disneyland.

There are seven chapters, the first portion of the book looks at history including a look at Walt Disney, trains and transportation.  The early monorail systems before moving into the twentieth century versions.  Continuing the march through time next up is Walt finding Alweg and the creation of the Disneyland Monorail.    Walt and his interest in the future is explored a bit including the popular TV shows like “Man in Space” which drew an audience of 42 million in 1955 when it first aired.  Then moved into Tomorrowland and its initial concepts, transportation concepts and evolution, including the Disneyland Viewliner.

The second portion of the book looks at the evolution of the Disney Monorail systems.   Starting with the second grand opening of Disneyland that featured the Disneyland Monorail as one of six new attractions added to the park that year.   It then goes on to look at each generation of the Monorail and gives some highlights of how the system evolved.   After covering Disneyland the book moves on to Walt Disney World to look at how that transportation system started and evolved.   Before wrapping up the Disney related systems with the Tokyo Disney system.  Concept art and some pictures are shown from Tokyo.

The book closes out with a listing of monorails in service around the world.  There is a fun tease at the end of the book about the Epcot Play pavilion but no other teases or forward looking ideas.

The Disney Monorail Book Spread
Walt Disney World Original Mark IV Monorails (Courtesy of Disney Editions from the Walt Disney Imagineering Photography Collection)

This book was at the top of my list as soon as I heard about it.   I have always enjoyed the Monorail and was looking forward to learning more about it and seeing its history through concept art and pictures.   The finished book delivers a great resource with some incredible images.   I found this book to be a pleasant read, and for a 200 page book a quick read with a heavy balance of the book being large format images.  It was a good mix of information and details to compliment the images.  The images are the star of the show to me.  There are numerous pieces of concept art, many of which are unique to this publication and have not appeared in other works before.  Much of the concept art featured was created by Disney Legends and dates back to the very beginnings of Disneyland.  The book features a deep dive into the Imagineering and Disneyland archives.

Me being the engineering & Disneygeek that I am and always wanting more, I thought there were some missed opportunities.  Mostly to flesh out the book as a more comprehensive resource.   Maybe a second volume?    For example to go more in depth about how the monorails work and how the operation evolved.   There was a hint of this with a schematic showing the expanded beamway map and speed limits for Disneyland as well as a fact sheet from 1962.  I would have liked to have seen similar for the other systems and changes to the Disneyland one for comparison.   Or to examine the variations in the different versions of the trains a little more, for example I thought some concept art from the current Disneyland trains and maybe something about their design process.  Or something about the lighting or interiors.  The interior of the trains were discussed not really showcased or the evolution of cast member costumes.  There was one piece of art looking at the costumes but that is all I recall.  The inclusion of the Tokyo system was great but some more information on it would be good.   There were some references to the various stations at the three resorts and some concept art from them over the years but I thought it was a little on the light side, same with the discussion on the evolution of the route.   The credits showcase some tickets and I would have liked to have seen more on that (including Tokyo’s which they mention the unique elements but do not really showcase them).   Also a look at the evolution of the Tokyo system would have been a nice plus.

The Disney Monorail – Imagineering a Highway in the Sky  delivers on a great read and set of images to study if you are monorail or Disney fan.   If you want to learn about the history of monorails and the evolution of the Disney Monorail systems you will enjoy this book.   The concept art and images are great to just flip through and enjoy after reading.   This will make a solid addition to any Disneygeek’s library.   I look forward to taking a second pass through it to soak in more of the details.


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