When it comes to Disney Legends, there are few individuals who are more prolific, and instrumental in the history of The Walt Disney Company than Marty Sklar. From his first role as editor of The Disneyland News at Disneyland to his final roles as president and international ambassador of Walt Disney Imagineering, Sklar was instrumental in shaping the creative vision of the company in entertainment and theme park storytelling. In the 1960s, Sklar was in a sense, Walt Disney’s own right-hand man, writing materials for Walt that was used in publications, television, and public speeches, including the prolific EPCOT presentation done by Walt in the foundations for The Florida Project. With his third and final book, Travels With Figment: On the Road in Search of Disney Dreams, released now two years following his passing, Marty showcases his incredible career with a book that is a fascinating and entertaining chronicle of an incredible legacy at Disney one last time.
Marty Sklar passed away on July 27th, 2019, leaving behind an incredible legacy of creativity and innovation. At the time of his passing, Sklar was working on a third memoir and had only completed the first draft of the book, which was fortunately submitted to his publisher. In the wake of his passing, his family made the decision to publish his final work as unaltered as possible. In essence, this book is a wonderful frozen moment-in-time, and its very structure is something that is of pure magic. Travels With Figment somewhat parallels Marty’s previous books, including Dream It! Do It!, which is essentially a collection of memoirs from Marty’s experience working with the company beyond the foundations of his Disney career. Focusing largely on The Florida Project and beyond, it’s a collection of memories frozen in time from creating some of the most fantastical worlds on earth. Because of this, the book doesn’t follow a particular narrative or story structure, creating the feeling as though this is the published equivalent of Marty inviting you into his living room to share fascinating stories about his time as a Walt Disney Imagineer.
Reading Marty’s book is a superb example of Marty’s ability for great storytelling. With detail and depth, he travels back in time to the moments that led to the creation of Walt Disney World, when all that the Imagineers were acquainted with at the time was the cold, desolate, and vast swamp that would soon become the largest vacation destination in the world. With the plans for The Florida Project being the very last work of Walt Disney, who passed away before he could see the realization of his plans, there was a great deal of pressure for the Imagineers in finding the best methods to bring Walt’s vision to life. When the plans for EPCOT, Walt’s vision for the city of the future, were morphed into a theme park celebrating these ideals, Sklar remained at the forefront of bringing this ambitious project to life. Sklar shares his insight of the inspiration and passion that brought EPCOT Center together, and its evolution over time, including a fascinating story about the beautiful Horizons mural, The Prologue and the Promise by Robert McCall, that has been missing since the closure of the attraction–and is still missing to this day.
Marty also chronicles his relationships throughout his time at Disney, both within and outside of Disney, in working with CEOs and partners from outside the companies, in crafting attractions and in the effort to sway such companies to partner as sponsors on Disney Parks attractions, including the relationship of Kodak and Disney in creating Journey Into Imagination. In creating such iconic attractions, the Imagineers create memorable characters and worlds that also need to service the goals of outside, and usually very un-Disney like, corporation. With Kodak, Marty even briefly showcases the importance of innovation; clearly showcasing that in Imagination’s case, Figment continues to live on, but Kodak, due to their unwillingness to innovate, saw their market dominance cripple into oblivion.
With this also being Marty’s last book, this publication is in many ways a tribute to his work, his legacy, and the many ways in which he inspired creativity across the entirety of Disney. For that reason, much of the last portions of his book consists of written tributes to Marty from visionaries around the company influenced by his works. It’s truly incredible to see the many recognizable talent people who make Disney what it is gathered to share the ways in which Marty changed their creative careers. In many ways, Marty Sklar shaped the foundations of Walt Disney Imagineering and redefined what theme park storytelling could be capable of.
When Horizons opened at EPCOT Center, a brilliant quote greeted guests at the entrance to the attraction. “If we can dream it, we can do it!” Marty’s legacy, now showcased in his final work, reminds us that the only thing that stands between creating the unimaginable is our imagination.