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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Magic of Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

With the upcoming 50th Walt Disney World anniversary, Disney fans are curious about what the popular vacation destination was like when it was first opened in 1971. Thankfully, there is an opportunity to do so.

The Magic of Walt Disney World is an approximately thirty minute 1972 theatrical featurette produced by Walt Disney Productions to offer a tour of the first phase of the new Vacation Kingdom in Florida.

Inspired by the success of the forty-two minute 1956 theatrical featurette Disneyland U.S.A. that helped promote that new theme park, this similar, shorter Technicolor featurette was produced to emphasize the differences between the two parks. For instance, there are extended sections featuring the Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall of Presidents, since those attractions were unique to WDW.

The narration begins: “The first contingents of adventurous men sailed across the ocean to open up a new world. One of the first places they set foot upon was a bit of land that is now the state of Florida, U.S.A. Of course, there’ve been quite a few changes since then, and the New World has come a long way.

“But now, squarely in the middle of the very same bit of land, another new world has been opened up: Walt Disney World. The foundations of Walt Disney World were the dreams of one man. The sharing of those dreams with others has truly created a new world, and its reality is living proof that dreams really do come true.”

The film, which showcased not just the Magic Kingdom but also the resorts and recreational activities, premiered in theaters December 20, 1972, paired with the Disney live action film Snowball Express featuring Dean Jones. An expanded and updated version with new narration by Andrew Duggan was broadcast as an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney on March 31, 1974. Fortunately, the entire featurette is available on YouTube.

Produced by Ron Miller. Directed by Tom Leetch. Assistant Director Ronald R. Grow. Written by Tom Leetch and Bill Bosche (narration). Narrated by Steve Forrest. Music by Buddy Baker. Cinematogrpahy by John M. Stevens. Edited by Lloyd L. Richardson.

Why Forrest as narrator? Forrest had appeared in the Disney live action films Rascal (1969), The Wild Country (1971) and narrated the Disney television episodes The Owl That Didn’t Give a Hoot (1968) and Wild Geese Calling (1969). The Wild Country went into general release on January 20, 1971. The movie poster advertised that Walt Disney World would be opening that October.

Of course, today it all seems quaint from the outdated hairstyles and fashions of the guests who were enjoying the vacation kingdom to how simple and uncrowded WDW seemed. The character costumes are almost unrecognizable from the versions in the parks today. How many remember when Pooh had a jar of honey on the top of his head like a hat?

One of the charms is seeing things that have long since disappeared like the Skyway floating above the park, the 20,000 Leagues attraction with the submarines designed to mimic the one piloted by Captain Nemo in the famous live action movie, the sea serpent topiary outside of Cinderella Castle, the infamous Bob-A-Round boats in the Seven Seas Lagoon, part of the water ski show and even part of a performance at the Top of the World Lounge at the Contemporary.

Equally amazing are all the things that have remained pretty much the same over the last half century. I only wish this film had been longer, and that Disney would have done one of these every year.

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Thanks, Jim! And if you are interested in this era of Walt Disney World, check out Jim’s latest book, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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