Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Between Books - Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams

It seems like most of America's best ideas spend time maturing in garages.  The Walt Disney Company is no different.  But the garage and its important place in Disney history was almost lost.

Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams by Arthur C. "Buddy" Adler documents from one cast member's view the discovery and eventual rescue of Disney's original animation studio, Uncle Robert Disney's garage.  The late Mr. Adler chronicles how he discovered the garage was put up for auction and his visit to the garage when the auction failed to provide a buyer.  The garage did not sale and was at risk of being destroyed.  Adler helped found The Friends of Walt Disney which dedicated themselves to the purchase, restoration, and donation of the garage.  The Friends of Walt Disney and Adler discovered the difficulties of donating a substantial free gift to non-profit museums, including the Smithsonian.   Along with chronicling the history of The Friends of Walt Disney, Adler provides stories from his time working for Disney as a purchasing agent.  And he shares recollections from fellow cast members like Bob Penfield who was the last original Disneyland cast member to be employed by the park.  Penfield also provided Adler with a tape of a speech given by Walt Disney to Disneyland Cast Members on Disneyland's 10th anniversary. 

Adler sadly passed away before he could see the final printed book.  Jim Korkis assisted the final product by verifying facts, filling in incomplete manuscripts and organizing Adler's writings.  The book really does feel like a few different stories including the story of Walt's Garage, anecdotes of Adler the cast member, tales from other cast members and miscellaneous material about Walt Disney.  Adler's writing is honest and easy to read, though perhaps sparse at time.  And his story of The Friends of Walt Disney is interesting, very political and instructive for anyone looking to be part of a non-profit which plans to gift major property.  Adler lays out his opinions on events as he saw them, giving the reader the inside scoop.  In fact, he attempts to set some records straight.  The cast member recollections are very much in line with what one would expect, though coming from areas which are more logistical in nature such as Adler detailing purchasing practices at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  Readers looking to find stories about teenagers behaving poorly behind stage will be disappointed.  Those wanting insight into the final resting place on a key piece of Disney history may find themselves getting wrapped up into a tale of suspense, will the garage find a home?  For all audiences it is a quick and clear read which can be found on Kindle Unlimited. 

Did The Friends of Walt Disney find a home for Walt's Garage?  I simply cannot tell you, but those wanting a spoiler should feel free to click here!  If you pick up Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams you will not be satisfied until you know what happened to the garage and consider how you may become part of it's story.   

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, December 8, 2014

Between Books - Universal vs. Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Park's Greatest Rivalry

I have a general philosophy about a Disney vacation.  Why leave property?  I take long vacations where I spend nearly all of my time if not all under the Disney umbrella.  But during my last trip I did discover that I could have some fun without being in the Disney zone at all times.  So I am beginning to ask myself if there might be things in the entrainment industry outside of Disney that I would consider sampling.  But would I ever consider visiting Disney's biggest theme park rival?

Universal vs. Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks' Great Rivalry by Sam Gennawey details the foundation and expansion of Disney's theme park rival.  Universal's introduction to entertainment actually goes back to December 3, 1913, when Carl Laemmle opened his film studio to the public allowing them to see movies being made.  In 1915, Laemmle expanded his lot Universal Studio even further and began to stage a fake disaster for those who took the studio tour.  In 1958, Music Corporation of America (MCA) would purchase the Universal Studio lot and the studio tour would grow under the leadership of Lew Wasserman and his associates such as Jay Stein.  The MCA team would regularly work to create attractions that could attract locals and repeat business whie making the best commercial possible.  However, MCA saw their tour as an attraction that complimented not competed with Disneyland.  With the expansion of Disney into Florida in the 1970's, the Universal team looked to build a production studio and studio tour that could again complement Disney theme parks.  However, with the naming of Michael Eisner as Disney CEO, Disney announced their own movie theme park, which would become Disney-MGM Studios with attractions that seemed to duplicate Universal's plans for a Florida park.   With Disney's own announced park, the Universal team began a quest to build a park to challenge Disney with partners like Steven Spielberg.  The quest would not be easy as MCA changed hands through corporate sales.  Gennewey discusses Universal's failures, delays and eventual success in building a theme park that could rival Disney with Universal Orlando. 

I really enjoy Sam Gennawey books, and his books always come across as serious history to me.  His use of footnotes and extensive research makes it clear that his books are a step beyond the typical book directed for Disney fans but are also books that could be used by academic historians.  Universal vs. Disney is the kind of book that could be used in a theme park history course, and probably will be in the future.  And it has the tone of an academic monograph.  His writing is clear and easy to understand.  My chief criticism of his writing is that his chapters tend to stop abruptly.  I really wish he had provided a summary paragraph that captures the tone or theme of his chapters.   It would provide the reader both a review, but a sense of closure and likely foreshadowing of what is to come. 

One of the things that I really hoped for was a discussion of the Universal Orlando contract licensing Marvel characters.  As a Marvel Disney fan this contract fascinates me since you can see Captain America at the competition and not on Disney property.  Gennawey does give over five pages to the discussion of Marvel, but the majority of this information is about attraction development especially The Amazing Spider-Man: A Web Slinging 3-D Ride and not contracts.  And the Disney purchase of Marvel and the limitations in place for Disney's use of Marvel properties is not detailed.  I would have liked to see mention of the Avengers themed monorail for example.  I assume that this conversation was limited by two things.  First, Universal vs. Disney really is a book about the Universal theme parks.  And honestly that felt like a good choice to me so Gennawey did not have to repeat material from books including his own The Disneyland Story.  Since my knowledge of Universal and MCA history is quite small the book felt new and fresh to me.  Second. I doubt that the details that I want about the Universal/Marvel contract are really available for public review.     

As I mentioned, there is not as much Disney history as I expected.  Disney's presence is always there throughout the book, but Disney is a supporting actor not the co-star of the book.  Disneyland and Walt Disney World is discussed as a complimentary and different type of attraction; a theme park not a studio tour.  And until Eisner's arrival at Disney, Universal was really not attempting to promote themselves as the same type of experience as what Disney offered.  But Eisner really did serve as a catalyst for two entertainment companies.  While his leadership was taking Disney to new places, the image of him as a villain was taking Universal into the theme park industry with the hope of challenging Disney and embarrassing Eisner personally.  Eventually the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would finally reach a level of theming beyond Disney's high standards, forcing Disney to go to new places years after Eisner was no longer with Disney. 

Mistakes were made.  If Universal had the proposed Knight Rider/A-Team stunt show they hoped for, it would have had me through the gates years ago.  Sadly the show would never be.  And perhaps it was mistake on my part never visiting a Universal theme park.   Universal vs. Disney has shown me a history of a theme park that started four decades before Disneyland opened.  And I can truly say that I know understand how Disney both positively and negatively influenced the development of a non-Disney park.  

Review Copy Provided by Keen Communications

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cap's Comics - Ward Dizzley's 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics Digest #2

Ward Dizzley is back, or at least Hoot Gibson (Dave Ensign) and his tales of urban adventuring at the Walt Disney World Resort are in Ward Dizzley's 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics Digest #2.  The issue opens with a fictional introduction by Ward Dizzley, which serves as a tribute to Hoot Gibson's partner and late friend Chief.  This is followed by a story about an odd cast member at the Columbia Harbour House.  The second tale recounts guests doing drugs in the 1970s and stumbling into the submarine ride.  This is followed by two stories of Hoot Gibson sneaking into the show building of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with his friend Chief and another friend Mike Fink.  Along with the illustrated stories the comic includes ad parodies of Disney parks products and a collectible page of the "Mean People of the Magic Kingdom."

This comic is not for the kids.  It features profanity and adult situations.  The Between Kids are several years away from reading this illustrated title.  And superhero comic books fans are likely to not be as interested.  The stories themselves glorify urban exploring and humor.  And the dedicated audience that Hoot Gibson has gathered will surely enjoy this second issue.  The illustrations are cartoonish and fit the mood of the stories. Personally, I enjoy the humor of the ads the most since they capture the vintage feel of old comic advertisements and have a Saturday Night Live bit to them.  Overall, the audience of the title are those who like humor and stories of misbehavior on Disney property.  

The comic sells for $6, but a Kindle copy can be purchased for $3.99.  For those on Kindle Unlimited it can be borrowed for free which is what I did.  And I believe that the cheaper options are the paths that most readers should select.  Though Hoot Gibson fans will want the autographed physical copy.
Ward Dizzley's 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics Digest #2  will likely give most adults a laugh with either the stories of the ads.  But the key here is to remember to come with a sense of humor while keeping the kiddies reading Figment!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Between Books - I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand

If you are considering the Disney College Program you need to do your research.  Step one is considering which books you want your parents to read as you gather support, likely financial, to enter this program.  But then you might want to also think about which books you want to read but forbid your parents from ever seeing!  Because in a world of young adults, some of drinking age, some stories are rated a little bit more than PG-13.

In I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand: The Wild Side of Walt Disney World by Chris Grimm outlines the author's semester working as a lifeguard at the Walt Disney World Resort through the Disney College Program.  Grimm discusses why he chose to enter the Disney College Program, a decision that will seem especially odd since he did not grow up Disney obsessed kid.  He follows with his preparation in moving to Orlando and the all-important chore of room-mate first impressions.  Grimm's story is then dominated by parties, parties,  girls, parties, drinking, parties, girls and parties.  He clearly got as much as he could from the social aspect of the program spending time with his roommates, co-workers and his new found friends the Spanish Mafia (a group formed to participate in a massive weekly drinking game).  Grimm follows his time at Walt Disney World with a description of a trip to Spain where he spent time with his teammates from the Spanish Mafia.

I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand is not a book I would hand the Between Tween.  Grimm is very honest and explicit about his experiences, and I do mean explicit.  He details numerous parties including his intense drinking, as someone who was not drinking age at the time.  Grimm also outlines his philosophy on picking up girls, a technique he learned as he came out of his introverted nest.  And that includes the numerous hook-ups that these tactics brought him.  He discusses casual sex throughout the book, and there are no fairy tale romances to be found in his story.  Some of his descriptions of sexual encounters are highly detailed and have to be labeled erotic.  This is not a book for everyone and all age ranges.  Though I am sure for those looking to read about the social side of working in the Disney College Program this book will be a hit.  

The odd thing about this book is even if you do not agree with Grimm's choices, much like his father, you cannot help but like him as you read through the book.  He writes with a very straightforward manner that helps you like him, despite the fact he is making out with as many young ladies as possible.  Fathers should beware.  Grimm cares deeply for his friends.  He does not intend to hurt anyone, which means he is clear about his intentions with his numerous encounters.  And you as a reader want to see him succeed socially.  Though as a middle aged man I would like to see Mr. Grimm settle down...wait did I just become his dad?

In many ways older readers can understand books about the Disney College Program.  All of us have generally had that first experience, be it college or first apartments, where we were free to express ourselves for the first time without parental guidance.  For some it is party, for others it is hard work.  But for all of us it is likely a balance.  Grimm in I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand stresses one aspect of his life in the Disney College Program, the party.  There are some brief mentions to his work as a lifeguard which he appears to have enjoyed.  But all of us one way or another understand this life phase and a book like this allows us to remember our own walk, even if Disney was not involved.

I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand is not a book for everyone.  Though those within its audience are sure to chuckle as they read the book or hope they can duplicate similar experiences.  It serves as a fun, quick and enjoyable read.  For those on the fence and members of Kindle Unlimited, you can dip your toe in by borrowing the title for free.  As for me, the Between Kids are now barred from ever going to Walt Disney World without me!  But that's because they are not allowed to have fun without me!

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press     

Friday, November 28, 2014

Between Books - The Disney Festivals Guide to a Walt Disney World Christmas 2014

The Disney Festivals Guide to a Walt Disney World Christmas 2014 by Ken Bingham describes what a guest could expect during the 2014 holiday season at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Bingham describes all of the resort's Christmas time activities including all four theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the resort hotels.  There are also rumors, mostly Frozen related, as the book was written before the season.  He does provide an analysis of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for those considering this hard ticket event including tips on how to best manage their time.  But there is still plenty of information for those who do not spend extra for a ticket for this Magic Kingdom party. Bingham explains what to expect at The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the special storytellers one can find in Epcot, the Candlelight Processional and so much more.  

The Disney Festivals Guide to a Walt Disney World Christmas 2014 is a $2.99 Kindle book.  And at that price it is a title anyone visiting Walt Disney World during the holiday season, not just attending the party, should consider. You might be able to find much of this information elsewhere.  But the simple to search Kindle format allows one to have this information all downloaded to their phone for easy use.  One could easily carry the guide on their phone in the parks allowing for a quick review while making choices in the park.  And by downloading it beforehand one can research how to best spend time before arriving.  For those of us not going to Walt Disney World this year, the book provides an overview of what we are missing. The title is available for borrow on Kindle Unlimited for those who want to sample but not purchase the book.  

If you are going to Walt Disney World this holiday, The Disney Festivals Guide to Walt Disney World Christmas 2014 gives a good overview of events for planning purposes.  For the rest of us we can feel jealous of what we are missing in our real snow covered Betweenland.  And the price is low enough to please all of us as a low-risk purchase!  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Between Books - Main Street Windows

I was in the midst of researching Roy O. Disney and needed details on tributes to Mr. Disney in the parks.  It was Christmas and I had friends visiting the Walt Disney World Resort from Betweenland. At one point at 11 p.m. WDW time I was yelling into a cell phone hoping my friends could hear me over the capacity crowd, "I NEED A PICTURE OF THE DAVIS WINDOW."  Needless to say they could not hear me, could not find the window and only days later even figured out what I was looking for.   In today's world I could have avoided yelling. 

Main Street Windows by Jeff Heimbuch chronicles the visual tributes to Disney employees who have influenced the theme parks through honorific windows located primarily on Main Street U.S.A.. Heimbuch takes his readers through Disneyland, The Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland with a glance at every current window and even a few that have been removed.  Typically on the left hand pages Heimbuch provides the window text and biographies of the honored individuals with the right hand pages showing a picture of the window itself.  For the American parks this pattern if followed with every two pages featuring either one or two windows.  In the non-domestic parks there are less pictures and more windows featured every two pages primarily by text.  Though one discovers there are many more atmosphere only windows outside of the United States.

You ever try to take a good picture of Main Street Windows?  I have.  It is hard!  You think to yourself you can do it, you can get the right angle and the right light and it will happen...with your phone!  Yeah, you are hot mess if you think you can pull it off with a lack of time or equipment because with overhangs, canopies and angles shooting from the ground you are fighting a losing battle.  This for me is the real win of Main Street Windows, a resource with largely readable pictures of the windows.  It is clear that Heimbuch's team of photographers knew their way around a camera and found ways to photograph the windows in their best possible light, literally in some cases.  There are photos were shadows do obscure part of the window, but even the novice (like me) begins to realize the difficulty of photographing the windows and what a good representation of the widows the photos are.

If for some reason cannot read the window, Heimbuch does provide a full transcript of the window's inscription.  And he provides readers context by giving a brief write-up of who the window honors and why they deserved to be recognized on Main Street U.S.A..  As one reads through the biographies it becomes clear that many honored are not the known legends of Disney we can recite off the tip of our tongues.  Instead there are numerous men and women recognized whose names do get thrown around but are honored for providing excellent service to the parks.  The biographies for individuals with windows in multiple parks are largely copies of each other.  

If there is one thing I wish was added it would be an index.  It is easy enough to scan through the book with names in bold and text primarily being printed on the left hand side.  But an index would help speed readers to the window they are seeking in the book.

Main Street Windows by Jeff Heimbuch is the most comprehensive book on Disney's Main Street Windows.  For me it is an important reference, as any Disney writing I do includes me wanting to know about window tributes in the park.  Main Street Windows will be a first reach for me when I start to assemble outlines on Disney parks related projects in the future.

Review Copy Provided by Orchard Hill Press    

Monday, November 17, 2014

Between Books - The Deadliest Cast Member: Season Two

I often judge an episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by my tension level.  The more tense I am by the end of the episode the more I liked it due to the action and suspense.  So when I received my review copy of the latest installment in the Deadliest Cast Member saga I shot off an email to the author noting my worry he would kill off a character or two like he has done in the earlier offering. Before I even cracked the cover I was worried!

The Deadliest Cast Member: Season Two by Kelly Ryan Johns takes hero Jack Duncan and his partner Kendall Shepherd back to 2005.  Johns walks his readers through the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland, the day in which Duncan lost his wife and became a true national hero when former Soviet spy Nikolai Grusov held the park hostage.  Readers follow Jack throughout his day as he attempts to both protect the park and his family.  And as readers know the price is high since Duncan's life was changed forever this day.  The conspiracy against the park and the Duncan family is more complex than one might believe.  Along with following our heroes, readers also join guests and media being held hostage in the park.  While Jack and Kendall try to protect Disneyland and its guests, two pairs of time travelers also work to impact the final outcome.  One pair, Jack's father Stan and a companion close to the history of the park worry that changing the events of the fateful day could leave a larger scar on the timeline.  And the others, a pair of highly trained operatives from the future use futuristic gadgets and weapons to make a change that could have ramifications for the Duncan family in the far off 2035.

Early in this installment of the franchise the science fiction element is laid out.  While there is an action story being played out in front of us, there are time travellers in the park which are attempting to change or not change the story.  One of these characters is an adult version of one of the kids from the Voyageers' series of books by Johns.  And you do feel like this could be the grown-up character as you watch their personality and determination in action.  The other is one you start to believe has a more complex back story than time traveling criminal, and of course he does!

Really it is Jack and Kendall that I find myself most attracted to when I grab this book.  And this Jack seems more violent and less fatherly than the version that we met in the first installment set in the future.  That Jack is a father who has been raising his kids alone as a widower.  This Jack is freshly out of the military and just now starting a new job at Disneyland.  He literally has no idea who he can can trust other than a close circle that includes Kendall and his father.  He is focused and willing to do everything he can to protect his family and his beloved Disneyland.  Basically you can see this Jack as a earlier version of what we saw in the first volume.  One can see how the Jack we were introduced to grew from this man.  Of course Kendall is Kendall, he is solid, caring, and the best friend one can have.

Overall the book is easy to read and clear.  The story is written as an hourly log of events.  It did take me awhile to get myself into the book, or would that be hours as one reads it.  I was distracted by trying to keep track of who was who and trying to remember who I was introduced to before.  Though even when this was happening I was still able to enjoy the book while reading it at a fast pace.  But by the time I got into the last 40 percent, tension had risen.  I found I could no longer put the book down without being frustrated by my need to end the tension and find out what was happening next.  For a book that should have a set outcome I knew was going to happen, Johns found ways to bring me doubt to my certainty.

Will Jack Duncan return?  Johns makes it clear that is up to the fans and how they receive the story.  I for one hope to see a sequel to The Deadliest Cast Member: Season Two as Johns has some unfinished business for all his characters.  And I would really like to see if Jack Duncan or the man from 2035 is the greatest warrior of all time! 

Oh and yes, look for the post-credit scene Marvel Cinematic Universe fans!

Review Copy Provided By Author