Thursday, December 1, 2022

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit

 

Blue book cover showing three figures, one with a lightsaber standing in front of a Jedi crest.



Welcome to Star Wars: The High Republic!

Okay, we have actually been here before. Welcome to earlier in the Star Wars: The High Republic than we have ever been before!

There are Jedi!

There are lightsabers!

There is a lot of talk about the Force!

There are some young ladies with a name we have seen before in Star Wars: The High Republic!

And look over here, there is a ship that will become important later!

Yoda is not in the building!

Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland opens up a new chapter within Star Wars: The High Republic. Years before the creation of Starlight Beacon space station and the attack of the Nihil on the Republic, a Jedi, and her Padawan Kevmo Zink are tasked with finding stolen artifacts rich in the Force. They believe that on the planet Dalna, a group called the Path of the Open Hand is connected. The two investigate with Kevmo meeting the young Path member Mardo Ro who brings brightness to Kevmo’s life and challenges his beliefs about the Force itself. Kevmo and Mardo navigate the tension between the Path of the Open Hand, Jedi, and a plan that is greater than two young people.

Star Wars: The High Republic can be hard for me. I am convinced that Star Wars is best when visually presented. The mind needs visuals to see the whole magnificent picture. So, as we are invited into a tale that has no characters we have seen on the screen or in comics, LucasFilm is asking the authors to take on a hard task. They have to provide us information about where we are, hints to what is to come, and characters that we need to care about…and quickly. And they need to deliver the request at a young adult reading level. And I am a Disney adult, which I am sad to say only really means young at heart. This meant that Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit did not work the best for me. The authors complete their charge, a young adult novel earlier in the High Republic than we have gone before. But I found myself asking the bigger questions; first, why did they not continue from the end of the last major event publishes in the High Republic instead of jumping backward? Second, I have friends who question the distribution of television series as they do not want to watch every episode of Star Wars: Rebels to understand what is occurring on Disney+. Is it possible by not giving us familiar characters in publishing that some of the hardcore readers may be turning away as the non-core asks this question?

Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit has some familiar story threads. And the text has concepts that tell you that you are in Star Wars. And the authors clearly completed their assignment. But perhaps Disney executives should be reviewing their strategy in greater detail.

I mean, I will still read what is next! 

 

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Between Books - Walt's Apprentice


Book cover for Walt's Apprentice with a collage that shows Dick Nunis, Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Disneyland castle as seperate images




It is a harsh reality that Walt Disney passed away over 55 years ago. And sadly it means that many of Disney’s close colleagues and acquaintances have been taken from us. Dick Nunis represents one of those colleagues who worked with Disney over half a century ago, who we have heard others talk about but who had not yet captured his memories working at Disney until now.

Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive by Dick Nunis collects Nunis’ memories. Nunis outlines his youth including his college football career at the University of Southern California. After suffering a significant injury, Nunis moved into education, then training and development where Disney hired him as part of the Disneyland opening day training team. After a successful launch, Nunis found himself in operations where he oversaw lands within the park. His focus on capacity, efficiency, and maintaining Walt Disney’s standards led to his oversight of park operations. Working closely with Disney, Nunis would find himself added to projects as assigned. This would include participation in a World’s Fair, an Olympics, and eventually Disney’s move to the east coast with Walt Disney World. Nunis would successfully lead operations on both coasts until his retirement. Nunis then describes his post-Disney years as ones where he remained active and shared Walt Disney’s standards with others.

Nunis was assisted by a book team that created an outline for his recollections. Chapters tend to be topical and do not fully link to each other. The writing is clear, his team likely included editing skills, and he is easy to understand. Nunis has a reputation for being gruff. And his writing at times leans into this image with one section including phrases that support the story of the taskmaster general. The value is to see and hear these stories in Nunis’ voice. For example, he clearly was proud of his actions during the Yippie invasion of Disneyland. The text allows him to share his thoughts on this historical moment instead of letting others describe his actions for him. The pages allow him to tell the story in his voice and as he would shape it. The interesting piece to me however was how little was new. So many writers and colleagues have talked about the man that stories are not generally new information. Instead, they are about Nunis, by Nunis, and all of them are collected in one volume. Each chapter ends with a business lesson from Nunis, Disney, or other colleagues. I found these quotes somewhat unneeded as I read the volume less as a business book than a memoir. And some of these lessons seemed a little stretched to fit.

Walt’s Apprentice by Dick Nunis paints the former executive as a student of Walt Disney. And for some who see Disney as creative or affable may not take to the imagery. But we must also remember that Walt Disney was not a man who issued praise, worked hard, and demanded high standards. And while Disney may not have seen himself as a general like Nunis is willing to do, in many ways Nunis learned much from Disney. We must never forget that people are complex and do not always fit the stereotypes we place within our heads. The great benefit of Walt’s Apprentice is this book captures Nunis’ memories in Nunis’ words including his impressions of Walt Disney and himself.


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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Between Books - Career Magic

 

Career Magic book cover with stars on a night sky.

My career combines operations, customer service, leadership, and relationship building. And being a big Disney fan introduced me to former Disney executive Lee Cockerell. I have a fairly robust intellectual diet of the former Executive Vice-President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort’s thoughts and best practices. Cockerell recently updated one of his books I had not read before, so I jumped on the pre-order as it suddenly seemed very relevant in today’s current job-seeking world.

Career Magic: How to Stay on Track To Achieve a Stellar Career by Lee Cockerell has recently been updated. Cockerell in podcasts and presentations has stated that he was dissatisfied with the editing of the first edition and that this revised edition cleans up editing errors. Career Magic narratively follows a life and career. Cockerell outlines his steps from a poor family in Oklahoma, a short stint in college, joining the Army, and then starting a hospitality career. Cockerell started at the lowest levels as a banquet server and leveraged his growing experiences into leadership positions at Hilton and Marriott. As an executive, Disney recruited Cockerell to join the Disneyland Paris opening team before he moved to Walt Disney World where he finished a career earning a window on Main Street. The book ends with Cockerell’s current retirement life as a consultant and speaker. In each chapter, Cockerell recounts his career story, connects his story to lessons he learned, and then finishes the chapter with summary statements of his career lessons.

Jobs and careers are a big topic right now. So let’s start with what this book is not. This is not a job-seeking how-to book. Anyone wanting hints and tips in getting hired by Disney or maximizing a job search will be disappointed. Cockerell does not share his ideas on using LinkedIn or his favorite resume format. So those seeking a resource on the nuts and bolts of their job search will not find tactics here.

Instead, this is a career book! Again, not tactics but really this is a book that highlights strategy. For me, I see two main themes; relationship and excellence. I really see relationship as being tied to leadership for Cockerell. He will remind his readers that he was rarely given leadership training as his career advanced. And so he often had to grow this area. As I read his journey, it seemed to me that as he grew as a manager and leader, this was really expressed in his relationships. You see Cockerell grow as a leader and executive in how he treated others. And Cockerell advocates for interactions that are respectful and emphatic. Basically, to grow a career, be nice! Second Cockerell’s journey and growth is tied to his continued excellence in assigned tasks. He took on positions that often pushed his current capabilities. He threw himself into understanding these jobs and then executing on expectations. This excellence often lead to him being noticed and advanced. And while he did have setbacks in his career, he still focused on the task at hand which allowed others to observe his execution and keep him in mind for future advancements.

Writing style, the text is very approachable and feels like Cockerell’s voice in text form. Cockerell is recounting his professional journey and the writing, and perhaps updated editing, provide an easy-to-follow story, even for those lacking a hospitality background. He also does a good job of providing easy-to-understand lessons that are directly tied to his career progress.

So many professionals in the current state of the world are reflecting on job seeking and careers. Career Magic provides professionals with many considerations while considering the next strategic steps and potential job changes. Those who are facing obstacles, perhaps they will find hope that relationship and excellence can create a career legacy of success. For those professionals who are also Disney fans, they will find two chapters on Disney parks operations that may spark additional interest. Lee Cockerell provides us with content to reflect on as we all look to create a career that satisfies and interests us.

 

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Between Books - Women of Walt Disney Imagineering

Book covering shwoing the tools of Imagineering including a Sorcerer Mickey themed hard hat, a compass, colored pencils, amd more.



Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on Their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers presents essays from twelve different Imagineers who have combined decades of experience in numerous Imagineering trades. The collective authors are show designers, vice presidents, lighting designers, landscape architects, and more. Some of them are children of well-known Disney executives and legends. Oh…and they are all women! The group has an impressive portfolio, but their common thread is sharing their work experiences in an atmosphere and culture led and dominated by men.

Women of Walt Disney Imagineering is fairly straightforward. The twelve authors contribute a series of essays that discuss their times at Imagineering, as all of them have not left through job changes or retirements. Each essay is solely in the tone and experience of the author made up of Maggie Irvine Elliot, Kathy Rogers, Katie Olson, Julie Svendsen, Paula Dinkel Elisabete Minceff Erlandson, Tori Atencio McCullough, Pam Rank, Becky Bishop, Karen Connelly Armitage, Lyne Macer Rhodes, and Peggie Fariss. As a group, the essays are easy to read and relatively straightforward. Additionally, they do a great job of introducing readers to a number of Imagineering experiences including working one’s way up through the company and making a career, balancing home and professional life, and positive/negative treatments of women in the workplace.

There is a wide breadth of experiences in this book, more than one can express in one review. First and foremost, it was not always easy being a woman in the male-dominated WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering). There are examples of sexual harassment by unnamed male employees. But other forms of discrimination are discussed from being ignored to having male colleagues take credit for the authors’ work. For everyone, working at WDI may not have been as idyllic as many of us would hope. We should applaud Disney Editions for allowing less-than-flattering stories to hit the page. Though they at times make fans feel good as John Hench, Marty Sklar, and others show as positive professional mentors. Second, it is clear that at times female Imagineers had to suffer through perceptions in the office that made them come off as negative in the eyes of co-works, and sometimes that was what was needed to get the job done. And finally, there were often tough decisions that had to be made when balancing work and family.

Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on Their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers provides windows into 12 Imagineering careers. All of the authors have lessons to share from their journeys. And all were satisfied with their careers, as shown by their willingness to contribute to this volume. It is a very readable volume, which helps to demonstrate that Imanigeering is not just the domain of men.



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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Between Books - Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel

 

 

Book Cover for Star Wars The Princess and the Scoundrel showing Han  and Leia empbracing with the Haylcon in the background and a seperate forest and ice scape in the foreground.



Synergy.

Some people love it, some people hate it, and Disney excels at it.

I needed to read Star Wars: Princess and the Scoundrel to better prepare myself for a future trip to somewhere I have never been, Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the exclusive Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, the Haylcon, experience.

Readers are dropped into the days following the destruction of the second Death Star on Endor as Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis opens. Han Solo confesses his love and proposes to Rebel hero Princess Leia Organa. The Rebel Alliance puts on an Ewok Wedding, and the two plan to honeymoon. Despite the Rebel victory, the Empire still stands and is reorganizing. And while the newly married couple should take some time to honeymoon, they instead merge politics and love as they take a very public honeymoon on the recently recommissioned tourist starship, the Halcyon. The two struggle with defining what their new marriage looks like in a new universe where both will have plenty of responsibility and danger. Leia uses this trip to work in some ambassador work and the couple must show the galaxy that the Empire has truly fallen.

Star Wars books and I don't always get along. Mental images at times create frustration for me as the different species distract me as I try to remember what they all look like. However, here I did not have this concern. Instead, sadly, I just found this book a little dull. The plot was not quite galactic trade routes but it was close. Much of the book revolves around what the new galaxy can and will look like. So, lots of talky talky talky. The plot is a bit predictable with no action till nearly 70% into the book. I really preferred Revis’ Star Wars: Rebel Rising which better spaced the action. And let us be honest, Star Wars is an action story and we need a constant stream of incidents to keep the reader’s attention.

Sadly, the text also did not really get me excited about the Halcyon. My understanding is that incidents occurred that tie to visits on the Halcyon today. Though as a reader we really do not spend much time on the Halcyon and exploring the ship. Instead, we spend a lot of moments on two separate moons. And I left the book, not at all excited about the possibility of a future stay on the ship.

Synergy gives, and synergy takes away. Sadly, for me, Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel fails to get Disney fans excited for a resort stay. And I think that those who want to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge should instead look to Star Wars: Black Spire which familiarizes readers with what they may see in the park…but not the Haylcon.



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Monday, August 29, 2022

Between Books - The Disney Revolt

 

The Disney Revolt book cover showing men and women in a picket line holding protest signs including Donald Duck and asking if they are mice or men.


The Disney Revolt by Jake S Friedman could be my favorite new Disney book of 2022. It entertains, educates, and provides more depth into a turning point moment in Disney history. This book is a must-read for those who are Disney animation history enthusiasts.

The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation’s Golden Age by Jake S, Friedman details the rise of Disney animation, the animation strike of 1941, and the long-term repercussions of this event. While at moments, it reminds me of a Parallel Lives of Plutarch formula, using Walt Disney and Art Babbit as the main entries into the story, it is really the insight into Babbit’s life that gave me the most interest as a reader. Friedman discusses the early life and career of Walt Disney to the founding of his animation studio and the release of animated shorts to features with Snow White. Disney evolves as a businessman with working-class roots who was close to his small yet growing staff and invested in their development with the creation of the in-studio art school as he attempted to maximize his artist’s efforts. As the business grew, the gap between labor and management also grew. This led to miscommunication and differing priorities over schedules, salaries, credit, and bonuses. Additionally, labor in Hollywood became increasingly organized, due to market and criminal forces, which meant eventually union influences would make their way to the studio. Disney and his leadership team attempted to shepherd and control, these influences in an attempt to keep the union voices pro-Disney, At the same time, the intelligent and outspoken Babbit worked to limit management control hoping that the voice of the worker would be truly heard. This eventually led Babbit to lead the 1941 lockout that would polarize employees and in some cases break relationships forever. Case in point, Babbit himself would virtually be exiled within the studio and later forced to leave with his art contributions largely ignored by the studio. Friedman presents us a history of Disney labor relations that is factual and highlights the faults of all involved in what was a painful and messy moment in Disney history.

While I at times saw similarities with the Parallel lives structure, it was really the Babbit content that stuck most with me. Friedman, in my mind, does not make him the hero of the book he provides a balanced view of Babbit’s life. I have found that other books will make mention of Babbit as only a victim, but Friedman introduces us to a man who was innovative and artistic and yet flawed. Babbit could carry grudges and act on perceived offenses that perhaps would be best ignored. He was passionate about things that he believed matter, and in this case, making sure that Disney employees were able to be heard on the union issue and not forced into a decision and organization that did not truly represent them. It is easy to see him standing on the picket line, yelling at his colleagues for breaking the line, and doing so with a tone that would forever break their friendships, until their elder years. Friedman shows us also an artist who was not perfect, at times needing to work outside of the Disney standard, and was innovative as he brought forth ideas like film reference.

The Disney Studio does not leave this account guilt-free. Walt and his leadership team were very invested, too invested, in creating a pro-management union at the studio. And many of their actions were underhanded and deceitful. It was not Babbit, but the studio, that interacted with gangsters in attempts to end the strike! Reading this account, one’s stomach gets squeamish as you read about Disney’s counsel Gunther Lessing and some of his actions at and before Disney. For strikers and management, everyone has a share of the blame for the moment that turned vicious and ended the family feeling at the studio.

The text is a solid work of history. It is extensively researched and notated. Additionally, it is well-written and engaging for a work that is primarily academic in tone. I enjoyed the use of pictures, which are sprinkled through the pages instead of condensed in one spot. They are put next to the most relevant moments and help to move the story along.

The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation’s Golden
Age by Jake S, Friedman is an engaging story of a key moment in Disney and animation history. Readers get to better know Art Babbit, both his strengths and weaknesses, and are reminded that Disney is a company that acts on business interests. If you told me that I would “enjoy” a labor history, I would have likely laughed. But seeing this moment through the eyes of Babbit and Disney created different views of this moment and likely a better understanding of this turning point!



Review Copy Provided by Publisher

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Friday, August 12, 2022

Between Books - The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World Third Edition

 

Book cover for the Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World showing a castle with fireworks in the background.




Susan Veness’ The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World book has long been a standard here at Between Disney. But a lot has changed at Walt Disney World, and here at Between Disney, since the first edition was reviewed in 2011. And it was just a few years ago, in my mind, that I reviewed the Second Edition. And boom, there arrived at my doorstep a Third Edition in 2020…during a time when I was slowly working through Between Books. Slowly, I have been picking up on reviews again and this new edition is really the best place for me to kick off a new era of Between Book reviews.

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Third Edition by Susan Veness follows the same general plan as the earlier editions. Veness walks readers through the four Walt Disney World Resort parks land by land. As she takes this walk she drops fun facts and behind-the-scenes information that for many, okay readers like me, will find delightful and help to expand the park experience. The book is text-driven, with little to no pictures except for a map that highlights some facts about each park.

Overall, the facts are interesting and delightful. I have read a lot of Disney books, yet I felt like I experienced many new to me facts. The text was well-written and engaging. But for some reason, I did find that it took me a bit to get into the text. This may be due to the fact there was content I had read before in this format. But as I got further into the text, my attention was increasingly grabbed instead of diminished. I worried that new sections such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would spoil me but instead I felt the sections prepared me and helped grab my interest. I felt like the surprises I have kept from myself were not revealed.

It could be the lack of images and photos that may have been my initial barrier to all in. As I read a section I often attempted to mentally picture the layout of the area. I assume the lack of images is tied to copyright issues. And while this text can be used to prepare a traveler, it may even be better in the park as a guide to help fill time in lines, as visitors play a game to find the secret the text points out. For this purpose, the book is light enough to fit in a small backpack but even better would be a Kindle edition on a cell phone.

I did note in the past I would like a section about Downtown Disney/Disney Springs. Content about Disney Springs and the water parks would be fun, but the editions are all consistent in creating boundaries around the theme parks.

As expected from a revised edition, content is often the same. The France section of the World Showcase that I discussed in the Second Edition remains unchanged but has shifted to page 129 to align with the new and removed content in this edition. This fact just leads me to suggest that new readers really should consider the newest edition for the most updated content with the key details found in earlier editions. This is underscored by the growth in each volume as the original had 242 pages, the Second 255 pages, and the Third 286 pages. This text is like the park is expanding. Get the newest fellow readers!

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World is a go-to book for me. It is fun. It is well written. And it has a lot of facts. It has the power to prepare someone for a trip, especially if they want to sound knowledgeable on Disney secrets. Also, it could provide park fun, as family members waiting for their next attraction seek out the secrets provided for each section. I will continue to recommend The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World for those who want to read up on park secrets before they visit the Walt Disney World Resort.




Review Copy Provided by Publisher

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