Today, after nearly 24 hours of rampant speculation, hand wringing, and wonder, the news broke that Imagineer Tony Baxter will be transitioning from an active role in Walt Disney Imagineering to the role of a part time advisor.
Quite honestly, in nearly a lifetime of Disney fandom, and in being an active member of the community, no news has such a profound effect or caused such a reaction amongst myself and my peers. This reaction is apparently poignant and meaningful, as it illustrates the impact that Mr. Baxter had on Disney. Tony Baxter has been with Walt Disney Productions for 47 years, and in that time has left an indelible mark on the entertainment and art found within.
Tony Baxter is the Imagineer that spearheaded EPCOT’s iconic Journey into Imagination, perhaps the most fondly remembered EPCOT Center experience for its delightful creativity and warmth. Dreamfinder and Figment came from Baxter’s own “sparks of imagination” and inspired generations of guests to wonder and create. He is the man that designed the look and feel of Disneyland Paris, one of the most ornate and organic examples of a Magic Kingdom. Mr. Baxter thrilled us with Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Adventure, Disney’s take on cinematic adventure and calamitous caper. And Tony Baxter was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Claude Coats, Marc Davis, and John Hench and absorbed their pioneering spirit into his own outlook and work for WED Enterprises.
And THAT is why Tony’s transition of power is looked at with heavy hearts, this afternoon. Tony Baxter’s efforts and involvements and creations within Imagineering were the bulwark of unique and astonishing experiences that cemented Disney into our subconsciouses and our hearts. Such sanguine pathos is rarely found in an artform so fleeting. But Tony Baxter’s work, be it exciting, or inspirational, or static, became part of the iconic sinew that creates what makes a day in Disney so hugely relatable and comforting and downright fun.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I, and many other Disney fans wish Tony Baxter good luck in his new position and wish him thanks for all that he has done for themed entertainment.
However, even as most of us are mournful of this, I do not see a reason to not be optimistic. By nature of the organization that it is, Walt Disney Imagineering will continue to entertain and inspire and cull creative minds to advance its purpose. Mr. Baxter’s farewell letter makes this perfectly clear. Baxter will support and cultivate the quality and traditional art and experiences that we expect out of Disney. With this in mind, Mr. Baxter’s departure, while hard to swallow, isn’t the end all. Quality will always out, and Disney’s way forward, while never clear, can be seen as facts apparent for those that truly look.
But for now… Thank you, Mr. Baxter. Thank you for your service, dedication, and spirit these past 47 years.. We hope with the greatest sincerity that your new role will allow you to flourish and create.
To read Tony Baxter’s full letter: