Monday, June 24, 2024

Between Books - Before the Birds Sang Words

Book cover for Before the Birds Sang Words with an illustrated macaw sitting on a perch.



I have to beg the Between Kid to enter Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in the Magic Kingdom! Maybe it takes a Dole Whip to get him to agree to enter. Maybe I just have to demand a break in the AC. Cearly, singing colorful birds doesn’t excite him. Now, Pirates of the Caribbean, he can ride all day! And what’s sad about this situation is that José is essential to the story of Jack Sparrow, Elsa, Mr. Potato Head, and Hondo Ohnaka when we see them in the parks today.

Before the Birds Sang Words by Ken Bruce outlines the long, and we mean long, saga of the Disneyland Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. While the attraction may have opened in 1963, Bruce ties the origins of the singing bird attraction not in just the popular tale of the New Orleans bird toy that Walt Disney brought to Imagineering, but even earlier to the astronomical clock in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg in Alsace, France. The 60-foot clock was created in 1354 and seen by Walt as a young Red Cross volunteer and an American businessman visiting France in the 1930s. Bruce uses the clock as a foundation from which he builds intersecting histories of mechanical toys, American views on Tiki and Polynesian culture, and Walt Disney’s development of the American theme park as seen through Disneyland. With Disneyland established, and his gift of a mechanical bird to Imagineering, Disney charged his artists to develop a bird restaurant. This challenge would lead to a ten-year development cycle that includes some of Disney’s most respected artists including John Hench, Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, the Sherman Brothers, Harriet Burns, and numerous other Disney Legends who participated in the evolution of a planned restaurant to a higher-capacity singing bird show. Bruce provides a comprehensive view of the show's development discussing Disneyland food service (can we talk about Stouffer’s Foods friends), Audio-Animatronic development, show scripting, building layout, song selection, recording, and virtually any topic of relevance to the show. Bruce finishes with a discussion of the evolution of the Disneyland attraction and its duplication in other parks like Walt Disney World.

I really enjoyed Before the Birds Sang Words. It is well-organized, well-written, and engaging. As someone who is not in food service, if you had told me that I would be fascinated by a chapter discussing Stouffer’s Foods I would have loudly said that would not happen. But in the big picture of Disneyland and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, this one small detail matters for understanding the relationship between leasees in Disneyland and why Walt Disney moved away from their large role in the park. The quality of the book and its definitive coverage of the attraction is surprising to me due to the fact it’s not a Disney Press edition yet it meets or exceeds the qualities of that press.

I called this story a saga, and it really is. The short story us Disney fans tell is that Walt Disney wanted a bird restaurant, Walt Disney realized that the birds were above the food, and he moved to an attraction. No, this is a ten-year development where technology changed, capacity was better understood, and Tiki culture grew in popularity. What’s also interesting to me is that honestly no one seems to have gotten what they wanted. Marc Davis designs were rejected, along with Rolly Crump’s. I really enjoyed the pages that discussed Davis and Hench working at cross-purposes. Songs were revised by George Bruns. Scripts and roles were changed, taking out some of Wally Boag’s saucy jokes. In the end, the attraction was rarely what anyone truly wanted, but a true collaboration between many visions. Though some would be able to show in the attraction’s evolution that what they wanted likely would have been for the best from the start.

Before the Birds Sang Words
by Ken Bruce is a engaging saga of one Disney attraction. But it’s an attraction who’s impact extends beyond the four corners the bird room. Bruce notes that some like the Between Kid may not be an enthusiastic for singing birds today as in the past. But Bruce gives us a context to better understand how important singing birds really are in Disney history and a chronicle of the hit they really were for Disney fans in Anaheim and beyond. Bruce helps us understand fully the lastly impact of the tiki birds and their entertainment legacy even for those who lack modern interest.

Clearly next time I’m in the park, I need a AC break even if he says no!  Because I love legacy.


Review Copy Provided for Review

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Monday, June 17, 2024

Between Books - There are Dads Way Worse Than You

Book cover for There are Dads Way Worse than You showing an ilustrated Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker looking at Luke's severed hand.


I’m not a card guy. There is part of me that sees a card as a $5 note, which will likely go to recycling in 97% of cases, all numbers being approximate. I’ve kept a few for the notes as they warmed my heart. But let’s be honest most cards go to recycling. I know the one’s I’ve given SHOULD BE RECYCLED.

There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father
by Glen Boozan and illustrated by Priscilla Witte is what I received from the Between Family in place of a card. The book is simple, are you worried about being a dad? Well, here’s a list of fictional and real dads who quite simply you out Dad daily. The bad dads include Darth Vader (no spoilers as he’s on the cover), Disney villains, and numerous pop culture baddies. Each dad is highlighted with a cute picture and a short narrative of his failure.

There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father will likely resonate with new dads who are worried about their future parenting triumphs and failures. Geek dads, including Disney ones, will also find themselves amused by the images and memories. I am willing to admit, I may be a better dad than Darth Vader. I did like the BBQ image at the end of the book where my favorite bad dad pairing is playing catch.


There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father
by Glen Boozan and illustrated by Priscilla Witte is a book that to me is better than a card. And maybe this is what we need to normalize small gift books with heartwarming messages, in place of recycling materials. And hey, those sweet notes we love, you can still add them on the blank pages!


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Monday, June 10, 2024

Between Books - Where is Walt Disney World?



Book cover for Where is Walt Disney World with an illustrated fun looking version of Magic Kingdom and Epcot combined with fireworks.




Between Disney is back to bash a kid's book!

Where is Walt Disney World?
By Joan Holub and illustrated by Gregory Copeland is an introduction to Walt Disney World for readers aged 8 to 12. The book provides a history of the development of the theme park including the life of Walt Disney, Disneyland, the leadership of Roy O. Disney, and the park's opening. The book then proceeds to tour the park from Magic Kingdom, to EPCOT, to Animal Kingdom (this is not in historical or geographical order ), and then to Disney Hollywood Studios. After walking through the parks, the creators discuss special events, hotels, Disney Springs, and the changing nature of the parks. The chapters include topical inserts and hand-drawn style illustrations scattered on the pages.

When I was 12, I wrote my first major historical essay on the surrender at Appomattox. Per the publisher’s recommendation, I could have used the published level of narrative and fact in this book to support my project. If so, that would have been a mistake. The history inside is sometimes the Disney myth history, without much explanation or elaboration. It often fails to address what I think is a more interesting story of a kid. For example, they call the Ulitidors the underground tunnels of the Magic Kingdom. But wouldn’t it be more interesting to a kid to know that it’s the first floor, not a basement? Or maybe a kid might be excited reading and try to sell their parents on one of the cheaper resort hotels, Animal Kingdom Lodge! Even the All-Stars laughed when I read that line.

The text is what it is! For a 8 year old it’s likely fine as it provides brushing big strokes on Walt Disney World history and location building. But for a 11 or 12-year-old, and likely a lot of 10s it’s too surface and likely to not feel up to their grade level of reading. For kids who want to dig into the history, background, and secrets of the park, I honestly think a better choice would be a current copy of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World books which is at an appropriate reading level, makes them feel more mature, and likely give them a lot of secrets they would annoy the adults around them with.


Where is Walt Disney World? By Joan Holub and illustrated by Gregory Copeland is a fine book for younger readers who need a surface introduction to Walt Disney World with images to keep them engaged with the story. But for emerging readers and those wanting to know more of the story, it’s likely a book that lacks the depth desired.  

 

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Monday, June 3, 2024

Between Books - Hidden History of Walt Disney World

 

Book cover for Hidden History of Walt Disney World wiht a black and white photo showing the park under construction from the viewpoint of the front gates



“I’d like to talk about EPCOT’s legacy by taking a look at EPCOT’s role in the proud American tradition of getting drunk on vacation (Nolte, 141).” You have my attention!

Disney books include a vibrant sub-genre of what I call “Secrets Books”! They generally consist of short chapters, often unconnected topically, and aim to bring readers deeper into the Disney story by ripping back the curtain. Some of these titles can be largely trivia books giving you quick looks behind the scenes. Others show us trends and make deeper connections about our beloved theme parks. I don’t recommend overlooking these books, as David Koenig’s Mouse Tales is still a book that I recommend new readers start with, mostly because it’s fun and rich in story. It’s this genre that started my Between Books obsession.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World by Foxx Nolte is the latest in secrets books. Topically the book is broken into five main sections that can be labeled as Orlando before Disney, building Walt Disney World, The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and expanding Walt Disney World. The chapters in these sections are generally short and full of images with topics that can range from citrus in Central Florida, tickets, drinking at EPCOT (as promised), McDonalds on Walt Disney World property, and many more. Each chapter is engaging with the reader and well-researched. I do find the images are well-used in supporting the text, especially when some readers may pick this book up to prepare for a first-time vacation and some topics are not those that are generally known to even experienced amateur Disney historians.

Doctor Phillips was not a doctor! My family is tired of hearing me say this and they may secretly be shaking their hands at Nolte. I think this is a win as I love beating a piece of fact into the ground. What really stands out to me about this book is the connection of Walt Disney World to the city of Orlando. Nolte notes the complicated relationship between the city and the theme park. But he also urges readers to understand that the identity of each was partially guided by the other. Walt Disney World is a place grounded in the city's history, and Orlando as it exists today was guided by the growth of the Disney property. In making this connection, Nolte introduces us to Orlando's history before the arrival of Disney and helps us see how these precursors impact the park today. For me, Dr. Phillips is a spot on a map! I sometimes questioned if there was a Dr. Phillips but was too lazy to Google it. Nolte pulls readers into the story of Doctor Phillips, not MD, citrus magnet, and then draws connections to how his business empire was used by Disney and then back to the city with how Disney has helped shape the area of Orlando known by that name today. For me, this connection between the parks and the city is one of the most interesting themes found in the book.

Alright, back to the drinking! I read the sentence about showing EPCOT’s legacy through getting drunk, and I read it again, and again…and then said huh. As a reader, I dared Nolte to do it! Now, while I do enjoy a good pint, I have never and likely will never get drunk on Disney property. I read a lot of Disney books, and I have seen discussions of legacy and evolution based in business terms, cultural terms, and entertainment terms. But drinking? Nolte meets the challenge well, by providing a history of events on Disney property along with the changing views of drinking in public while at the parks. This chapter is a good example of what most chapters will provide; history you may not have seen fully before, images that visually bring you closer to the topic, and a thematic line that educates and maybe even tells you about more than a theme park.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World
by Foxx Nolte is not your typical secrets book by just highlighting events within Walt Disney World. Notle does an excellent job of connecting the park’s history to the geographical region it resides in strengthening the mental image of the parks to the city. If anything, there were times when I wanted a little bit more so I had more facts to share with those around me. Though often, like the story of the Walt Disney World Preview Center, Nolte finds ways to bring the story back around full circle.


But I do wonder what Citrus Salad Gel tastes like!





Review Copy Provided by History Press

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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Between Books - Star Wars: The Living Force


Book cover for Star Wars: The Living Force showing the 12 Jedi Masters including Yoda and Mace Windu.



The Star Wars literary world has recently moved us from one prequel, The High Republic, to another. It’s been 25 years since Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. This prequel was criticized by fans and general audiences, much like I feel about The High Republic. But now, decades later and after stories like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this period is beloved by many fans.

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is two storylines that merge together in an action-packed conclusion. In the first storyline, the Jedi find themselves closing outposts as trade and population centers move in the galaxy. With those movements, crime fills the vacuum. The Jedi Council decides to leave their temple before closing the beloved outpost on the planet Kween in The Slice region of the galaxy. Many Masters have a history with this location, and they realize that the criminal element has increased as Jedi outposts nearby close. The Jedi Council Master plan to hold a session in person on the planet and celebrate publicly the history and legacy of the outpost. Readers follow the members of the Jedi Council as they interact with the citizens of Kween and follow the Force’s urgings to aid groups and individuals. The second storyline follows Jedi Master Depa Billaba who has gone undercover into a criminal ring to help one young girl escape a life of crime. Master Mace Windu, her former Master, stops on his way to Kween to ensure she makes the meeting and if needed provides aid. Both stories meet on Kween as all 12 Masters influence the book’s conclusion.

John Jackson Miller knows science fiction and Star Wars. He has written several prose Star Wars books, though he had taken a decade's leave from this universe…with him writing some Star Trek books during that time. He has written even more Star Wars comic tales, especially for the Dark Horse era. So while we honestly won’t get many revelations, he weaves a tale that will keep the reader’s attention as someone who has completed the assignment before. While it’s not a full-on giant battle piece, I think he does a good job of showing the personal failure of the Jedi Council. They had removed themselves from the people. So to the people, they were merely rumors. And for the Jedi Council, the needs of the people were abstract. They have lost connection with the reality of the galaxy. For me, this shows how a Sith Lord could manipulate a galaxy Jedi leadership knew nothing about in a practical way.

Miller also allows us to use familiar mental images and a hook to bring in readers of other Star Wars media. First, most moviegoers have seen the majority of Masters on the screen. So we have general images for most of them. Miller is then able to use his space to give us a story that we never knew and lacks conflict with other stories as most of them are enigmas to us. Let us also not forget we have Yoda as a Master, who is very active in this book and invites us to get to know the others better, and their faults. Along with him we also get Mace Windu though his interactions with the other Masters are limited. Second, we have a halo effect for Master Billaba. She is the Master of a character not found here, Kanan Jarrus. I personally think that Jarrus may be one of the most effective Jedi found in Star Wars stories, and definitely, he is beloved. Billaba has been seen just a little bit in comics and television. This story allows us to see her in more fullness and we want to see her personality in view. While she challenges herself to help just one person, we can see a moral compass that she passed down to Jarrus. 

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is refreshing. It is a standalone story, that has a clear beginning and end that really only needs the basic understanding of the prequel trilogies. One can get in, enjoy, and move on to their next read. I think the publishing program can use a little more of this, a stand-alone adventure that serves to just provide adventure while also reinforcing the action we saw on the screen.

 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Between Books - The Magic is in You

Cover for The Magic is  in You with the title in the middle surrounded by Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Dorry, Pascal, and Aladdin



Cash or prizes, which do you prefer? What do you like to give for graduations or other turning point celebrations?

The Magic is in You by Colin Hosten and Brooke Vitale illustrated by Grace Lee is an inspirational children’s book, which reminds us of a core message, the magic is in you! The book follows a basic pattern. A crisis is presented by the writers using images from Disney or Pixar animated films. The moment is illustrated in soft original art. The next page resolves the issue by pointing out the magic and strength in each of us. The book is simple and repetitive and repetitive as the situations are demonstrated in the worlds of Tangled, Toy Story, and more.

The book as I mentioned is simple. The pattern is easy for a child to grasp and predict, especially after a few readings. It is one of those reads that I expect a child would start saying the resolution line as the page is turned. I would not read it at bedtime. While I love the message of internal strengths and magic, it does present a series of crisis moments that could create anxiety. And at bedtime, no parent really wants to set up an obstacle blocking sweet dreams.

This is a nice hardcover book with an attractive book cover. And it reminds me of when Dr. Suess’ books meant to inspire young adults were often gifted at high school graduations. I can see doing the same with this edition especially if they are a Disney family. Young adults will face challenges. Hosten, Vitale, and Lee inspire for those moments. But I think if you are not close to the graduate and don’t know their Disney Young Adult Status, I would go with cash. If they are not Disney film fans, the book may seem too brief and not connect.

Cash or prizes? I lean toward cash in most circumstances. Young people transitioning into the next stage really need a nest egg for computers, pens, and late-night pizzas. But The Magic is in You by Colin Hosten and Brooke Vitale illustrated by Grace Lee provides a delightful option for transitioning young people who are also Disney fans. It also is a book that can remind kids of the magic within themselves as they grow using Disney’s fanciful and beloved characters.

Maybe the question is really cash, prizes, or magic? Two out of three ain’t bad. Three out of three is better!

 

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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Between Books – Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual 2023


Cover for 2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual showing the contents and images of subjects in the collection like Woolie Reitherman in a military pilot's uniform and Pete Seanoa in Polynesian clothing.



New year, same review?


I feel like I restate the same thoughts whenever I read the latest Hyperion Historical Alliance annual.

Maybe it’s because I feel “excluded” and I don’t like that. I’d like to think I’m pretty serious when it comes to history.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” consists of five articles that span decades of Disney history from the early days of animation to the 1900’s in Disney parks. The five articles are:
  • “Oswald the Laemmle Rabbit” by Tom Klein

  • “Walt Disney and The Life of Hans Christian Anderson” by Didier Ghez

  • “Woolie Reitherman Needs to Fly” A Disney Artist Goes to War” by Lucas O. Seastrom

  • “1945-1946: Edgar Bergan and Disney’s Story Department” by Didier Ghez

  • “Direct from the Islands: The Polynesian Magic of Pete Seanoa” by Nathan Eick


The articles are all written with an academic slant. And they have extensive footnotes with bibliographies showing source material. They definitely as a group are attempting to show the seriousness of Disney history.

For me, the most engaging topics were Oswald and Woolie Reitherman. Klein’s article demonstrated that the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was not fully in the mind of Walt Disney. In many ways, Oswald was a corporate creation, which reminded me of the modern studio and network system where executives, producers, and writers all have claim to pieces of the character. Disney’s additions were critical, providing Oswald with much of his character development and growth. But Klein makes it clearer that the Lucky Rabbit was a corporate rabbit not a Disney one. We might even call Oswald work-for-hire. The Reitherman article dives deep into the artist’s non-animation career as a military and civilian pilot. The article helps remind us of how the Greatest Generation was often more than one thing and career, which should inspire us! But it is also a history that includes World War II, transportation over The Hump into China, and the growth of commercial air travel.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” to me has an audience, Disney fans who want serious historical research. They want their passion to be validated as a serious academic pursuit. I also think these fans, like me, would love to support the Hyperion Historical Alliance in their mission. In fact, my proof is the purchase, reading, and review of now four Annuals. I just think that they need to grow the mission. I am someone who has a master’s degree in history. I’d like to think I am taking my history seriously. I am also not currently mining archives for serious historical additions to the knowledge base. But I would like to support those that are doing so. As someone who’s been a member of the Society of Baseball Research, who has a model I think can be used here, I don’t get why this isn’t being democratized. I’ve also been a member of the Society for Military History and American Historical Association, founded in 1884 and very serious, which both have options for non-working historians.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” is a collection of five historical articles that span the varying topics in Disney history. Most Disney fans, like I did, will likely find a topic of interest and comparisons to trends today in media. Again, I wish they would open membership up to a more scalable and likely-lasting membership model.


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