Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Between Books - Disney Destinies

Everybody has bad times.  Everybody just hits that rough patch you cannot get past, you think.  And everyone needs a little inspiration sometimes.  It is amazing what a little reminder of how others have moved past their obstacles can help cheer someone (including yourself) up.

Disney Destinies: How Passing, Patience and Determination Can Take Anyone Anywhere by Karl Beaudry recounts stories of Disney personalities and legends who experienced tough times and moved past them.  Beaudry starts with the big cheese himself, Walt Disney, reminding us of his setbacks including a bankruptcy and detractors who mocked his ideas.   Along with Walt Disney, Beaudry profiles Disney figures that you are likely aware of like Bob Gurr, Tony Baxter, Ward Kimball and more.  But he also spends time with lesser discussed figures like Vesey Walker, Owen Pope, and a surprise Disney personality Steve Martin.  The typical chapter is not a full biography but a look at specific incidents that the individual had to struggle with to become the success they later became.

I can see someone picking this up and believing it is a book of biographies like Walt Disney's Imagineering LegendsDisney Destinies is not really a history book, it is an inspirational text.  I think an alternative name, in jest only, would be Chicken Soup for the Disney Fan's Soul (it does not appear such a book exists).  In this book the inspiration is not provided through moral tales or fables, but through the real-life stories of people that Disney fans will likely know or come to relate to by the end of the profile.  Why inspiration?  Beaudry makes it clear that he was reading a lot of Disney history during a rough patch in his life and found inspiration from the stories he was reading.  In short, he is now sharing what inspired him when he was undergoing a personal struggle.  Beaudry succeeds in sharing this inspiration by providing easy to read text with smooth connections between the story and where the individual could claim success.

Though I will admit with me being a history fan there were still insights I pulled out of the book.  I did not realize how the lose of Roger Broggie's father as a young child put him on the path towards his later career.  And I did find the thoughts on Steve Martin's career, including his job at Disneyland as a youth before the magic shop and his long years as a stand-up without success as a story of perseverance.  And I had never really thought about the fact that the Popes relocated their entire lives to Disney property from the Studio to Disneyland to Walt Disney World throughout the decades to support Walt Disney's dream.  

I could see giving this book to a Disney fan facing a personal struggle since they will connect to the profiled figures.  I could also see giving this book to a young adult just starting to dig into Disney history since there are a number of individuals that they will be introduced to who will come up again in their reading.  I would probably not suggest this to someone who wanted an in-depth history of the Walt Disney Company, as this is not the book's purpose.  With a Kindle version priced at $4.99 it would be an easy book to give to a Disney minded friend who needs inspiration.

Everyone struggles sometimes and everyone needs some inspiration.  As Karl Beaudry points out there are no real dead-end jobs.  There are only steps in one's story.  Disney Destinies reminds us that even those we admire faced difficulties in their lives.  And like them we can overcome them.     

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, December 22, 2014

Between Books - Faith and the Magic Kingdom

I have often said that for me one of the most spiritual places in the world is a Disney theme park.  I know that it sounds silly between the crowds and the expense.  But for me and my family it is truly one of the few places in the world where my mind and soul find rest.  Now I know that I am not the only one finding spiritual lessons in theme parks.

Faith and the Magic Kingdom by Randy Crane connects Disneyland to lessons in Christian living.  Crane walks his readers through a tour of the park from front to back and through each land, writing on the history or theming of attractions, shops and other park elements.  He provides 2 to 6 pages at each stop giving both history and a connection to the Bible.  Overall, Crane gives the park a thorough walk-through visiting every land and every major location, though not all shops.  Wait, Crane totally missed churro carts and worse of all the Tiki Juice Bar.  In his over 100 plus entries along with Disney history, Crane makes a connection to Christian life and the Bible.

I have actually read a fair number of devotional books in my day.  And I would say Faith in the Magic Kingdom stands up well in that market.  Like most devotional books it attempts to link a story with a lesson from Christian life.  Crane's lessons include Christian salvation, living in community, what does Christian freedom mean, and integrity.  Though this list is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are 100 plus entries and the lessons do not generally overlap.  The key to me with a devotional is not the lesson but the hook.  Can the author's point of view draw you in, especially since the devotional market is quite crowded and the majority of big name Christian authors have a devotional title.  As a Disney fan Crane's hook of Disneyland worked well for me.  And I think that Christians who love Disneyland and use devotional reading to deepen their faith will enjoy this title.  And a Christian believer who has a fan who is a Disney fan with faith-based questions could look at this book as a resource. 

Crane does admit that some of his Disneyland to faith connections are not as strong as others.  Though I found his writing to be clear and well thought out.  I personally read it at a time that was somewhat a crisis event in the Between Family.  And his words generally helped uplift my spirit during some worrisome moments.

But I will also say I read Faith and the Magic Kingdom mostly wrong.  During the crisis event I would read an entry and then mull it over as the events of the day also crashed against my mind and what I had read.  In short I thought about my reading for a small percentage of the book.  But the majority I blasted through because I needed to get a review ready and I needed to make it to the end.  This title is really not meant for that type of full-speed reading.  Most will want to take one entry at a time, perhaps one a day, and contemplate the text.  Those who journal would likely find material to add to their meditative log.  But when one is charging through the reading, if they are like me, the reader will likely take notice of the Disney facts while not really mulling over the spiritual content.

I was concerned that Crane's Disney facts would be light or too generic.  Overall his facts rely in his vast experience within the park.  And they are chosen to help support the spiritual theme of the entry.  A stand out entry for me provided background on Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, which I do not believe I have ever stumbled on before.  So even for the most read Disney fans there are likely new gems in the text.    

With a Kindle price of around $9, Faith and the Magic Kingdom is competitively priced in the devotional space.  Likewise it also is priced fairly for a guide book.  But the advantage that it has over devotionals with much bigger named authors is the ability to borrow the title through the Kindle Unlimited program.  I think the question of print or Kindle version comes down to how one prefers to use a devotional, especially considering note taking.

I do know that it sounds silly, but my spiritual life always feels fresher after I have visited a Disney theme park.  And Faith and the Magic Kingdom shows me that I am not the only stranger in a strange land with this experiences.  Therefore I am glad to see a writer connect spiritual lessons to my favorite place on Earth especially as I read during the holiday season.  I think my real big question is when does the volume on Disney California Adventure get released? And how will he work the Tiki Juice Bar into that volume?

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