January 4, 2010

The Great Tony Baxter Debate

Editor's Note: Today for my 700th post, I present a tribute to one of the greatest "Second Generation" Imagineers, Tony Baxter. Remember, coming this week, Part 5 of my Animal Kingdom series!
Imagineer Tony Baxter is causing quite a stir it seems. And he may not even be aware of it! There's the debate going on over at Laughing Place's discussion boards where common Disney fans and some considered insiders are volleying back and forth about the merit of the man's work, the Walt Disney Company's politics concerning what happens in the Imagineering offices, and ultimately whether or not Tony will win out over Tom Fitzgerald for creative control over Disneyland.

Be he defender or divo or a bit of both, there are few folks in Imagineering department from the modern Disney era who have had such a great impact on the parks. You'd have to go back to the original set of Imagineers alive during Walt's day to find someone with such a passion and concern for quality when it comes to the Disney name.

Love Splash Mountain? How about the original Journey Into Imagination at EPCOT Center? Impressed by the delicately detailed beauty of Disneyland Paris? Can't wait to get a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or the Indiana Jones Adventure? Well, you have Tony and his team to thank for being right in the middle of these projects and many more.

Nowadays Tony is apparently put on hold by the suits. Seems his grand visions for Disney no longer fit the company's desire for small scale, low budget projects. Therefore, the man has been reduced to fixing Abe Lincoln, reopening the Sleeping Beauty Castle or revamping the Swiss Family Treehouse so that Tarzan can move in.

To be fair, the man's had his share of disappointments while at the helm: Disneyland's 1998 version of Tomorrowland was a major mishap, and his beautiful plan for Anaheim's original second park, Westcot, bit the dust due to immense budgeteering. In it's place came the bargain basement engineered and disastrously received California Adventure, from which he wisely distanced himself.

Understanding the politics, he shrewdly positioned himself as the guardian of Disneyland and a link to the creative genius' of the past. It is the place in which he belongs. Disneyland is better for it- and the fans should be grateful. If Tony was not keeping watch over Walt's park, it would soon end up looking like the Magic Kingdom in Florida! Just imagine Main Street U.S.A.'s unique shops being turned into one giant mall, the Cinema being removed, and the Opera House turned into a theater for Hannah Montana, and you get the idea of where the park would be headed.

Now, in tribute to Tony's sheer class and highly deserved influence with the halls of Imagineering, here is some concept art from a few of his defining attractions both praised and despised- in no particular order:

Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1998:

The Disneyland Resort- Westcot (never built):

Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure 1995:

Disneyland's Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage 2007:

EPCOT Center's Journey Into Imagination 1982:

Disneyland Paris (EuroDisneyland) 1992

Disneyland's Discovery Bay (never built):

Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 1979:

These are just a few of the attractions that bear the mark of Imagineer Extraordinaire Tony Baxter and his team. Bravo! Well Done!- and Thank you!

(Want more concept art? It's all over the Insights blog... and there's more to come.)

(Concept art from various artists. Copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Excellent post (congrats on 700!!).

I must admit I am in the "pro" Tony Camp and I am very thankful Disneyland has him. Do you know if its true he might retire this year???


Mark Taft said...

I have heard his retirement is a very strong rumor, but if Al Lutz' new article is true, Tony may stay around for new E tickets for Disneyland.

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

WOW, I just read Al's article, I sure hope all that is true! Goose-bumps... Thanks Mark!