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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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Between Books- A Portrait of Walt Disney World

Book cover for A Portrait of Walt Disney showing a horse drawn Cinderella style carriage being driven around the hub in front of Cinderella castle.



50 years of joy at the Walt Disney World Resort have arrived! And how do we celebrate? A Between Book of course is the best way to party! And when we say Between Book, we mean a massive, big, back-breaking, coffee table book.

A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of the Most Magical Place on Earth by Kevin M. Kern, Tim O’Day, and Steven Vagnini is a massive coffee table book highlighting 50 years of magic. The text opens with the expected historical path with the authors outlining the origin, development, and construction of the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida. This history is followed by themes. For example, the first theme, nostalgia shows how the entire resort encapsulates the ideal of the past as the authors walk through Main Street U.S.A., the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Liberty Square, the Haunted Mansion, Hollywood Boulevard and other attractions and locations which fit the theme. The text is illustrated with gorgeous color photos and concept art. Other themes which follow this pattern include fantasy, discovery, tomorrow, and reflections. The book concludes with a chapter that provides detail around the 50th anniversary celebration.

Overall, the book is brilliantly illustrated and visually enjoyable to dive into. The accompanying text fits the images well and is well-written. The piece that took me the most to adapt to was the themes. When you have read as many Between Books as us, do we not all expect that they will walk park-to-park and then land-by-land in each chapter? But here the themes transition from park to attraction to resort hotel to attraction again. So the reader must come to learn to follow the theme and not the geographical area as they proceed through the book. It is also very large, and expensive, so I do not suggest attempting to read the book all in one sitting…especially if it is sitting on your lap. This offering is also long-term going to be a collectors item and not something for your friend who is just showing a passing interest in the park, especially due to the large price point especially for periods where it may be out of print.

A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of the Most Magical Place on Earth can help all of us park fans celebrate the park no matter how Between a visit we truly are. It is visually pleasing and can help us connect to the Florida Project no matter where we are. We just have to be willing to pay a fee which is closer to a one-day ticket than we may guess.  



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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Between Books - Imagineering An American Dreamscape

Book Cover for Imagineering An American Dreamscape showing a Ferris Wheel


I spend a lot of time between Disney dreaming about a good Disney Parks day. But, I have rarely explored the parks between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And I hoped Imagineering An American Dreamscape could better inform me about regional parks and perhaps even get me excited to visit one.

Imagineering An American Dreamscape: Genesis, Evolution, and the Redemption of the American Theme Park by Barry R. Hill details the history of the American theme park from the late 19th century to the recent past. Hill describes the types of parks that existed before Disneyland, how they influenced Walt Disney’s park, and how Disneyland would then impact regional entertainment after its popularity grew. From early rides like steeplechases to high-speed roller coasters, Hill describes the economic measures needed to attract and then retain visitors to an audience familiar with larger national parks. The tale is one of copying Disney’s and other successful models, followed by a need to change due to the economics of the market. And much of this is followed by economic shifts as parks closed and consolidated as economics pressured the local park owners who could not retain growth or saw the need to add big-ticket attractions to their parks outstripped their pocketbooks.

I enjoyed Imagineering An American Dreamscape. It is well-written and engaging. It is extensively referenced, showing that Hill has deeply researched his topic. Sometimes, he does move from the historian's tone to one of nostalgia. But these tone shifts show his deep love of this topic. Hill introduced me to parks like Astroland, Great America, King’s Dominion, and so many more. He also does an excellent job of showing how regional parks like Six Flags Over Texas impacted the Disney experience today, moving from attraction tickets to a single admission.

Hill notes that the entertainment experience is becoming blurred. Regionally we may not be able to determine what is a theme park, amusement park, mall, or museum in the future. Hill shows us clearly how economic factors have impacted the history of these experiences, their need for them in our regions, and the excitement of enjoying these venues.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cap's Comics - W.E.B. of Spider-Man


Comic book cover for  W.E.B. of Spider-Man showing Spider-Man swing over the W.E.B. building.

 

 

Here I sit, stuck between two Disney parks, and it has been years since I have been able to visit Orlando or Anaheim. And one of the dreams that has become a reality since my last visit to the Disneyland Resort is Avengers Campus. Yes, I want to go there! Marvel and Disney with W.E.B. of Spider-Man, which collects the five single issues of this comic title, are trying to get myself and my younger self motivated to visit the new land and WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure.


In W.E.B. of Spider-Man, writer Kevin Shinick and artist Alberto Alburquerque introduce Peter Parker to the Worldwide Engineering Brigade (W.E.B.) established by Tony Start to gather great young thinkers together to solve the world’s emerging problems. W.E.B. members include Harley Kenner from Iron Man 3, Lunella Lafayette the Moon Girl, Onome, a genius girl from Wakanda, Doreen Green the Unstoppable Squirrel Girl, and Amadeus Cho also known as Brawn. The youngsters are joined by the Spider-Bots found in the ride. The team is drawn into a battle with some familiar-faced villains attempting to steal key data from W.E.B. Peter struggles in this adventure to determine whether he or his alter ego, Spider-Man, best fits within the W.E.B. team dynamic.  


This title is for 10+. And honestly, it is for that age, and a little bit older, this best would work. As an adult, I found the lack of foreshadowing for the big bad to be a major miss. And I think for young readers, the lack of foreshadowing and general low visibility of this villain is problematic. I do not believe the ten-year-old crowd knows who the villain is and may not care about them. I think all readers needed to Scooby-Doo this where we take off the mask and yell it was you! But that is lacking. The story is what you need and expect from a comic from this age, with Alburquerque providing very professional and well-done art. I can see an 11-year-old reading this a few times before hitting the park, but it will likely never be any adult readers entry comic to the ride, where the movies should be taking that role for most of the audience.  


W.E.B. of Spider-Man is a story with a hiccup or two. But it performs as needed by creating a comic story accessible to young readers. And best of all, from a Disney synergy window, it likely will make some young people feel closer to the Spider-Man ride and the backstory and lead to pleas to get into line! 


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