Tom K. Morris is a former Disney Imagineer who, in his 42 years with the company, collaborated on numerous projects in Disney parks around the world. He helped design attractions for EPCOT, Disney California Adventure Park’s Cars Land, Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. And he might just be Disney’s biggest fan.
At just twelve years old Morris flew by himself from California to Florida to witness the opening of Walt Disney World. “I just got this notion that ‘Gee, I’ll never be able to go back in time to Disneyland on opening day. Maybe I could go to Disney World on opening day,” explained Morris. “Suddenly, I’m on this airplane – on this big machine that I’d never been on before – heading 3,000 miles away.”
Perhaps it was this trip to Walt Disney World that inspired Morris to join WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, as a draftsman in the Show Set Design Department. “The Show Set Design Department was and still is, I think, the department where everything kind of comes together and gets integrated,” said Morris.
In this position Morris helped design attractions, working for legendary Disney animators Ward Kimball, Claude Coats and Marc Davis. Morris was asked to design scenes that would later become models for the attractions. However, one of his scenes never made it further than the drawing board.
Morris was unexpectedly asked to design a hot air balloon scene for the attraction World of Motion at EPCOT. “It’s called a ‘holiday’ in film jargon. It’s a scene that they forgot to design. In the case of an attraction, it’s an area that they forgot to design,” explained Morris.
Morris said his design included an absent-minded man and a goat in a hot air balloon flying dangerously close to a sharp statue. “It was too subtle. It wasn’t a quick enough read,” explained Morris. Instead designs Davis created were chosen for the attraction. “I guess they brought in Marc to do the gag scene, which was basically kind of an oblivious guy, and I think it was a pig in the basket. I had a goat.”
Working with highly-skilled artists, Morris began to doubt his abilities. “I had this complex that I just wasn’t as good as anybody there. I wasn’t, but I guess I had potential,” said Morris.
Evidently, Morris did have potential because he went on to work with Disney Legend Tony Baxter, who chose Morris to design Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Paris.
“I wasn’t initially to have been involved with the design of the castle. There were already too many people that were working on it,” explained Morris. “But I knew what it was that Tony wanted. Tony was the creative lead for all of Disneyland Paris, and I knew his taste for this particular sort of thing. And I was just itching to do some designs because I knew I could do it.”
Morris designed the castle with inspiration from the Mont-Saint-Michel, a medieval monastery in France with a distinct silhouette. “The closer you get to it, the more curious and the more interesting it becomes,” explained Morris. Today the Disneyland Paris castle is widely considered the most fantastical and beautiful of Disney’s castles.
Morris’s work has been included in the documentary “The Imagineering Story,” and Morris, too, wants to document the contributions of Disney employees. He is currently writing a book about Disney cast members who are not historically in the spotlight.
In his research Morris has discovered hundreds of Disney employees who have gone unrecognized. “These rabbit holes keep going on and on with this book project. I’m in the process of wrangling it right now,” explained Morris. “Long story short, there’s a whole imagineering story that we still haven’t heard.”
While Morris sees the importance of preserving Disney history, he is not opposed to updating past attractions. Disney recently announced a retheming of the attraction Splash Mountain, a ride which Morris helped designed. “I’m all for the Splash Mountain change,” said Morris.
Morris explained that when he and Baxter were exploring themes for the water ride, they chose the story about Brer Rabbit from the movie “Song of the South” due to the film’s Academy Award-winning tune, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Morris said it was important to have a musically-driven ride similar to the attractions It’s A Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean.
But Morris understands the choice to change the theming and is willing to help. “I think ‘The Princess and the Frog’ would work just as well,” said Morris. “I think the music is great. I think the characters are great from that film, and I think it will be just as good if not better.”