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Armchair Imagineer: Tony Baxter

On February 1, 2013, Tony Baxter retired from his full-time position as Senior Vice President of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering to become a part-time advisor.

big thunder - disneyHe started working for Disney as a food vendor at Disneyland. After graduating college, Baxter went to work for WDI (then WED Enterprises) under the guidance of Claude Coates. Together they designed the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which became the first attraction built for Disneyland that didn’t have any input from Walt.

Over his 47 year career with WDI, Baxter has had a hand in designing and overseeing the development of Star Tours (both the original and The Adventure Continues), Indiana Jones Adventure, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and the re-design of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough.

On a larger scale, he also oversaw the design of the original Journey Into Imagination pavilion, the re-design of both Disneyland‘s Fantasyland and Tomorrowland and Disneyland Paris.

splash - disneyProbably his most famous anecdote is how he came up with the idea for Splash Mountain. While sitting in traffic one day, he was thinking about how to incorporate a log flume ride into the Disney theme parks. He was also thinking about America Sings, an attraction that had just closed, and all of the animatronic singing animals that were a part of it.

He had the idea of reusing some of those animals on the log flume and theming the attraction to Disney’s 1946 movie, Song of the South. There would, of course, be some challenges to designing the ride. Everything from the themes of race that the movie portrays (remedied by putting the focus on the animated aspects of the movie) to Michael Eisner’s insistence that it have some connection to the Touchstone movie, Splash (“It’s a mountain. It has a splash at the end of it. Splash Mountain,” Eisner famously said).

On November 1, 2013, Tony Baxter was honored with on of Disney’s highest awards, both literally and figuratively, a window on Main Street, U.S.A.

If you want to know more, Lou interviewed him on show #289. You can listen to it here.

(Photos ©Disney)

What is your favorite attraction that Tony Baxter had a hand in creating?

Chris grew up during the Disney renaissance of animation and took his first trip to Disney World when he was ten. Even though he has loved Disney his whole life, his obsession didn’t start until he began planning a trip for his honeymoon. Right now, his primary job (at least the one that doesn’t pay the bills) is to indoctrinate his daughter with his love of Disney while at the same time convincing his wife to move to Orlando so he can become a tour guide in the parks.