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!