Sunday, March 12, 2017

Between Books - Three Years In Wonderland

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The Disney History Podcast did its job.  I bought the book!  Yep, I could not resist as I binged Todd James Pierce's audio segments.  But would the book fill the Disney history itch I wanted scratched?

Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C.V. Wood, and the Making of the Great American Theme Park by Todd James Pierce details the creation of America's first cinematic theme park, Disneyland, from the perspectives of the park's first General Manager C.V. Wood and Walt Disney.  We know from the beginning of the book that the Wood - Disney relationship is doomed to fail, though Disneyland would be a success.  Pierce provides readers biography of the wild yet charismatic Wood and his unlikely journey to Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and his early work with the Disney brothers.  Pierce adds information about Walt Disney's dream for a theme park and the efforts, especially financial, to get his theme park built. Pierce then narrates the construction of the park, including the attempts by Wood to bring his inner circle into the park management and perhaps enriching himself.  Finally, as the park survives its opening, the author outlines how Wood's relationship with Walt Disney soured, or perhaps never was amicable.  Overall, Pierce helps highlight in a way an official Disney book cannot and will not, Wood's contributions to the building of Disneyland.

I think it is a good sign.  I loved this book, but there is more I wanted from it.  First, I wanted more about C.V. Wood and his private life.  In the narrative, Wood is working in the aircraft industry and then we meet him again at SRI.  I would love to know more about how Wood changed industries.  Second, Pierce tells us that his habit of being a workaholic was an issue for his marriage.  Yet, Pierce discusses mostly Wood at work or play really only with his inner Texas circle, the Bombers.  I would love to hear more about his personal family life during his Disney years.  But perhaps there is no documentation of this period.

Three Years in Wonderland is entertaining and educational.  On the entertainment front, Pierce uses poetic license and flourish at times to make this history feel dramatic and very far from dry.  In the educational side, it really is Wood we learn quite a bit about.  Pierce reinforces that Walt Disney was the most supportive of his creative staff.  And Pierce places Wood within the financial circle of Roy Disney.  It becomes clear that Wood was not a Walt Disney favorite, but instead someone that was necessary not beloved.  And Wood did not cross easily into Walt Disney's circle like Admiral Joe Fowler who seemed to straddle the Walt-Roy division within Disney staff.  In many ways it becomes clear that the charming Wood was destined to leave Disney employment when he was no longer needed to help sell and build Disneyland.

Three Years in Wonderland is must read for Disneyland fans.  It is part soap opera, part history as experienced readers who have glances over Wood's names numerous times learn more about this enigmatic and invisible Disney, no not legend, myth.  In the end, the book scratched my Disney history itch and drove me to want to know more about wood.  Hint, hint...I would love a sequel that discussed Wood's post Disney parks and developments!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Between Books - The Disney-Driven Life

The Disney-Drive Life: Inspiring Lessons from Disney History by Jeff Dixon provides life lessons from Disney history as one walks through the Magic Kingdom.  Dixon methodically works through the theme park telling about key attractions in each land but adding a story, typically about Walt Disney, which can inspire.  His goal is to help his readers move beyond being a person loaded with potential to someone who lives up to that potential.  Dixon's stories generally remind readers of the worth of others, not giving up, dreaming and taking action on those dreams.  

Overall, the text is fine and likely worth the $4 price to read the Kindle edition for many.  I just found myself lost at times.  Often Dixon looks to link the attraction to Walt Disney's life.  But, Disney never visited a completed Walt Disney World so the stories are often linked to Disney's actions on the West Coast at Disneyland.  Also several of the chapters have numerous lessons that one can take from the discussed experience.  Perhaps, shorter chapters would allow for the book have more of these lessons more overly called out.

The Disney-Drive Life: Inspiring Lessons from Disney History is a book written to inspire the Disney fan.  Luckily, between the stories of Walt Disney and his park many a lesson can be mined and Disney fans have these collected stories and more to create inspiration.  


Friday, March 3, 2017

Between Books - Star Wars: Han Solo

When I first saw Star Wars, Luke was my favorite.  But by The Return of the Jedi, Han was my favorite of the big three.  I mean, he did get the girl!  Maybe that says more about me growing up then the saga.  So hearing that Marvel was going to produce a Han Solo focused mini series really excited me.  But it scared me too, because what if it was not great!

Star Wars: Han Solo by Marjorie Liu with art by Mark Brooks follows Han Solo as he and Chewbacca are called into covert action by the Rebel Alliance.  Princess Leia needs a fast ship, and the Millennium Falcon is entered into the Dragon Void race.  At each stop, Solo must recover a member of a Rebel spy network including a traitor who has exposed their activities.  The scoundrel rebel has to balance the competitive nature of his fellow racers with the stress of Imperial entanglements and antsy Rebel spies.  If forced, which will Han choose...the mission or the race?

Overall, I was happy with Liu's story.  It is a straight out adventure tale with a hero I like at its center.  While the story is not overly complex, it does leave the reader wondering who the traitor is?  And we get to witness Solo's tension.  Leia made it clear, the race is nothing but a cover story.  In the end if he must choose it is the race he is to abandon.  But can he do that and still be true to his nature?  To me the story really does not take us deeper into Solo's personality, really with the reader getting the smuggler we expect.  The story does give us foreshadowing to his post rebellion career, as a race promoter.  And it helps connect dots to the older Solo and his love of racing.

Star Wars: Han Solo is an adventure romp.  It does not add deeply to the canon.  But it likely gives Solo fans like me something we want, more screen time!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dreaming Disney - Disney History Institute Podcast

If you are a Disney fan, it is a must. If you are a theme parks fan, it is a must. If you are a history fan, it is a must. If you are a story fan, it is a must. If you like to hear about creatives, it is a must.

What am I talking about?

I am talking about the podcast I have always wanted and did not know existed for over three years.

My newest podcast recommendation to everyone is the Disney History Institute Podcast. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I have gotten friends who do not like Disney to binge episodes because the stories and production are just that good!

Disney History Institute Podcast by Todd J. Peirce is predominantly audio versions of Peirce’s articles from the Disney History Institute website. Along with Peirce’s well written articles is quality production with supporting audio beds and Peirce’s voice that helps pull you into a story. I have experimented a bit with scripted podcast episodes, and it is not as easy as it seems. But this podcast combines quality content with strong production values. It is convincing enough that I had to buy his book!

The content is basically audio presentations of Peirce's articles. I will be honest, though they have been available in text form, I have not read them. These articles are somewhat big at times and I do not have the time to sit online and read these articles in depth (yeah it is kind of ironic with this being a blog and all). So this audio presentation has given these articles a second life. But the best part is you really do feel like you are getting pulled into a story with Peirce serving as the storyteller. The topics fascinate me with me telling everyone to go listen to “The Bible Storyland Fiasco” immediately. I love this history which balances defects in personalities with the humorous thoughts of a Jungle Cruise Garden of Eden ride completely with sexism. The Disney fan will be drawn to the multipart expose on the Yippie Invasion, the infamous Studio field day, and glimpses into Walt Disney’s life. I will admit, after hearing his piece on Ruth Shellhorn I find myself kicking myself for not knowing more of her Disney story. Additionally, along with his articles, Pierce shares interview audio of Disney legends like Harriet Burns, Blaine Gibson, and Jack Lindquist.

The only real complaint is frequency. The episodes post when Peirce has one ready. So it is possible for long gaps. But it is good free content. A friend did point out to me that “Walt’s First Park Part 1” was never followed by a Part 2. But I found myself arguing, but buddy it’s free. My friend did go online to read the second part of the story.

Disney History Institute Podcast by Todd J. Peirce is my new favorite podcast I did not know existed. If you are a Disney fan, you need to subscribe now so when a new episode drops it is pushed to you. Because you will both learn and be entertained by this audio presentation.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Between Books - Would You Like Magic with That?

I was a big fan of The Ride Delegate.  So seeing a second Annie Salisbury memoir got me super interested.  Her first book took us to places that the regular people like me cannot consider.  And I hoped this second book focusing on her time as a Plaid in Guest Relations would provide more fun and unique stories.

Would You Like Magic with That?: Working at Walt Disney World Guest Relations by Annie Salisbury starts in a sad place.  Salisbury begins this memoir with her first Disney casting, working DisneyQuest, a site she never wanted and attempted to escape.  Surviving the College Program, Salisbury continued on and was able to briefly move over to the Great Movie Ride.  From this position she was able to use the Disney casting system to get moved to Guest Relations at the Magic Kingdom.  But instead of being posted as a Plaid, she instead was tasked as a Celebrate Greeter, spreading magic in the park for guests without actually being trained into Guest Relations or wearing the famous uniform.  After bartering her way into actual training, Salisbury recounts stories that let her readers understand the roles and politics of Guest Relations, including the threat for many that this casting is temporary and something they could lose forever.

Salisbury helps illustrate several points.  First, College Program members you get what you get.  And Disney may lie to give you hope of other castings.  But really, if one is dissatisfied with what Disney has chosen for them the only real escape option is to leave.  Salisbury also does a nice job of explaining how non College Program cast members can switch positions at Walt Disney World and the extreme efforts and risks one may have to take to move into a desired role.  And most of all, she provides clarify like all offices, Guest Relations has politics and maybe even people meaner than those you work with on a daily basis.

I have quoted Would You Like Magic with That? a few times.  I am currently training staff who help resolve situations.  And I have used the concept of "appropriate" and "obtainable", which Salisbury learned at Guest Relations as a good ruler for for strong problem resolutions.  If something does not meet both of these conditions, in all of our customer relations we should review if it is the solution we select.

I liked Would You Like Magic with That? but still find The Ride Delegate to be my favorite of Salisbury's memoirs.  But this time she did not have the chance to surprise me with the strength of her stories.  But I can now proudly ride the Great Movie Ride knowing that Gangsters are jerks.  And I now know just how bad a situation it takes to get Disney to consider free admission, there will probably be tears.  Because sometimes has to ask Would You Like Magic with That? when circumstances make the day less magical for both cast and guests...even at Walt Disney World!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cap's Comics - Enchanted Tiki Room #2

Enchanted Tiki Room #2 shows us quickly that there is trouble in paradise.  Agnes may no longer wish her dog Alfred can talk, seeing as he has nothing but unfaltering things to say.  Yes, dog is not woman's best friend!  The bird band has members in revolt, and maybe a orange friend can join in?  The Randy Family do something that money cannot buy...hug!  Chip's big debut may have fallen flat.  And Wally, well he's barely in the issue.  And also absent is the island trespasser!  Yep, things are not going well and someone may do something desperate to regain their place on the enchanted tropical island.

Jason Grandt Connecting Cover Variant

Again, this is a funny book.  And adults can enjoy the humor.  I did chuckle as the Randy family, well, touched!  I guess love cannot be bought with money.  It definitely made me laugh and so did the Between Kid.  I also enjoyed the Disney Easter Eggs including a growing presence for the Little Orange Bird.

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant
My biggest worry with the book is there is a lot going on.  It could be too much.  Wally is basically non-existent in the book.  In fact, Wally gets one panel!  Unless I am wrong and she is hiding in the shadows, our cliffhanger new character never shows in the entire issue.  Which makes it frustrating that we have to wait for at least one more issue to get any answers to what her presence is about.  In short the story has to service five if not six story lines and I worry that a mini-series may not do the bulk of them justice.

Ron Lim Variant
Enchanted Tiki Room is keeping me for the laughs.  But I do worry that Jon Adams and Horacio Domingues' story could be too ambitious.  In the end, Fantasy Island was really just about three story lines.  I am just worrying that this comic has 2 stories too many.  But still, I am smiling.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Between Books - Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel

I really enjoyed Rogue One!  I say that despite the kids sitting behind me whacking my chair over and over again!  But one thing that became clear in the early moments of the story was there was more story to tell between the beats on the back of my chair.  That could especially be seen with Lyra Erso, who had only a few moments in the film as we see her years before the Battle of Yavin.

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno describes how Galen Erso came to be one of the chief engineers of the Death Star.  The novel tells the story of a young brilliant man in love with science and an adventurous nature guide.  A pacifist, Erso focuses his research into Kyber crystals, which power Jedi lightsabers, and how they can be used to harvest vast amounts of energy with the hope of bringing power to economically disadvantaged worlds.  Erso's colleague Orson Krennic serves as an rising power-hungry engineer in the Empire's Advanced Weapons Research department.  Despite his inability to get Erso involved in his ultimate project, he knows that Erso is the key to the weapon for his most ambitious project yet.  Luceno tells a story of manipulation and lies as Krennic plays on Erso's emotions and beliefs to gain his aid.  And the story shows how Erso and his family escaped Krennic's control to be found again on the movie big screen.

Are you looking for a Star Wars book with plenty of action?  Then go read Ahsoka!  This is a book light on action and big on personalities.  The battles here are battles of will as Krennic turns Galen, as Lyra grows weary of Galen's old friend, and as Tarkin and Krennic struggle for control of the Emperor's battle station.  In all of the maneuvering found in the book, the key is the weapon  Without the super laser to fit the scope of the Empire's newest machine of death, it will literally lack the destructive power required to declare it a success.  And Krennic fully puts his career behind the belief that Galen Erso can reluctantly build them the needed weapon.  That is the real story, one of emotions and relationships.  There are rarely blasters, despite a few smugglers including Saw Gerrera, who have to escape some harrowing scrapes.

I will admit, even as a father I did not always connect with Galen Erso.  He is honestly somewhat an unapproachable personality lost in his science.  For me the hero was Lyra Erso as she struggles to hold her marriage together, protect her husband and introduce her daughter Jyn to a bigger physical and spiritual universe.

Many said that reading Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel enhanced the experience of seeing Rogue One in the theater.  Honestly, I can see how it could have made viewers feel better prepared.  I expect the next time I see the movie I will see Lyra Erso in a new light, as a woman who truly fought to protect her family.  But despite the enrichment, I do not believe this book will be for everyone including those looking for a high action science fiction story.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Between Books - Going to Disney California Adventure

I am a big fan of Disney California Adventure.  My third favorite domestic park is not Epcot, sorry fan boys! But it is the second California Gate that takes that honor for me.  So when Shannon Willis Laskey's newest book surprisingly appeared in my mail box, and knowing how much I enjoyed her first offering, her latest guide went to the top of my reading pile.

Going to Disney California Adventure: A Guide for Kids & Kids at Heart by Shannon Willis Laskey brings the fun to Disney trip planning.  Laskey hits the basics that every guide book on the park needs.  She provides history and a tour of the park to prepare readers, especially the youngest ones, for their trip to Disney California Adventure.  But along with the expected descriptions of attractions and in park dining, Laskey gives her readers room to plan their trip and to reflect afterwards.  For example with each attraction, readers can rate their experience and leave a one word review.  Additionally, Laskey provides games.  These games include ideas for killing time in lines with word and memory games, coloring pages, in book activities and more.  The book like her last volume, ends with a journal for capturing memories and autographs making the book not just a guide but a souvenir for what could be a once in a lifetime vacation.

I love this book.  It really is much more than a guidebook, but an experience.  The bountiful and fun images on every page help set a tone that makes vacation planning with a child approachable.  And as an adult, the fun design provides a guide book experience that is beyond bland text and descriptions. I do not want to say it...but I'm going to do it.  The super fun imagery and bright colors are enchanting.  As I sit here and consider what park I go to next, which in Betweenland is a big decision,  I really find myself leaning towards California.  After reading through this book,  how could one not be charmed into wanting to visit again or for the first time.

By buying the book directly from the author the experience is extended.  Laskey provides customers a fan club membership card, a bookmark (which really is twirly), and a sticker.  This is while supplies last.  And while they are just little extras, it helps feel like the fun is brought out of the pages.  

I will say that one of the things I monitor when looking at guide books is how the author handles change.  At the time I received my copy the California version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had closed forever. Laskey does include over a page about the extinct attraction.  This inclusion is sure to make many happy as Hollywood Land goes through transition.  The Between Tween loved this Tower, and so it is sure to please at least one fan.  But to go along with the extinct Tower, the text of the second page includes a description of what is to come with Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission BREAKOUT.  It provides a nice mix of what was and what will be.  It is a nice way to transition an attraction out and another one into existence.    

Going to Disney California Adventure is simply fun!  Okay, it is far from simple.  Laskey has provided her readers a well-thought out reading experience and interactive production.  I sincerely hope that she can extend her library to the other U.S. Disney parks.  Because her first two book have been delightful.    

Review Copy Provided by Orchard Hill Press

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Between Books - The Customer Rules

The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service by Lee Cockerell presents the former Disney executive's thoughts on providing excellent customer service.  Cockerell provides 39 separate short chapters that are easy to read and digest for those wanting to know more about superior customer service.  Cockerell's chapters generally focus on relationship building, preparation, and going beyond expectations.  In many ways his guidance aligns with his granddaughter's most basic advice, "Be Nice!"  The book's advice ranges from being prompt, understanding new technology, copying the best services of others and relationship relationship relationship.

Honestly, for listeners of Cockrell's podcast, the tone and even some of the advice is far from shocking.  Cockerell's thoughts really match the guidance he gives on a weekly basis with a focus on relationship and thoughtful service.  But the Customer Rules has an advantage that the podcast lacks, you can easily share the book to someone who may not enjoy podcasts or not be open to Cockerell as a "Mickey Mouse" executive.  Cockerell's advice here is not overly focused on Disney, again allowing the non-fan to buy into the book.  And the chapters are short enough one could easily read them on the commute or in the cough cough bathroom.

I do not think of myself as someone who provides customer service.  But as Cockerell points out it is everyone's job.  And in the midst of reading the book I was challenged with a situation that made me ask what would Lee Cockerell do?  How can I give this person something allowing them to move forward when I need to say no?  Because The Customer Rules is a great reminder that we all provide service to others and the foundation of supporting their needs is relationships.  In the end, we probably should just be nice!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cap's Comics - Enchanted Tiki Room #1

But I want a Jungle Cruise comic!  And an Enchanted Tiki Room comic is most definitely not a Jungle Cruise comic.  So I open these pages not even knowing if this is a tropical vacation I want to take!

Jason Grandt Connecting Cover Variant

Enchanted Tiki Room #1 brings us to the home of the Tiki gods and the famous Tiki Room!  Readers meet a number of visitors to this far off land.  Agnes is a barely known older actress who has a unhealthy love for her dog.  The dog may not be returning that adoration!  The Randy family can solve all problems with money.  Poor Wally just wants to get over his bad breakup on this island vacation.  And Chip the volunteer at the world famous Tiki Room, where the birds sing, just wants to be a star.  It seems that the visitors to this island have a lot of problems, but then so do the citizens.  Could there be relationship trouble among the famous singing macaws?  What lessons will our visitors and readers learn on this vacation?

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant Cover

Writer Jon Adams gives a plot that will seem familiar to many middle aged readers.  Enchanted Tiki Room feels like a spiritual predecessor to Fantasy Island with temporary guests who all seem to need to learn lessons.  So it is easy to understand for the older reader.  And really if I had to complain it would be I am not sure how the younger reader will react.  The plot is a formula I know.  And there are plenty of "adult" world situations and even jokes.  Honestly, I laughed a ton.  I just worry that this is a story that is too adult.  Though the Between Kid jumped to have me read it and seemed to stay with it.  Artist Horacio Domingues' artwork fits well with the somewhat corny story presented.

Jody Daily Variant Cover

For the hardcore Disney fan there are Easter Eggs to keep you going.  The boys of the Enchanted Tiki Room, a 50 year hit, are not the only Disney birds seen in the tale.  And along with the birds, a key narrative role is given to a Tiki god.  I am a big believer that many of the early Imagineers like Marc Davis would enjoy the current Pacific themed Disney properties, including Moana, and I feel like this story falls into their traditions.

Jason Grandt Orange Bird Variant Cover

Enchanted Tiki Room #1 is not a Jungle Cruise story.  Though it is really funny!  I could easily see a Skipper point out the back side of water to any of the visitors to this far away island.  I just wonder who the last mystery visitor is!