Monday, October 31, 2011

Between Books - Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion graphic novel is 17 short tales based on the Disney parks attraction the Haunted Mansion.  Each story is written and drawn by a separate team or individual, the Haunted Mansion and its characters are the connective material that binds this volume together since every have a different writing and visual style.   Overall, these stories do not attempt to retell the story of the mansion but provide insights into “life” within the mansion, most often labeled Gracey Manor in the novel.  Stories range from how specific citizens arrived in the mansion, the rules of mansion life, and the behind the scenes lives of our favorite grim grinning ghosts.
With over 17 separate contributes these stories have a wide range of impact on me.  Some of them I absolutely loved.  These included “Blueprint for Murder”  which depicts the architects Mr. Coats and Mr. Davis.  The story plays off on the real life personalities of these Imagineering legends who lead the final design of the Haunted Mansions we have today.  Their competition with each other, the fictional Coats and Davis, leads to additions both physical and spiritual to the mansion.  “A Dynamite Party” gives us a humorous look at the origins of one of the portraits from the stretching room.   Other favorite looks with the Mansion include an explanation of why the caretaker continues to work in a haunted house and Madame Leota’s view of her current bodily state. 
This is not the in-depth storytelling that some graphic novel fans may want.  This book is no Fables.  But it does provide great glimpses into the spooky life.  I found many of the tales really delightful while others missed their mark with me.  I passed my copy off to a young Haunted Mansion fan and she devoured this book as quickly as possible.  And like me there were giggles of enjoyment as she churned through the pages.  Overall, this text is far from Shakespeare, but it does provide a fun connection to the Mansion for us living Between Disney. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Between Books - The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom by Susan Veness provides context, history and interesting facts to the parks of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida. The book serves as a tour of the parks, leading readers systemically through the lands of the four parks. Along with attraction and entertainment information, Veness provides readers with an easy to understand historical timeline for each park. Some text is bolded in the book to provide easy reference when casually scanning or using the text as a guidebook. Along with attraction descriptions there are also additional call outs called “Fascinating Fact” which calls attention to specific behind the scenes or interesting details and “Imagine That” which discusses in more depth the philosophy of Walt Disney Imagineering when developing projects.

This book provides an all in one overview of the Florida parks. So instead of needing multiple books on Walt Disney World, like with the Imagineering guides, one can sit down with one text and get a behind the scenes look at the entire resort. The text is easy to read, and a read most will probably find enjoyable. The Imagineering guides, do serve as a point of comparison with the most striking the difference between the two being images. The Imagineering guides are full of images and concept art. The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World is image free. Like the Imagineering Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, my viewpoint of this book has also changed from a guide to more of a historical testament of what was with the removal of Mickey’s Toontown Fair and the growth of Fantasyland. It really is amazing how quickly a book representing itself as a guide can move from timely to historical with the rate of change within the Disney parks! Veness notes she wants to help her readers see the details of the parks and attractions. In that goal she succeeds as she helps those of us often moving too fast to see what is in front of us to look behind our first glance to the remarkable details Imagineers have built into the parks. The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World is a nice all in one view of the parks of the Walt Disney World resort and a good starting point for growing a Disney obsession living Between Disney.

For more from the Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World series see Between Books - The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World Planner: A Complete Organizer, Journal and Keepsake for Your Unforgettable Vacation  and Between Books - The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney Trivia.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dreaming Disney - Totems

I love the movie Inception.  In this film, characters enter and experience dreams together.  In order to tell the difference between the real world and dream world the dreamers keep totems, small physical items the dreamer has intimate knowledge of that will show them if they are dreaming or awake.
For me living Between Disney my vacations often seem like they were dreams.  I live in a place so unlike Anaheim and Orlando that it is sometimes hard to believe that Space Mountain actually exists.  Luckily I stumbled accidentally on my first trip to my totems which remind daily that the Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort are actually real.  And they fit my personality.
I collect baseballs!
On my first trip to Downtown Disney in Orlando, I was shopping in the ESPN store when I picked up two baseballs.  I am a baseball fan.  One had the year of the trip and one had Mickey in baseball gear.  Little did I know that this would lead to me picking up several baseballs over the next few years.   About two years ago I realized I had for most of my trips the souvenir ball with the year on it for every visit but two trips.  This fact lead to an Internet and EBay search of several months that netted me my missing two balls. 
The balls are displayed in my office, and I look at them every day.  My totems remind me of where I have been, where I hope to go again, and that it’s real….it’s really real!
Here is my advice on a totem:
·         Small, easier to display.
·         Cheap, that way you never have to question the price tag.
·         Personal, I really like baseball and my friends will tell you that a Disney baseball is a good combination of two of my favorite interests.
I’m sure that I’m not the first one to pick up using totems out here Between Disney.  What’s your totem?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Between Books – Mousejunkies!

Do you ever have someone say to you, “Are you going to Disney again?”  Have you seen the eye rolls as you discuss your vacation or love of Disney parks?  Do you feel like no one understands you ad you discuss “ADRs”, “Extra Magic Hours”, or “Fastpass.”  Do all of your friends and family believe you have snapped since as a grown adult you talk about wanting to spend more time at the home of a cartoon mouse?  Stand tall, you are not alone.  And Mousejunkies! is the book that shows you that there are more people like you than you think. 
Bill Burke in Mousejunkies!: More Tips, Tales, & Tricks for a Disney World Fix updates his unique guidebook of the Walt Disney World Resort for the Disney obsessed.  After establishing answers to some simple questions, like why he hates Figment (his reasoning is very compelling), Burke jumps right into changes that have occurred or will soon occur or may not occur at all in the Disney parks since the first edition.  He then introduces what a Mousejunkie is and his fellow Mousejunkies who aided him with the writing of the book, including their specialties, which range from traveling as a teen to price is no-object touring.  Burke and his cohort then charge forward on vacationing basics ranging from weather, crowds, food, accommodations, and attractions in every park, naps, kids, getting sick on vacation and much much more.  Most of the overviews are straight to the point, not providing too much or too little information.  These overviews are often accompanied by advice from the Mousejunkies.  Additionally the text is sprinkled with segments like “Mousejunkie U” with facts about Disney, “The Straight Dope” clear concise advice on how Walt Disney World works, and “Awesome/Stupid Disney Idea” in which Burke shares well his crazy stupid awesome ideas on improving the Disney experience. 
So what is Mousejunkies!?  First it is a guidebook.  It has the essentials that any vacationer would need to know about planning a Disney vacation.  This includes overviews of food, attractions and accommodations.  This planning guide includes checklist for basics that vacationers need to pack, reserve and consider when preparing for a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort.  Second in is a humorous travel book.  I had many a hearty chuckle as I read Burke’s and his Mousejunkies’ stories and advice.  Even though I feel comfortable with my planning ability I still really enjoyed this book just in reading the funny anecdotes the Mousejunkies provided.  Finally, Mousejunkies is a manifesto.  Burke has identified who we are as Mousejunkies, makes it clear that more of us exist than we thought in the wild, and gives us permission to glory in our obsession. 
There are two audiences for this book.  First, newbies who are looking for advice on traveling to the Walt Disney World Resort from experienced Disney travelers.  There is a lot of information in this book, but again it’s not so detailed that it will scare off the first time Disney traveler.  For example, the menus may not be as in-depth as but it’s enough to help a vacationer decide if they want to eat at a specific restaurant.  And for these readers, Mousejunkies! will be a very helpful primer with plenty of solid vacation advice.  The second audience is the experienced Disney traveler who are likely to see this book in four stages.  Stage 1) Hey, these Mousejunkies speak my language.  Stage 2) Hey, this is really funny, I love puns about my favorite vacation destination.  Stage 3) I definitely agree/disagree with this piece of advice.  I would always/never share this advice myself.  Stage 4) You know I have heard of (insert Disney activity here) but I have never truly considered it for my family.  I think both potential audiences for this book will be highly satisfied with this guidebook with some extra punch!

Review Copy Provided by Traveler’s Tales/Solas House, Inc.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dreaming Disney – A New Disney Store

When I was in college my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I would occasionally visit the closest Disney Store.  Now, this was before I was Between Disney and I did not have the bug yet.  Still, I would walk through that store and know I was somewhere special.  I was in an experience to be enjoyed, an experience that had been crafted for my pleasure.  The Disney Store was more than shopping.  Years later, and after years of not having access to a Disney Store, I moved and the Mall of America Disney Store in Bloomington, Minnesota, became my closest store.  And what I found after all those years was a mall store.  There were Disney decorations, friendly cast members and merchandise that I wanted to buy.  But it was no longer the great experience I remembered when I was younger.  Though it was still the only store I would always shop through every time when visiting the Mall of America.

Recently, the Between Disney family saw that all change.  We received invitations to a pre-opening event of the new Disney Store at the Mall of America.  And I can happily say that at the Mall of America there has been planted a piece of the Disney experience.

The evening began with an opening ceremony.  Cast members brought a large green key to the door of the store.  They had a young girl, place the key into a lock officially opening the store.   
Opening Ceremony

The crowd entered into a store of earthy colors, greens and browns, that was warm and inviting.  Wood was everywhere throughout the store.  The store was decorated with white trees on which Disney characters were projected.  High on the walls were murals in green showing the silhouettes of characters like Pongo and Mickey Mouse.   On these murals were projecting videos of Disney characters.  My favorite was Carl Fredricksen being carried up into the air by balloons.  The cast members can control these projections, as they called for Buzz Lightyear to visit for my son.  After shouting for Buzz, the Space Ranger appeared on two walls of the store.   

The Checkout Area Highlights the Use of Wood

A child sized castle is at the front of the store.  When a child walks through the drawbridge, they enter into an area with a magic mirror.  When a child, or cast member, waves the proper princess branded toy in front of the mirror an image of that Princess emerges on mirror.  Laughter and smiles always followed this projection.  
The Castle
Magic Mirror

In the back of the store was a round display of plush characters.  There are wheels on the side of the display that when turned spin the display.  Additionally there are buttons on the wheels that make noises when pushed.  In the middle of the display was a small tunnel that kids can climb through.  The plush display was a huge hit with the under 5 crowd in the store between the movement and the ability to climb under it.  
Plush Display

Towards the middle of the store was a theater with a massive curved television screen.  The screen was constantly playing scenes from Disney productions.  In front of the screen was a child size table with coloring pages and crayons.  In the theater there were also activities led by cast members for both kids and adults.  First was “Mike’s Trivia Challenge” a ten question game using the video screen to present the questions and answers.  I played with my daughter, getting all of the questions correct.  Eight of the ten were easy enough for a child to answer and my daughter easily got them, one multiple choice was more difficult and required knowledge of film production not plot or characters, and one semi-difficult true and false question about Walt Disney.  All of the participants received a certificate touting their trivia expertise.  Later, the theater was the location for a group “Hot Dog Dance” for which the children received a foam microphone as a prize.  A prize the kids loved.  Next, the theater was the staging area for a parade through the store with children sporting Disney character masks.  Finally as we left, the theater was used for a drawing lesson on the video screen using store supplied paper, crayons and clipboards.  These activities were all hits with the children and were led by enthusiastic cast members. 
Hot Dog Dance Instruction
The Theater

The store may have changed, but the cast members have not.  And it was clear they were enjoying this opening of the new store.  I saw some tearing up as they watched customers enjoying the new store.  And they enjoyed every activity they led the children in.  And they often asked our children friendly questions about their favorite Disney characters and if they had found their desired merchandise.  They were very helpful, friendly and everything you would expect from a Disney cast member. 
The Disney Store website and cast members claim that these interactive stores will be “The Best 30 minutes of a Child’s Day.”  This may be a cliché or marketing phrase, but it is also a reality.  The merchandise was mostly focused on children’s items, so both our youngest and oldest shopped till they dropped.  I took two children to the store and they laughed, smiled, danced, paraded, played and even shopped for 90 minutes.  It was not until minute 95 that a short afternoon nap kicked in and ended the day.  I often say one should under promise and over deliver; in this case the Disney Store gave us 60 minutes more than promised of greatness in my children’s day.  And as I spoke to new friends about the store opening and our Disney moments, for a time I forgot I was Between Disney. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Between Books – Spinning Disney’s World

Charles Ridgeway in Spinning Disney’s World: Memories of a Magic Kingdom Press Agent details his 30 plus years publicizing Disney parks around the world as both a full time cast member and a consultant.  When Disneyland opened for its press preview in 1955, Ridgeway was there as a member of the press.  And he often covered Disney news stories for the Los Angeles Mirror-Press as a reporter who lived near the Anaheim park.  In 1963, Ridgeway became a Disney cast member in Public Relations, a field he did not feel a good fit for his journalistic background.  Instead of taking on a short term job, he instead found himself embarking on a 3 decade career promoting Disney parks and attractions to the press.  Ridgeway would later relocate to Florida to promote the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort.  This would be followed by promotion of three additional parks within the resort, anniversaries, and attraction openings.  Ridgeway would also help expand the parks worldwide using the lessons learned from promoting the American parks to spread the word about Disneyland Paris and later in a part-time role Hong Kong Disneyland.  Throughout the book, Ridgeway makes it clear that his success was based entirely on building personal relationships. 
I have heard Ridgeway interviewed on podcasts and have enjoyed listening to him share stories of his work for Disney.  So my anticipation of this book was fairly high.  Sadly that was tempered by poor organization.  None of the chapters have titles or coherent themes.  You may be reading on one topic and then have the chapter suddenly switch themes with little to no transition.  Later a similar topic may be brought up again in an unrelated chapter.  Overall, one gets the feeling that this book is an elder sharing his stories and opinions around a dinner table, not in a book.   A little reorganization could really have helped improve this book and helped keep focus on Ridgeway’s stories.  What I took away from this book is the importance of personal relationships in getting good publicity for the Disney parks.  Ridgeway fostered those relationships which lead to reporters, editors, producers and even celebrities talking favorably without prompting about Disney.  In many ways this makes sense as it is often the interactions that Disney fans had with cast members and the attractions on a personal level that have had the most impact on our fandom. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dreaming Disney – WEDway Radio

I have to be honest.  When I started listening to Disney podcasts I gave WEDway Radio a stab.  I listened to two to three episodes and then I put it aside.  I just was not at a place where it filled my needs.  I was in a furious planning mode trying to get as much planning information as I could as quick as I could.  The episodes I listened to were about Disney history, I mean seriously who is interested in that (okay, I am*)!   I didn’t need detail, how could that make my trip better?  I wanted how to get the most out of FastPass, not history.  I made a  mistake and quit listening.
Months after my vacation things had changed.  Now I was no longer planning for the future but trying to keep my connection the parks while living Between Disney.  So my podcast diet changed and some Disney podcasts that I used for planning dropped off my playlist.  Instead I looked again at podcasts that provided historical topics or those more relevant to me if I was not going to a park for a year or two.  So I gave WEDway Radio another try and I have not stopped listening since.
What I really enjoy are those historical topics that I thought I did not want earlier.  Historical show topics have included a decade by decade timeline of the Walt Disney World Resort, the Disney and George Lucas relationship, the 1964 World’s Fair, park retrospectives and more.  These topics allow me to go deeper into the back story of the Disney parks and are a real treat.  News and current events also make appearances in episodes like their Disney California Adventure progress report or interview with Bret Iwan the current voice of Mickey Mouse.  And there are even vacation planning shows in episodes that discuss vacation strategies.  Along with the podcasting, the hosts blog along with other contributors at the WEDway Radio website. 
Recently the WEDway Radio team has added another podcast “WEDway NOW” to their offerings, a podcast focusing on recent news.  I am a big fan of this recent trend for podcasts to separate news items from topical items.  This step should help WEDway Radio in keeping their content evergreen.   
One of the aspects I enjoy about this podcast is it’s not produced by a team living in Florida or California.  Like me, brothers Matt and Nate Parrish are Midwest boys.  So they do not have the ability to jump into a park every weekend or month.  Sure they talk about Disney vacations, but like most of us the trip is the exception to the rule.  They help to show you don’t have to be living right next to the park in order to live out your Disney dream.  Being Between Disney simply does not disqualify you from moving your dream forward.  So if you have a dream, don’t let your location stop you.  It has not stopped Matt and Nate and because of it many of us have been entertained and informed on a number of Disney topics. 

*I do have both a BA and MA in history, so yes I like history. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mousey Movies – Iron Man 2

My friends like superhero movies. I like superhero movies. My friends seem to like Iron Man more. I like Iron Man 2 more. In fact my friends seem to strongly dislike Iron Man 2. To be honest, despite their attacks on the story, I just do not see how one cannot but love this Mousey Movie!

In this sequel to 2008’s Iron Man, the world knows that Tony Stark is the superhero Iron Man. Of course this leads to problems. The U.S. government wants Stark’s weapon, the Iron Man suit. And a Russian bad guy named Anton Vanko believes Tony and his father Howard stole his own father’s technology for the development of the arc reactor which powers the Iron Man suit. Howard Stark had Vanko’s father deported leading to a life of poverty while Tony had a life of affluence. And the Iron Man suit and the pacemaker that keep Tony alive want something from him too, his life. Tony is slowly being killed by the arc reactor powering his heart. This leads to fights with friends, girlfriends, industrial competitors, Vanko and self through bad life choices. This all leads us to ask, how will Tony Stark survive?

A Mousey Movie you say? Well of course! Yes, Disney does own Marvel and Iron Man is a Disney character. But the movie was developed pre-Disney acquisition, so it’s not fair to say that it was developed as a Disney project. Though by the time of release in May 2010, Marvel was fully a member of the Disney family and any visit to the Disney Store made it clear that Iron Man was part of the House of Mouse. No, it’s not the ownership by Disney that makes this a Mousey Movie, it’s the fact that I see Iron Man 2 as a tribute to the life and legacy of Walt Disney and his theme parks. When viewed it that light it is impossible to not appreciate the final product released to theaters.

  • Stark Expo: The Stark Expo screams World’s Fair, even for those not aware of Disney history. And for those that do know Disney history you cannot escape the parallels to Walt Disney and the World’s Fair. Both the Stark Expo and the 1964 New York World’s Fair are held in Flushing Meadows. At the 1964 World’s Fair, The Walt Disney Company designed four shows. These were it’s a small world, Progessland with the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln with a Abraham Lincoln Audio-Animatronic, and The Ford Magic Skyway. All four of these shows were precursors to attractions in both the Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort. And the 1964 incarnation of the World’s Fair showed Walt Disney that there was an audience for a Disney park on the East Coast because the Disney attractions were crowd favorites.

  • Howard Stark: During the movie we are shown “recorded” clips and outtakes used by Tony’s father Howard Stark to promote Stark Expo 1974. And one can only come to one conclusion, Howard Stark is Walt Disney. For those who have seen Walt Disney promotional films where he introduced projects ranging from Disneyland to Walt Disney World and Epcot with the use of maps and models, one cannot but feel that the character of Howard Stark is based on Walt Disney.

  •  “Make Way for Tomorrow Today”: The theme song for Stark Expo 1974 seems like it could be dropped right into a Disney park. There is a reason for that. It was written for the movie by Richard Sherman. As part of the team that brought us “it’s a small world” and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, Mr. Sherman knows a thing or two about written a song for a theme park. I have added “Make Way for Tomorrow Today” onto my MP3 player, and it fits in perfectly with the Disney attraction themes living on my Zune, the iPod killer!

So if you are in a Disney mood, but are not in the mood for cartoon animals or want to have some excessive explosions, throw in Iron Man 2. It will bring you a little bit closer to home living Between Disney.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Between Books: Four Decades of Magic

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort.   Chad Denver Emerson celebrates this anniversary in Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World.  The book consists of over 25 essays on various aspects of Walt Disney World history.  These essays are written by respected Disney enthusiasts and historians such as Sam Gennawey, Jim Korkis, Lou Mongello, Michael Scopa and others.  The topics found in the collection are as diverse as the authors. Essays rank from topics including ghosts, parades, extinct attractions like Horizons, Discovery Island and even two separate essays on the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review.  This diversity makes for a rich and often surprising experience.

I love this book.  My copy sits on my book shelf filled with little flags to mark pages that I want to quickly reference.  Michael Scopa's essay "The Carousel of Progress: What Would Walt Think?" is one that tugs at my heartstrings and reminds us how far cast members will go to create a magical experience.  Mike Lee's "Thunder Mesa & the Western River Expedition: A Neverending Story" makes me hope that is really is true Imagineering does not throw any good idea away, and maybe someday this surefire Marc Davis classic can come into existence.  Overall, these essays brought me back to a park I love to share with family and take me away from cold Midwestern nights (and days) back to the warm Florida sun.  This book is a fitting tribute to 40 years of magic moments and I look forward to other offerings from Ayefour Publishing which cater to the Disney Dork!