It’s a Small World. The Haunted Mansion. Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. When you think about the classic Disneyland attractions, these three are among the first that come to mind. They represent a remarkable blend of technology, art, and whimsy to deliver experiences that remain entertaining after countless visits. Beyond their creative success, another factor brings these beloved attractions together. Each one involved the amazing work of Rolly Crump. The legendary Imagineer worked directly with Walt Disney on some of his best attractions. Ken Kebow’s documentary The Whimsical Imagineer provides a warm overview of Crump’s life through recollections from the man himself and others who know him.
Crump is now 87 years old, but it’s easy to see the gleam in his eye when he talks about his work at Disney. This 30-minute movie focuses on Crump’s time at Disney and how he became involved in such major projects. It seems fitting that he was hired there after a chance meeting with an employee. Crump actually took a pay cut to join Disney and spent his weekends building sewer manholes to make up the lost wages. It wasn’t an easy job as a junior animator either. Crump spent months animating the spots on the dogs for 101 Dalmations back when it was still a very manual process.
Kebow takes an episodic approach to Crump’s life and constructs the film through a series of short segments. After briefly covering his early days, the story dives into the big moments. Crump recalls how his work on propellers caught Walt’s eye and brought him to WED. There was no grand plan for Crump to gain a business edge. He talks about working hard and soaking up all the knowledge of those around him. The open environment at Disney gave him so many opportunities to develop new skills, and there was little separation of duties.
Fans of Disney history will likely know familiar stories about the Tower of the Four Winds, the Museum of the Weird, and the Tiki gods. Even so, it’s still engaging to hear about them in a different way. I’d forgotten that Crump designed and sculpted the gods in the Tiki Room pre-show that are so important to the Disneyland version. Amazingly, Crump had never sculpted at all before working on those figures. I can’t hear enough about the Museum of the Weird, and the images of the “candle man” and talking chair remain astounding today. It’s easy to see how Crump was such an original artist.
Much of The Whimsical Imagineer takes place in the typical interview setting, but we do spend a little time with Crump in front of It’s a Small World. It’s clear that the continued success of that ride means a lot to him. There’s also a clip from the ceremony when Crump received a window on Main Street. It’s clear that it meant a lot to him, especially given the company. This film’s last shot is a freeze frame of Crump getting emotional when talking about the attitude at Disney. It’s a poignant way to end a story about one of the company’s essential Imagineers.
I was definitely looking for more after watching this film, and the DVD includes another 25 minutes of interviews with Crump. They complement the main feature well and go beyond the expected stories. We learn about the origins of the name Rolly due to Walt’s difficulty in remembering his given name Roland. Crump also talks about going to a psychic and getting some advice that was eerily accurate. The DVD also includes slide shows of behind-the-scenes photos from Crump’s past and this film’s production plus some artwork. The paintings go beyond his work for Disney and show a different side of his talents. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the “Walk in the Park” CD with a walking tour of Disneyland with Crump.
Along with Bob Gurr, Crump remains one of the most recognizable Imagineers from Disneyland’s early days. A main reason is that he’s still alive and active in the community. Through his book It’s Kind of a Cute Story and the More Cute Stories audiobooks, Crump has provided so much interesting material from his life. The Whimsical Imagineer is another exciting addition to the mix and definitely worth your time. Imagineers like Gurr, Steve Kirk, and others appear to add context to the earnest story. Even if you’re an expert on Disney history, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this film (especially the DVD). Crump’s life is pretty incredible.