Monday, February 25, 2013

Between Books - Hidden Mickey 5 Chasing New Frontiers

Book cover showing the Mark Twain riverpoint under fireworks
When I was a kid I read a lot of fiction. In the summer I may read a fiction book a day. But college beat it out of me. I read, read, read and so much of it was history and never ever fiction. I got into the habit of reading about one fiction book a year, if that. I have gotten into reading some fiction again in the last few years, but mostly comic books. And in the case of comic books I can rush through a story in 15 minutes to an hour. So I have just not felt qualified to review much fiction. In fact I have waived off possible review opportunities solely because I did not feel prepared. Then author and publisher David W. Smith pressed the issue, he sent me a copy of Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers, and being me I could not ignore the title.

Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers by David W. Smith is a tale that encompasses the entirety of Disneyland history. In the main storyline Disneyland cast member Blaine Walters meets and falls in love with guest Missy Johansen from Switzerland. Realizing that they are likely experiencing a brief fling the two spend as much time as possible enjoying each other’s company, Disneyland and the surrounding area. As they spend time together they uncover the mystery of stolen money and a pendent owned by Walt Disney, with potential paranormal powers stolen by a former Disneyland landscaper. And if there is not enough drama in this love story, Missy is actually a rising pop star hiding her true identity from Blaine. Will Blaine and Missy find the treasure hidden within Disneyland? Will the two young adults be able to continue their relationship beyond their short week together? Well, you will get no spoilers from me!

The first impression that popped out to me was that Blaine Walters is based on Smith himself. Blaine is a teacher, skilled tennis player, a cast member who works at the Davy Crockett Explorer canoes, and busies himself with a local band. Readers of In the Shadow of the Matterhorn will notice that this profile matches Smith’s own. Additionally, some of the fictional stories found in the book, like a romantic encounter with a security guard in the Haunted Mansion, match real life experiences that Smith had. In effect, Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers is a fictional account of Smith’s life with less canoe races and more pop star. This fact helps the story to ring true, as readers of his non-fiction book understand that Smith is writing from experience making his settings real Disneyland locations and the scenes largely ones that feel real.

The question that I had asked myself was could I read Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers without reading any other book in the series. The answer is absolutely yes. These earlier books, written by a combination of Smith and Nancy Temple Rodrigue, seem to be more supernatural in nature than this volume. Additionally they do not appear to have Blaine and Missy as main characters, from my searching on Amazon. The character that seems to overlap is Mani Wolford, the Wolf, a security officer that works in both our modern day and the early years of the park. The fact that Wolf has an air of mystery around him, and a clear understanding of magical things makes we want to know more about him.

I would describe the book as a romance first, with a mystery mixed in all set around Disneyland. Romance books are not my typical fare; I tend to read history or action (comics), so it was a little outside my wheelhouse. Yet, I was still able to find entertainment in the book. Of course the hook was the Disneyland setting, and the mixing in of Disney history. But the romance in the book still came off to me as interesting. If anything, though I would not trade my romance with the Between Wife away, I found a hankering to be alone with the Between Wife in Disneyland, silly kids! The romance itself is sweet and not overly sexualized, which was a breath of fresh air.

The book itself is big, like over 500 pages long. For some reason I found my reading pace to be slower than I typically do with non-fiction books. It took me over ten days to read it, mostly on a train. But I never set it aside for other books, and was ready to pick it back up whenever the opportunity arose. I am a man in my 30s, and it kept my attention.

The tale of Blaine and Missy is a sweet romance in a setting that I love. The mystery element and the setting will attract readers that typically would not flock to a romance novel. Despite the fact I question if a first timer would not be told to order the Monte Cristo at Club 33, I will admit it does seem a little heavy for Missy’s tastes. I could easily recommend Hidden Mickey 5: Chasing New Frontiers as a vacation book for those visiting a Disney park, looking for entertainment with some light tension with hooks that could pull in a variety of readers.

Review Copy Provided by Synergy Books Publishing

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mousey Movies - Star Wars The Clone Wars Series

The animated cast of Star Wars the Clone Wars in a lineup.
My enthusiasm for the Disney purchase of LucasFilm is still high! Part of my excitement is so much of the Star Wars universe is already part of the Disney experience. R2-D2 and CP30 are already part of the parks with Star Tours The Adventure Continues and its predecessor putting Star Wars environments into the reach of parks’ guests. And of course the merchandise is easily available, I take pride in my Darth Vader Star Tours 2011 re-opening tumbler. I like to take it to meetings to show my allegiance to the Dark Side. But in many ways the most visible presence today for the Star Wars universe, the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars television program has distinguished voice cast with voices that most Disney fans will likely be familiar with:

  • Agent Rex: Voice actor Dee Bradley Baker is brilliant. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars he literally plays an army, voicing every clone. Baker is able to not only voice them but in his performance provide clones with different personalities through his portrayals. Along with the clones, he also provides a number of other voices and at times sound effects. Often at the end of a cartoon, and not only this one, you will find Baker listed as additional voices, as he provides sounds that help the crew create the soundscape they are looking for. He is a vocal genius! For Disney, Baker’s most prominent role is Perry/Agent P on Phineas and Ferb, yes I said voice for a platypus that doesn’t do much. His other credits are literally too long to list but include Turner the Screwdriver on Handy Manny, Boba Fett in Star Tours The Adventure Continues, Boo Boo Chicken on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and so many many more.  Dee Bradley Baker is one of the few celebrities I have had an encounter with. Baker was part of a Phineas and Ferb signing that the Between Family participated in at the 2011 D23 Expo. As I slid my journal in front of Baker to sign I said, “Thank you Captain Rex!” Baker smiled, looked at me and in his clone voice said, “You are welcome sir.” That one small sentence pretty much sealed my fandom for Agent P and the Clones.

  • Rumbly Tummy: Just like Baker, actor Jim Cummings’ credits are impossible to list in their entirety here. Cummings’ most prominent role in Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the pirate Hondo. Hondo dreams of profit, and has shown the ability to betray allies and even threaten children to get his delicious profit. Cummings’ most popular Disney role is serving as the current voice of Winnie the Pooh on television and movies such as 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. I think that Pooh is really a much safer character in his craving for honey! Other roles of Cummings include voicing Tigger, Pete on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the hyena Ed in The Lion King, and pretty much a voice in any direct to video Disney animated movie or Disney television production you can think of since 1985. Good guy, cuddly bear, bad guy, really bad buy, Cummings is everywhere!

  • Hook: Cartoons are really popular in the Between House. There are three shows that are in heavy play from the Disney Channel in our house. They are Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Captain Hook is voiced by another master voice actor Corey Burton. Burton provides numerous voices in Star Wars: The Clone Wars including the head of the Separatists Count Dooku, bounty hunter Cad Bane and gangster Ziro the Hut amongst many others. In a running theme of Star Wars voice actors crossing over to Mickey’s world, Burton also voices Ludwig Von Drake on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Amongst Burtons other credits you will find the video game Epic Mickey, Mole in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and numerous voices in Hercules. Along with movies and television, Burton has been able to match the voice of Disney legend Paul Frees. Burton provides narration matching Frees as the Ghost Host for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday and some of the Pirates that Frees originally voiced in Pirates of the Caribbean. Burton is both a prolific Disney and Star Wars performer.

  • River Guide: The moments that have lead to the most excitement in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars for fans have often been the introduction of original trilogy characters. The Clone Wars debut of the future Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, the future commander of the original Death Star, as Captain Tarkin was a key moment and has led to many questions such as does Tarkin know that Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? I lean towards yes! Fans have loved the portrayal of Tarkin, voiced by Stephen Stanton, an actor who honestly has been very good to fans. He has appeared several times on The ForceCast reading children’s stories as another one of his characters the criminal Moralo Eval (quick side note: only let the kids listen if you want them to have nightmares). Stanton like Burton is a voice who is already in Disney parks. He voices the Riverboat Captain onboard the Mark Twain at Disneyland and Stinky Pete in Toy Story Mania at Disney California Adventure and Disney Hollywood Studios. For those who attended the 2011 D23 Expo, Stanton narrated the opening film for the Carousel of Projects.

  • Happy: If any moment was more anticipated than the introduction of Chewbacca or Tarkin, it was the introduction of Boba Fett’s people the Mandalorians. Many fans were shocked to be told that the Mandalorians were pacifists! But a splinter terrorist organization called Death Watch hopes to bring the Mandalorians back to their warrior past in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Death Watch is lead by Pre Vizsala voiced by Jon Favreau. Favreau is best known to Disney fans for his directing talents in the Marvel offerings Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and a producing credit on The Avengers. He also portrays Tony Stark’s chauffeur Happy Hogan in the first two Iron Man films and the forthcoming Iron Man 3, which he will not direct. Why won’t he direct? Because he is busy working on the first major movie to use a Disney Park as both a background and plot device, Magic Kingdom.

  • Winter is Coming: Since the first time that I saw Star Wars: Episode One A New Hope, I was left with an open question. Obi-Wan Kenobi informed Luke Skywalker that his father fought in the Clone Wars. What were the Clone Wars and what was Anakin Skywalker’s role during that conflict. For decades this was an unanswered question until the release of the prequel trilogy. Star Wars: The Clone Wars builds on these prequel answers and Anakin is often at the center of this story. Actor Matt Lanter voices Anakin Skywalker, and being a young man he does not have the credits, yet, of a Baker or Burton. But he has been added steadily to his voice credits and Disney related productions have been one avenue for the building of his resume. In Ultimate Spider-Man he voices young men full of angst, Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, and villains Venom and Klaw. But the role that caught my attention, and I’m not sure how Star Wars fans will fell about it, is Sled in the Tinker Bell movie Secret of the Wings. Yes the same actor that portrays one of the greatest Jedi generals of all time, a future Lord of the Sith, also voices a tiny winged fairy who aids Tinker Bell! I guess it is probably not really a stretch since both are mystical characters.
Star Wars had a huge impact on my childhood and Star Wars: The Clone Wars is becoming a part of the Between Kids’ memories. Before Disney announced the addition of LucasFilm, this animated cartoon was already a Mousey Movie, I mean television show. The cast is very familiar with Disney projects both in films and in the parks. And I continue to believe Star Wars is a great addition to the Disney catalog, because honestly Disney is very familiar with the franchise already!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Interview with Michael D. Sellers

Show Logo for the Sci-Fi Christian
Recently I joined my friend Matt Anderson, along with Koby Radcliffe, on The Sci-Fi Christian to interview Michael D. Sellers, the author of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

Topics in this interview range from the history of John Carter, Disney Marketing, fandom and the future of the franchise.

I hope you enjoy this interview, I thought it was really fun. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Between Books - Walt Disney's Nine Old Men: The Flipbooks

Book displaying 10 small books and collectors box
Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men: The Flipbooks brings the skill of Walt Disney’s key animators to the reader’s hand. The title actually consists of 10 separate small books within a box. The smallest in size and the only soft cover, produced by animator Peter Doctor, provides background on each of these legends and provides a description of how films were animated during the era of the Nine Old Men. The essays describing each one of these legends are written by animation experts or friends of the animators such as John Canemaker, Don Hahn and Glen Keane. The remaining books are all hard covers and contain pencil drawings from the animators in a flipbook that the reader can animate by quickly turning the pages. The flipbooks cover the following:
  • Ollie Johnston: Thumper from Bambi
  • John Lounsbery: Elephants from Dumbo
  • Les Clark: Sorcerer Mickey from Fantasia
This offering is part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Archive Series.

The flipbooks are very handsome. And of course the art within the flipbooks are fantastic since they are portions of classic Disney animated scenes from the pencils of legends. And it is kind of fun to flip through the books, though I still do not have the fluid flipping I would prefer. But overall I would label Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men: The Flipbooks as fun.

But it is also somewhat pricey. The list price is $60, but Amazon has it for around $35. So as the Between Wife watched me flip the books she asked, how much did you pay for it? And I was somewhat bashful in stating the price, especially for just an hour of fun if I never pick it up again. So I would say this is probably a book not for everyone. Those who would want to purchase this are Between Books completionists and animation fans.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men: The Flipbooks is a fun interactive read. It will be most appreciated by animation fans and Disney book collectors. But for those with only a light interest, it is probably best to look elsewhere to build your Between Book library.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Smuggler's Gambit

Smuggler's Gambit cover showing Han, Chewy, Boba Fett and others from the story.
When I was a teenager I volunteered at a library during the summer. This gave me unrestricted access to pretty much all the contents of the library. Did I mention that it was a library for the blind? So the Braille books were inaccessible to me since I did not read Braille. Of course, that also meant that a teenager could shelve Braille copies of Playboy with no fear, sorry kids there were not tactile representations of the pictures! And the books on record were honestly not very portable when working an 8 hour shift moving all day! But the books on tape were a joy. I could grab a book and throw it into the specialized tape player which we had plenty of laying around. And headphones were everywhere, which I really did not need since I often worked alone on deserted stacks. One day I realized that everything on tape was not a book, they also had radio plays!

What’s a radio play kids? Well before television you had to imagine the action in your mind! Radio dramas were the most popular from the 1930s to 1960s before television became a standard in most homes. The actors, played out the story dramatically with the assistance of in studio sound effects to help the listener imagine the action. When I made my discovery in the library stacks, I threw myself into the world of The Shadow and The Green Hornet. After a few summers I really came to appreciate how fun a radio show can be, especially when you need to pass some time.

Let me speed you up to 2012. In 2012 at Star Wars Celebration V, director Kyle Newman gathered together a group of Star Wars: The Clone Wars actors and Jimmy Mac from RebelForce Radio and put together a live Star Wars radio drama for the fans in attendance. has this radio drama, Smuggler’s Gambit: A Han Solo Adventure, available for free download.

There is also a Facebook page to keep you updated on future Radio productions from this group.   

You really should check it out if you are a Star Wars fan, or becoming one as you become familiar with this new Disney property. The voice acting is top notch and the production value is not what you would expect for a free presentation. It is fun adventure focusing around Han Solo, that almost everyone could enjoy on a slow day in Betweenland even if you are not an over the top fan.  And it will take you back to a time when there was not a promise of a future full of Star Wars and you had to rely on your imagination to create new images of Star Wars.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Between Books - The Revised Vault of Walt

Book cover showing a Mickey Mouse shaped safe.
Jim Korkis in The Revised Vault of Walt makes some of his earlier writings found in the out-of-print The Vault of Walt available again in print. In this newly revised edition some stories have been removed, largely to make a smaller edition. In this new version, 14 of the original chapters have been removed, with five new additions in their place. The new five chapters cover:

  • “Eating Like Walt” – A discussion of Walt Disney’s favorite foods.
  • “And the Oscar Goes To…Walt Disney” – Highlights from Walt Disney’s numerous Academy Awards.
  • “The Carousel of Progress” – A history of the ride currently at the Walt Disney World Resort.
  • “The Man Who Shot Walt Disney” – An essay on Disneyland photographer Renie Bardeau.
  • “The Song of the South Frequently Asked Questions” – A preview of Korkis’ book Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South.
Otherwise the stories carried over from The Vault of Walt appear largely unchanged, except for some editing to the “Introduction”.

I think the first obvious question is why a revised edition? The clearest reason is the original The Vault of Walt is now out of print and not readily available. With a new publisher who has bought the content and which also published Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South it was decided to put a new edition into the market. Korkis states in “The Welcome to the Revised Edition”,
I wanted a more streamlined, travel-size version available at a more affordable price. It was agreed that doing so might attract new readers who were intimidated by the size and the price of the original edition, despite all the good reviews.
And honestly, one of the first things I noticed when I saw my copy was the smaller size of this revised edition. Which of course lead me to seek out what was removed.

Since the chapters are essays the removals do not take away from the remaining chapters. Some removals seem logical, such as “Song of the South Premiere” which is a topic now covered now in Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South. Others like “Santa Walt” and “Return to Marceline 1956” were some of my favorites since they covered the lives of Walt and Roy O. Disney. I am one of these readers who was not intimidated by the size of the first edition. In fact, I reveled in the original, giving myself three weeks to savor the book. But Korkis and his publisher do promise a Vault of Walt Sampler for Kindle in the future containing the missing chapters.

Of the new additions, they are typical of Korkis’ writing, so Korkis fans will enjoy the style. They are clear and factual. The chapter of Walt Disney’s food favorites led me ask if the Between Wife would make Walt Disney’s chili recipe, I was told she liked her’s better. Despite her resistance, the chapter really shows how Walt Disney’s tastes were simple, likely due to his upbringing. And the chapter on the Academy Awards really highlighted for me the recognition that Disney received for his film innovations. And the chapter on Bardeau provides an intimate glimpse of Walt the man and employer to me. The only one that did not hit with me was Song of the South chapter, mostly due to the fact I have Korkis’ full book on this topic. The FAQ really just highlights topics you can find more in depth in that book.

When I reviewed The Vault of Walt I stated, “This book is excellent and should be on the shelves of every Disney library.” So is this statement still true. First, I am someone who liked the bigger edition, and even with the additions the revised version is 9 stories short. Some may actually enjoy this fact due to the smaller size. But some of my favorite chapters are now absent. And this new edition seems to have a printing problem in the second half of the book with type that appears smeared though still readable, in my copy. But, the original is out of print! And honestly, the secondary price for the original is outrageous. Just checking as I write this review there are copies listed on Amazon for over $500. So I simply cannot recommend seeking out the original. If you did not get a copy of the original, you must purchase The Revised Vault of Walt, since it financially makes sense and has plenty of the content I enjoyed in the original. Then once the Kindle sampler is released, you will be ahead of the game with access to more tales than the original offered. If you own the original, I would suggest the Kindle edition to get the new essays for a lower cost than a print edition.

I found The Vault of Walt to be a surprise hit for me. And I am thankful that Theme Park Press and Jim Korkis have found a solution to make most of this content available at an affordable price. When their plan is complete, we will all have access to more content that the original provided without missing a few car payments.

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Update: The publisher contacted me after posting this review and reported he completed a check of the copies he had on hand looking for smeared ink.  The copies he had did not have the ink issue, so this is not an universal issue and my copy is likely an exception.

Additionally, he added that The Vault of Walt Sampler will be available in early March 2013 for $3.99.  And he reports that along with the stories that were not reproduced in The Revised Vault of Walt that four additional stories will be added.  So readers who have not yet enjoyed the Vault of Walt but purchase the Sampler and The Revised Vault of Walt will have nine more stories than the original provided with a decreased cost even when combining the two titles. 

On a side note, this is really why I enjoy working with independent publishers, responsiveness.  These publishers generally listen to the fans and their concerns.  So thank you Theme Park Press and others that I have reviewed for in being attentive to your customers and fans. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Strangers and Aliens The Wonderful World of Disney

Cover showing a futuristic monorail
Recently I appeared on The Strangers and Aliens podcast to discuss Disney animated films.  Pixar and live action were completely off limits as we discussed our favorite Disney animated films.

We were shocked to discover that most of the films we listed were modern and far from classic.  And I was probably the worst offender with my very first submission!  I was also shocked that one of the hosts stole one of my favorite movies of all time right from under my nose.  Additionally, I found myself defending The Little Mermaid.  Honestly, I think I could have done better, but I was in shock to hear an attack on the movie that saved Disney animation.  Being a faith themed podcast we also discussed spiritual themes in Disney animation.

It was really fun to sit back and discuss cartoons with three other grown men.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Between Books - The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland's Haunted Kingdom

Book cover showing the three hitch hiking ghosts from the Haunted Mansion
I have wanted to read a book about Disney parks and ghosts since I was exposed to the tale of George the ghost at Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom Park. I do not like scary things or being scared. And when it comes to ghosts and the supernatural I am largely skeptical. But for some reason the ghost investigator reality shows have become a guilty pleasure for me. So of course I would want to hear more about these phenomenons in one of my favorite places on earth.

Paranormal investigator, and Disney fan, Aubrey Graves in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland’s Haunted Kingdom introduces readers to the stories of ghosts and spirits that have been reported by guests and cast members within the park. Graves tours the park visiting each land within the Disneyland Park, providing a brief description of highlighted attractions and then recounting stories that have been told of spiritual forces. Each attraction and its ghost stories are recounted in a few pages. Additionally, the book is illustrated with clear, crisp, color photographs, with only one modified to show a specter.

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland’s Haunted Kingdom for me falls within the genre of guidebooks. The attraction descriptions that Graves provides could easily be found in the typical Disneyland guide. The descriptions are clear and short. I was surprised to find the Columbia referred to as The Gem of the Kingdom. I thought this was an error, but a Google search matched this title with the Columbia and I had learned something new! The difference between this book and other guides are the ghost stories that accompany the descriptions. The stories are typically not overly detailed, and honestly in some cases I would like Graves to give me more information. Since I have read several guides, I would personally have wanted more ghosts and less attraction details. But with every attraction covered in just 130 pages, space may have been limited for some of the stories that lack background. I did find some of the in text reference clunky with one story being cited to “” without the address to the actual posting. But the references at the back are very detailed and provide full citations.

One could easily use The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland’s Haunted Kingdom and additional information about Disneyland deaths in books like David Koeing’s Mouse Tales to setup a self guided Disneyland ghost tour. I submit to you based on this guide the Between Disney Unofficial Self-Guided Disneyland Ghost Tour:

  • Main Street USA: Stand outside the Firehouse and spend a few minutes discussing Walt’s apartment and the history of the window lamp.

  • Adventureland: The Jungle Cruise and the Ghost Gardener must be punned upon.

  • New Orleans Square: We have two stops in New Orleans’ Square with the perfect atmosphere for something spooky. First, we must visit Pirates of the Caribbean to see if we can share a trip with any supernatural guests. Second, The Haunted Mansion is a must stop on our tour. The setting is a no brainer for our tour, and it seems that maybe room has been found for an extra spirit or two.

  • Critter Country: Since I added an extra stop at New Orleans’ Square, I’ll skip a stop at Splash Mountain and stand at a spot in my next spot where I can see Chickapin Hill.

  • Frontierland: With the sad history of drowning in the Rivers of America this is a must visit spot on our tour. I may reach into my backpack and read the account of discovering a body in the river from In the Shadow of the Matterhorn. We might also add a trip on the Mark Twain to feel the spirit of Walt Disney.

  • Fantasyland: The Matterhorn Bobsleds is another attraction with a history of guest tragedies, and we must visit Dolly’s Dip which has been reported several times to be haunted by the guest who was killed here.

  • Toontown: We will visit this ghost town, in Graves’ words, to see if Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin is being visited by its biggest deceased fan.

  • Tomorrowland: Our tour stops with one of the most reportedly haunted locations in the park, Innoventions, the site of tragic cast member death. As the book notes, if you want to be spooked, Innoventions is the place to go.

I am still skeptical. But, conversations I had with coworkers as I read this Between Book made it clear that many have stories to tell of their own supernatural encounters, just not in such interesting locations. Graves argues that not all the ghosts at Disneyland passed away within the park. Some she argues are those who enjoyed the park and may have even seen it as a home. One of these reported spirits, seen throughout the park, is Walt Disney himself. Part of me, even the skeptical part of me, likes the idea that if I am inclined once I am on the other side I could visit my beloved Disneyland and maybe even share a trip on the Grand Circle Tour with the man who first dreamt of this park….even if it was just in spirit!

You can purchase The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland’s Haunted Kingdom at Amazon

Review Copy Provided by Author