I never met Dreamfinder. I am not obsessed with Dreamfinder. I have no nostalgia for the old version of Journey to Imagination at Epcot. In fact I have warmer feelings for the Audio-Animatronic Sonny Eclipse at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, and he is not even alive! Dreamfinder and the height of Figment’s presence in the park were simply before my time. So I looked to From Dream to Dreamfinder as a chronicle of an Epcot, character and attraction that I never experienced. And coming from that perspective I was shocked to how much I connected with Ron Schneider’s From Dreamer to Dreamfinder.
Schneider, best known as the original Dreamfinder at Epcot’s opening in 1982, chronicles his life in themed entertainment in From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag. While Disney fans may be aware of the character of Dreamfinder and expect much of the book to be about Schneider’s time at Epcot, readers instead will find a book that outlines a long and diverse experience in themed entertainment ranging from theme parks, dinner shows, and historical reenactments. Schneider starts with his childhood and his growing love of Disney, including his attendance at the first operational day of the Disneyland Park. Schneider becomes what can only be called a Disney fan collecting park memorabilia while also showing an interest in theater. In 1971, Schneider begins his first job as a in park performer. He portrays a mountain man whose performance partner is a lion named Major! Schneider moves forward improving his acting skills until he in 1980 becomes an understudy to legendary Disney performer Wally Boag at The Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland. While in Disney employment he hears of a character created by Imagineer Tony Baxter planned for the second park at the Walt Disney World Resort, Epcot. Schneider auditions for the new role and becomes the original Dreamfinder, helping to define the character and his interactions. After several years portraying this iconic character, Schneider shifts into other roles including freelance writing, writing and supervising the celebrity look-a-likes at Universal Studios Florida, serving as a guide for Titanic: The Exhibition, and a return to Disney opening the new Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Schneider closes the book with five appendixes sharing his years of experience on themed entertainment.
I found this book very surprising. I thought I would find a nicely written memoir that looked fondly on professional experiences and almost exclusively within Disney Parks. What I found instead was refreshing. First Schneider makes it clear that he was a Disney fan before he even became a performer, starting as a kid. And his fandom continues into the age of the Internet with his participation in the Disney fan community. Additionally, I expected that of this book at least a third would be dedicated to Dreamfinder at Epcot. Instead, this is far from the focus of the book. Instead the diversity of Schneider’s career stands out. I felt as if he went more in-depth into his time supervising the look-a-likes at Universal than his days as Dreamfinder, which makes sense he spent twice as much time in that role. I did not realize that this book would start in Disneyland, and that he had experiences at Walt’s original park. And the diversity of Schneider’s experiences helps highlight the range of themed entertainment experiences, I had not expected for example to read chapters, and very interesting chapters at that, on dinner shows. If I could ask for more content on any one of these topics it would have been his tenure with Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. But his lack of in-depth discussion on how the magic is made, which he alludes to but does not spell out for his reader, is likely due to the respect he is giving an active show.
I really came into this read with preconceptions that were proven wrong. Because another expectation I had was Schneider would paint a very rosy picture of his days at Disney and other themed entertainment experiences. Instead, the book is highly realistic about these experiences and at times Schneider names the guilty. There is at least one personality that he speaks of in code, a personality that Schneider clearly did not like, but in general he talks about people known within the themed entertainment circles. For example, he discusses Crazy Joe of the restaurant Fiascos in depth, including both positive and negative points about his personality and operation. And he is not above criticizing shows found in amusement parks such as calling out the shortcomings of a show titled “Super-Santa-Tastic Extravaganza” before a guest even sees the show. Schneider is frank about situations in which he felt his contribution was ignored or overlooked. And he even discusses the burn-out of being a Disney cast member and character. Overall he is very frank as he invites the reader into his life.
I really enjoyed, as you can probably guess, this well written memoir. Ron Schneider is engaging and shares his experiences both on and off stage. And despite the fact that for me the nostalgic factor was non-existent even I could feel the excitement on the back of my neck as I read of his return as Dreamfinder at the 2011 D23 Destination D event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort. Dreamfinder’s, I mean Schneider’s, writing made it clear that something special and emotional was going to happen even to the non super-fan. From Dreamer to Dreamfinder is a well written and highly engaging book that provides depth to the performance aspects of theme parks, and an essential for Between Book libraries.
Review Copy Provided by Bamboo Forest Publishing