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Book review: Imagineering Field Guide to Hollywood Studios

I've been following the progress of the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios ever since I heard about its development in 2009 and when I saw it for sale on Amazon, I jumped at the opportunity to read all about Hollywood Studios and the Imagineering magic that went into the park.

Boy, was I disappointed.

That may sound a bit harsh, so let me explain.  The book details the backstage, behind the scenes development that went into many aspects of the Studios, from the shops to attractions to hidden references found in the park.  Previous editions of this Imagineering Field Guide series were highly touted as great reference material.  Given I'm not just a fan of the Studios, but a ravenous connoisseur of all things information when it comes to the Studios, I was really looking forward to learning all sorts of secrets and facts that I, nor anyone else I know, knew of.

My disappointment in the book is I felt that about 80% of the information in the book is information that I had read somewhere on the Internet already.  The remaining information I read was interesting in some parts but I was really looking to learning more. After all, this book was supposed to be from the Imagineers themselves, and I was expecting to read a lot of newly revealed facts, figures and stories that were being held back all these years.

Compounding the problem with the book was the lack of detail for much of the park.  The good news is Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard receieved the royal treatment and do contain a lot of good information that is great for those getting their feet wet in Hollywood Studios knowledge.  The Echo Lake area, while not as detailed, does still contain some good information but the rest of the park contains mere fragments of what I would call "secrets" and most of it reads like Public Relations fluff pieces (I dare you to read the American Idol Experience entry and not think it could double for an informational leaflet that was included in a media event).  The sections on the Backlot Tour, Muppetvision 3D and Magic of Disney Animation, attractions with a tremendous history, barely scratch the surface of the details that should be there.  In short, the sections of the park that have the least detail about them online are also the sections of the book that lack the most detail.

Much of the book feels like there were missed opportunities to really peel back the curtains and let the general public in on the development, ideas and stories behind our favorite Hollywood Studios attractions but the end result doesn't tell us a whole lot more than we already knew.  An example of what I'm talking about is Toy Story Midway Mania, which is arguably the most popular attraction in the park and newest.  Certainly of all the attractions, the stories and detail must be freshest in the Imagineers minds and it would be simple to share lots of insight into this attraction in the book. After all, just last year Imagineers sat down and gave a presentation about the history of Toy Story Midway Mania that contained detailed early sketches, stories of how the attraction and scenes were developed and much more.  Yet I found the entry in the book to contain no explanation of how the attraction came to be, quick mentions of decisions made (with little to detail as to why the decisions were made) and more of a general description of the ride and surrounding area than the insightful look into the attraction I was expecting.

Maybe I'm being overly critical of the book, but I expected a book by the Imagineers that promised to tell us "all the stories, the details and the design references" to contain a lot more information than I could find from a simple Google search.  If you know very little of the history of the Studios, then the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios may be a great primer to get caught up.  Then again, I feel that a majority of the stories and detail that is explained in this book can be found on various web sites for free and with greater detail.

The book isn't a terrible read and if you enjoy learning about the story of how some aspects of the Studios came to be, then this is a good place to start.  And with a retail price of $9.95, it's not expensive either.  Don't read this book expecting the end all, be all reference guide to the Studios, Rather, it provides an excellent introduction to the Imagineering story behind the park.  Who knows, perhaps the people that really knew the good stories aren't around to say or are legally unable to say. Perhaps the book publishers purposefully held back the Imagineers from getting too deep for fear of overwhelming their audience. Whatever the case, the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios is a good read for the fans of the park and Walt Disney World, but you should augment it with some of the great information that can be found all over the internet today.

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About this column

A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 by