Monday, September 28, 2015

Between Books - One Little Spark!

I have used “Mickey’s Ten Commandments” crafted by Marty Sklar quite a few times in my professional career.  It is ten concepts that one can easily apply to a number of creative endeavors, and even if you make widgets you are creating something.  So needless to say a book describing Mickey’s Ten Commandments by their originator had my attention, and my money.

One Little Spark!:Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering by Marty Sklar is really two books with one title.  The first book is a summary and explanation of “Mickey’s Ten Commandments”.   Sklar gives each commandment a chapter in which he explains its meaning, provides an good example (which he gives a Mousecar) and a bad example (to which he gives a fictional Goof award) and sprinkles in his own expertise.   All of the examples come from Disney Theme Parks, including those things he believes failed the principles.  The second book is Sklar distilling the wisdom of 75 current and former Imagineers on the skills needed to be an Imagineer including passion, a love of learning and curiosity. 

I do not really want to say this.  But I really wish this was two separate books instead of one.  The content is like Epcot, two very different things pushed together.  Yes, Sklar has proven to be a master of this concept.  But here it really does not play well for me.  It basically does not feel like a mashup that fits together.  Maybe it does not have a transition that works for me since really the whole book could be seen as an Imagineering toolbox.  Or it could be the two very different presentations.  But I found myself obsessing about “Mickey’s Ten Commandments” while not showing interest in the road to Imagineering.  Maybe it is my stage of life, being an professional not bright eyed youngster.  Also I really did not enjoy the block quotes used in the road to Imagineering segment.  I really would have preferred more Sklar and less everyone else. 

If anything I will say that Sklar is honest.  And despite being a Disney Editions book he does not pull punches.  There are attractions which he gives a Goof award to which will shock you.  And despite some of these are classic attractions beloved by millions, he has good points about how they have failed to follow Imagineering’s creative principles.  And one must remember that Sklar was a key developer in some of the “failed” attractions. 

One Little Spark!:Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering is a book I will reference throughout the next few years.  And Sklar has given me more background to support my professional use of his principles.  But honestly I would have preferred two smaller books, using more of Sklar’s voice, to quench my thirst on this creative topic.    

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cap's Comics - Figment 2 #1

Blarion Mercurial and his sidekick Figment are back.  After saving London and seemingly disappearing, we catch up with our heroes moments after the shocking ending of Figment.  Can the newly minted Dreamfinder show others the power of imagination, or will rules and doubt crush our heroes' spirits?

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Cover
As our story opens we are introduced to a young dreamer today who's ambitions are checked by rules.  She hopes to become a student at the Academy Scientifica-Lucidus USA, but it seems this dream is not to be.  Meanwhile, Dreamfinder emerges in our day in front of a familiar building.  This structure houses the new Academy Scientifica-Lucidus which has moved from London to the United States.  Figment and Dreamfinder explore, discover what some believed occurred to them after saving London and meet the staff.  Some of the staff are very familiar while others just have familiar attitudes.  The Academy is attempting to harness a new type of energy to power their many endeavors, and save the school, but Dreamfinder in his fancy Dream Machine offers another potential energy source...imagination!  Can Dreamfinder deliver and have old opinions changed about the power of imagination?

Jim Zub returns to write Figment 2 and it is clear that he enjoys the characters and theme of imagination.  If anything my biggest concern with the writing is a replay of Figment as the Directors in both books seem to share very similar opinions about imagination.  The time has just changed.  The art duties are taken over by Ramon Bachs, who's models are slightly different than the first story arc.  But honestly, it feels like the character models have been updated for a story taking place now instead of in the past.  So the art change feels really appropriate.  There are a number of Disney Easter Eggs, ranging from architecture to the Dream Machine to a mention of Medford.  They grab the Disney fan and challenge you to pay attention for whatever could pop up next.  Additionally, the story which appears to be about the power of imagination definitely has a Disney feel.  

X Atencio Imagineer Variant Cover

I did read this story aloud to the Between Tween and Between Kid.  They loved the story and the return of familiar characters.  And I think they would enjoy seeing Figment return on a regular basis.  Maybe this would be a good opportunity for a reoccurring limited series under the Disney Kingdoms label, helping to keep Dreamfinder and Figment fresh as kids and Disney fans crave their return.

Jim Zub brings us back to the story of Blarion (Dreamfinder) and Figment in Figment 2 #1 "Part One: Living Legends".  And the duo delivers as they evangelize the power of Imagination.  I am hopeful that this second series will be as well written and as praised as the first.  

At the moment, I have no doubts!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Between Books - It's a Crazy Business

It's a Crazy Business: The Goofy Life of a Disney Legend by Pinto Colvig and edited by Todd James Pierce recalls memories of the Disney studio from over 70 years ago.  Colvig, a Disney Legend perhaps not familiar to many of us, worked as a story artist along with being the voice of Pluto.  Colvig in fact made a career for himself as a sound man, voicing not just Pluto but providing a variety of sound effects on radio and theatrical releases. 

Colvig's memoir written in the 1940s recalls a number of Disney and non-Disney events.  He discusses how he came to Hollywood after being a second, or third rate, member of a traveling band.  Colvig actually started as an animator, experimenting with his craft in live-action and even running his own studio briefly.  And he details how he discovered some of the sounds he used in productions and how they were delivered in radio.  Colvig examines the Disney operation from his days including discussions of Disney story meetings and the voice actors that he worked with at the studio.  He finishes with a very personal look into his life, a nervous breakdown that he suffered while working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, providing the voices of Grumpy, Sleepy and more.  His description of the incident includes him acting out in the office and follows with a detailed discussion of his days in a sanitarium.  

It's a Crazy Business feels very homespun.  Colvig's style is to write to the reader as if a conversation is occurring.  So one feels like you are sitting at times in an intimate room as he tells you about that one time, or let me tell you about this gal I worked with.  It is intimate, friendly, honest and folksy.  And when we say honest, this includes his experiences with visions while coalescing in the sanitarium.  He really pulls nothing back as he tells his story.  It is quirky and funny.  His closing chapters do demonstrate how stressful it was for even animation veterans when making Disney's first feature length cartoon.  Additionally, Colvig does give one a flavor of the Disney studio during the 1930s including the people who worked with him.  

It's a Crazy Business introduces Disney fans to Pinto Colvig, a legend that you likely you did not know beyond trivia.  Nobility and statesman visited the Disney studio just to hear him bark, as Pluto.  And some hoped to be like him, making noises with his half of a trombone.  But in the end Colvig proves himself to be an original that others cannot copy with both his personality and ingenuity.  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, August 24, 2015

Between Books - The Storm Over the Bay

Shaun Finnie brings the futuristic Rothman family back in The Storm Over the Bay.  Have things settled down for the Rothmans.  Or will their lives be at jeopardy again in an effort to defend the Disney legacy?

A few years have passed since the Epcot Revolution, which has led to a more open Epcot.  But not everyone likes it.  Jack Rothman and his family have been labeled both heroes and villains by those living within Disney’s planned community.  But the Rothman’s prefer to stay out of the center of attention, with Jack largely rejecting his celebrity.  Sadly, something sinister still exists at Epcot.  Imagineers are dying.  The Rothman family relaxes at the new Discover Bay, but the new themed land may not be as safe as Disney is advertising.  And Jack Rothman is again caught up in a deadly struggle over Imagineering and the Disney legacy.  Can Jack and his son Heath survive the storm over Discovery Bay (yeah insert sad trombone here)?

I really liked Finnie’s first book in this series, The Happiest Workplace on Earth.  And I continue to enjoy this series in its second installment.  The Rothman family is very approachable to the typical reader.  Jack is a true unlikely hero, which is what most of us want in an action star.  And his motivations are generally simple; protect those he loves and innocents caught up in the action.  But for me the biggest delight was the growth of Heath Rothman.  It would have been easy to keep him stuck as a rebellious yet loving young adult.  Heath still has some edge to him.  But he has really grown into a strong young man with a job that he loves and a committed relationship which is encouraged by his parents.  This is really a Jack Rothman story, the first volume could be seen as a family tale.  Still Heath’s contributions and growth really excited me.  I would love to see what happens in the next volume, perhaps Heath becomes a young father. 

I love the world that Finnie has produced.  I continue to enjoy the idea that Walt Disney was able to build a version of Epcot that was a working city.  And the city has changed.  Before Epcot was very regulated.  If you wanted to receive the benefits of Epcot you had to live in a very prescribed way.  Now while the Epcot Security Patrol are still very present, they now have to behave closer to humanity.  It is interesting to see how characters we have meet before react to the changes in Epcot. 

The Storm Over the Bay is a really enjoyable action book.  It is set in a fictional future world that will seem very familiar to Disney fans with the book jumping into a new land and backstage areas we can imagine from our Disney research.  And I really liked that Finnie used as his centerpiece a Disney land that was once considered but never built.  But best of all is the characters that Finnie has dropped into the story, allowing us to relate to their adventures by creating a family we would all want to be friends with.   

Monday, August 17, 2015

Between Books - The People v. Disneyland

During my first experiences reading David Koenig's Disney history I began to understand that not everything in Disneyland is magic and pixie dust.  Stuff happens and some of it is not good!  Now Koenig builds on his earlier work by going in depth into Disneyland's legal history.

The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits & Lawyers Transformed the Magic by David Koenig explores Disneyland's litigation history.  The book opens with a discussion on Disney's legal plan for the park, primarily using one firm to handle lawsuits by guests.  And Koenig explains their legal strategy, fight as many lawsuits as possible...and preferably in conservative Orange County.  This is followed by a over fifty page tour of the park which discusses the falls, trips, accidents, deaths and mishaps at each attraction and the resulting cases, settlements and judgements that have resulted from them.  Then Koenig goes into other legal confrontations with both guests and cast members related to safety, race, age and other types of discrimination.  

The People V. Disneyland is a must own for the Between Books library.  Koenig describes each legal situation in detail and generally without bias.  He is clear and easy to follow, especially for someone without a legal background.  Thanks to Koenig I have actually been able to discuss "common carriers" in an informed manner with a lawyer friend, and be knowledgeable.  So it is fair to say that I learned about Disney history and the law by immersing myself in Koenig's latest book!

The remarkable thing about Disney is they really do not lose lawsuits!  They are prepared legally, generally have strong paperwork showing they made their best effort, and at times have been intimidating to former guests to scare off litigation.  In fact, if anything it makes me sad as I read about situations in which Disney behaves "shadily".  I keep telling myself, that is all in the past.  So maybe I have gotten to close to the Pixie Dust.  It really is terrifying how Disney at times has gone into a bunker mode not calling in the local police or EMTs in a prompt manner when tragedies have occurred.  And I will argue at times it looks like they have destroyed evidence by cleaning the scene of accidents.  But we must all remember this is a small city and accidents will happen.  When accidents happen and guests are either unhappy or unfairly treated, that is when lawsuits spring up including nuisance cases and legitimate attempts to make right what went wrong!

Koenig not only provides a chronicle of Disneyland's litigation history, but he also uncovers trends in Disney's legal success.  He actually provides a how-to list for readers on how to properly take Disneyland to court and have a slim chance of winning!  So along with being a history book, The People V. Disneyland provides practical advice for those attempting to use the courts to have a situation made right by Disneyland.

The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits & Lawyers Transformed the Magic by David Koenig is a book that shows a darker side of Disney.  What happens when the courts are brought to Disneyland?  First, lawyers have changed the park for the better by increasing safety and for the worst by removing some of the fun to limit lawsuits.  Second, if you claim that you were bumped on Autopia and it is Disneyland's fault, you might want to prepare to go to court and lose.  Because as can see from the signs, everyone has been warned not to bump but bumping happens.  And Disneyland warned you.  So be prepared to lose!  There's magic to legally protect here.    

Review Copy Provided by Publisher 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Between Books - From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend

I am a really big fan of the World Famous Jungle Cruise!  In fact the other day I told someone I dressed up to hangout with them, I was wearing my Jungle Cruise shirt just for them.  Okay, it was mostly for me.  And reading Theme Park Press' latest offering with a Jungle Cruise theme was just as much for me as slipping on that comfy and stylish tee.

From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend: 40 Years of Magical Memories at Disney by William "Sully" Sullivan at first glance appears to be an autobiography of a former skipper with memories going back to Disneyland's opening year.  But it is really much more.  It is a story of a young Skipper in Sully who left his job to try out this Disneyland thing he saw on television.  Sullivan started as a ticker taker at the Jungle Cruise and then began to work his way through a multifaceted Disney career.  Yes, he did move from ticket taker to Skipper, but that was just the beginning.  He would serve as a supervisor on Main Street USA, develop security plans for the 1960 Winter Olympics, helped run operations at the 1964 New York World's Fair (though he never met Mary Blair) and other tasks as assigned by the Boss himself Walt Disney.  Eventually, Sullivan would leave California and join the Florida team joining the development of Epcot and eventually becoming the Vice President of the Magic Kingdom, having again started as a ticket taker.  The book alternates between chapters written by Jim Korkis that provide context to Sullivan's experiences and those with Sullivan speaking about his life.  

I have often called General Douglas MacArthur the soldier of the 20th Century.  He was born in a Western outpost when horses were still standard equipment, fought through 2 global conflicts and ended his career with an arsenal that included the atomic bomb.  Ironically this is how I feel about Sullivan!  He was the employee of the first 40 years of Disney parks operations.  He started as part of the ticket book system, followed Walt Disney as he expanded his entertainment pursuits, and ended with one price ticketing.  Sullivan's career does more than define him as a person, but describes the history of Disney Parks as one observes him.  The reader discovers quickly that Sullivan is a man who said yes when asked to do things outside of his expertise.  And this tendency served him well as he went from assignment to assignment.  All of these experiences made him a well-rounded executive who was focused on the the consistency of guest service across his areas of responsibility and those who worked for him.

With Jungle Cruise in the title, one does want the book to be funny.  Honestly, there are no rolling around on the ground belly laughs.  Though you will likely crack several smiles.  Readers will learn a lot about Disney history, even if they are experienced Disney historians.  I now know about orange ties and baby alligators in the early days of Disneyland thanks to Sully.  Sullivan started in the Jungle Cruise and though he did not stay for long his recollections are filled with the fun of what he was doing.  He liked working for Disney and enjoyed having a good time.  And why would he not have enjoyed working for the Boss.  His employment in the parks would lead him to meet his wife and enjoy what honestly reads as a highly satisfying professional career.  And he will always be a skipper! 

Really, if I wanted to use a word for From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend it would be charming.  One cannot be caught on Sullivan's words as he discusses Walt Disney and the need to train staff to treat guests the Disney way.  It is full of admiration and care.  Sullivan's admiration becomes infectious very quickly.  

Sure, the Jungle Cruise is what gets you in the door as you pick up From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend: 40 Years of Magical Memories at Disney by William "Sully" Sullivan.  But gets you to stay is the historical evolution of 40 years of Disney parks.  For those years when a major advancement in the history of the parks occurred, Sullivan was generally there with his can-do attitude and commitment to Disney quality.  And as a reader you will feel overjoyed to spend some time immersed in Sullivan's world. 

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, August 3, 2015

Between Books - Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: Walt Disney and Technology by Christian Moran promises to provide a history of Walt Disney and Technology.  While Moran provides a breakdown of Walt Disney's achievements pushing forward animation, transportation and even military thought; Moran really offers a history of an innovator and his role moving forward a variety of fields in the 20th Century.

Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow outlines innovations in Walt Disney's career from the development of Mickey Mouse and the use of sound in animated shorts to after Disney's death and how his ideas for EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) were or were not made a reality.  Moran's story is of a man who started in animated shorts, evolved his productions into feature length animated films, entered live-action and eventually entered the theme park business as a avenue to explore personal interests in community planning and changing the physical world.  Particularly interesting to me was the discussion of the development of Victory through Air Power during World War II which helped change the public's view of the use of the bomber and the development of an independent air service.  Also the discussions of the Tomorrowland segments of Disneyland and their impacts of American thought on space and transportation go beyond the expected discussions of the use of color and sound in animation.  Along with Moran's own discussion of Walt Disney the innovator are reflections from those who knew Disney such as Bob Gurr and Rolly Crump and Disney historians including Sam Gennawey and Jim Korkis.  

Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow is in many ways a focused biography of Walt Disney.  This text does not cover in any detail Disney's life before Mickey Mouse or his family interactions.  It is really a focused narrative that follows Disney's thoughts on technology and innovation.  For those who want to be inspired by an inspirational futurist of the 20th century, this book is really for them.  But if one wants to dig deep into every aspect of Disney's life, there are other titles to enjoy that lack the focus of this text.  Moran's focus is not a negative.  It really does deliver a story of Disney and innovation that provides the reader what they are looking for in a coherent and straight forward manner.  

Along with many history books I really have only one request, an index.  The book provides such a nice outline of Disney and technology that I can easily see a middle schooler or high schooler using this focused biography to help them better understand Walt Disney and innovation.  And I can see them using this text to help them craft a research paper.  I have been spending a lot of time with teens recently, so they are top of mind.  But I also have scribbled a note or two in my copy.  And I can see how this book would provide me inspiration in my own research especially when I do not want to pick up a larger and less focused Disney biography. 

Christian Moran in Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow provides his readers a focused biography of Walt Disney that connects Disney with technology and innovation.  And I just hope that like Moran predicts that Tomorrowland, though a box office under performer, and texts like this one can help promote Disney's beliefs in a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press