The 5 Craziest Things We Learned From ‘The Imagineering Story’ on Disney+

by | Jan 19, 2023 | Disney History, Disney+, Imagineering

The Imagineering Story is a docu-series that deep dives into the Walt Disney Company’s attractions and experiences as designed by their in-house experts: The Imagineers. So, what is an “Imagineer”? The term was coined by Disney to encompass the entire creative team that works on theme parks. “Imagine” + “engineer” = Imagineer! And there’s no better team to learn from if you’re fascinated by Disney’s history (specifically, the history of the theme parks and their attractions.)

When Disney+ first launched in November 2021, The Imagineering Story was one of the first shows released on the streaming platform. It was an instant hit – the series debuted to positive reviews from both critics and fans. There was something for everyone: a deep dive into popular attractions, a history of the Disney Company, interviews from famous Imagineers, and previews of upcoming projects. Throughout the series, we learned some incredible facts. These are five of the craziest things we learned. 

1. The First Animatronics Appeared in the Enchanted Tiki Room

Walt Disney at the Enchanted Tiki Room

Walt Disney in the early days of the Enchanted Tiki Room. Photo courtesy of Disney

Today, animatronics are everywhere in theme parks. But did you know it all started with some tropical birds? Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room was one of the first ideas that Walt and his team created for Disneyland. It was a magical, mechanical feat for its time – and it became the very first attraction in a Disney theme park to utilize the now-famous animatronics seen worldwide. 

To bring the Enchanted Tiki Room to life, robot birds were created that could simulate moving, singing, and even breathing. This legendary attraction essentially became the blueprint for every animatronic to come, setting the stage for favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean and others to come.

2. The Haunted Mansion is a Family Affair

Leota Toombs Thomas

Leota Toombs Thomas at work on a model for Country Bear Jamboree. Photo courtesy of Disney

Did you know that a mother-daughter Imagineer duo worked on the Haunted Mansion? In 1940, Leota Toombs (if that name sounds familiar, just wait!) started in the Ink and Paint department at the Walt Disney Company. She gradually moved into Imaginnering where she worked on iconic rides like “it’s a small world,” Pirates of the Caribbean, and, of course, Haunted Mansion. 

During the development of the Haunted Mansion in the 1960s, an idea was pitched for a woman’s face inside a floating crystal ball. Toombs was used as the model during the concept development. The team loved Toombs’s look so much they decided to use her for the final product, even naming the character after her: Madame Leota. 

Years later, Toombs’s daughter, Kim Irvine, joined the Imagineers and eventually became the head of Disneyland Park. Due to her likeness to her mother, Irvine wound up lending her face for additional Madam Leota scenes. If you’ve ridden the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, then you’ve definitely seen Irvine’s portrayal! 

3. Michael Eisner’s Son Helped Star Tours Become an Attraction

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Photo by Judd Helms

Technically, official Imagineers came up with the proposal for the Star Tours attraction – but it might not have come to life if it wasn’t for then-CEO Michael Eisner’s son!

When Imagineer Tony Baxter pitched the idea for Star Tours, Michael Eisner had just transitioned from working in movies to theme parks. Eisner felt like he couldn’t fully trust his gut, so he brought his 14-year-old son, Breck, into the pitch meeting. Breck loved Baxter’s idea, and thus Star Tours was given the green light! 

4. There’s a Basketball Court Inside the Matterhorn 

Matterhorn Basketball Court at Disneyland

Imagineer Bob Gurr shows off the Matterhorn’s basketball court in The Imagineering Story. Photo courtesy Disney+

Yes, the rumors are true: There actually is a basketball court inside the Matterhorn. This urban legend has been around for decades, and The Imagineering Story finally gave us a behind-the-scenes look at it! 

While calling it a “court” might be generous, cast members can still shoot hoops while they’re inside the Matterhorn. There’s a full backboard and a net, but technically thanks to the limited space available, it’s more of a mini court than roomy enough for a full game.

5. Westcot: The Park That Never Was

Westcot

A drawing of the abandoned Westcot project. Photo courtesy of Disney

Legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter confirmed in The Imagineering Story that there were plans to recreate Orlando’s EPCOT out west. In fact, Baxter called the canceled project – which was named Westcot – along with its themed hotels one of his saddest career regrets. 

What was the plan for Westcot? Well, before Disney’s California Adventure Park was built, the original concept was to have the second Anaheim park be based on EPCOT, but located out west. In true EPCOT fashion, the park would’ve had a Future World and a World Showcase; however, instead of shops and restaurants, this version would’ve featured hotels themed to different countries. 

Sadly, due to budgeting issues, the cheaper option of having a California-themed park in California was chosen. 

Let us know: What were your favorite episodes of The Imagineering Story

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Posts by Becca Rhodes

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Becca is a Disney fan, film enthusiast, and theme park architect who loves to be immersed in the worlds she loves. Whether that world is Batuu at Hollywood Studios, or the finding the filming locations of the latest live-action remake, she has covered it all. Movie magic can be found all around you, if you know where to look. For more of Becca's adventures, you can find her on all socials @theFilmTripper.
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Authored by
Becca Rhodes

Becca is a Disney fan, film enthusiast, and theme park architect who loves to be immersed in the worlds she loves. Whether that world is Batuu at Hollywood Studios, or the finding the filming locations of the latest live-action remake, she has covered it all. Movie magic can be found all around you, if you know where to look. For more of Becca's adventures, you can find her on all socials @theFilmTripper.
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