Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Between Books - The Haunted Mansion


Book cover showing the three hitchiking ghosts outside of the Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion adapted by Lauren Clauss, illustrated by Glen Brogan, and designed by Winnie Ho is a Little Golden Book adaptation of the Disney attraction. The book is what you expect from a 24-page Little Golden Book classic. The story walks readers through The Haunted Mansion, from entrance to exit. Each page is illustrated with new art from Brogan that highlights each significant set within the classic attraction, specifically the Disneyland version. Clauss provides new text mainly focusing on a young guest experiencing the attraction while using some quotes directly from the ride.

The Haunted Mansion is really what you would expect and hope for in a Little Golden Book version of the story. The text is short, easy to understand, kid-focused, and often original instead of just lifting quotes directly from the attraction. The images are playful takes on the images found in The Haunted Mansion, though they often make the potential terror more kid-friendly. For example, we do meet the bride Constance. But Brogan leaves her without her tool of choice and does not fully reveal her grisly hobby. 

The Haunted Mansion is playful and fun. It could potentially spoil a first-time rider's experience. But it could also help a youngster, or in my case years ago grown-man, who has anxiety about potentially scary things and what they could experience in their doom buggy. The book could also help a youngster who enjoyed the attraction and returned Between Disney in keeping the fun in their heart alive. 


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Thursday, December 15, 2022

Between Books - The Disney Animation Renaissance

Book cover for The Disney Animation Renaissance with title on a field of white above an illustration of 4 glass panes.

A monograph is a specialized non-fiction work usually focusing on one topic. Generally, they are scholarly researched, and validated works. When I was in grad school, monographs were used to provide specialized and detailed views of a topic. And my professors generally assigned trusted and highly academic works. I would argue that many of the books on the Between Books shelf are not monographs since they often lack extensive references, were published by non-academic presses that may have lacked scrutiny of the research or were written with publicity in mind. But as animated features become increasingly accepted as not just entertainment but also reflections of social and cultural trends, technological innovations, and art the door opens for more and more monographs to be added to books that Disney fans seek out.

The Disney Animation Renaissance: Behind the Glass at the Florida Studio
by the late Mary E Lescher chronicles the development, rise, and closing of the combined Disney The Magic of Disney Animation attraction and Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida studio (the Florida studio). The studio and attraction co-existed from 1989 to 2004. The facility was originally designed for the Disney-MGM Studios theme park with a small animation team completing hand-drawn animation under the eyes of theme park guests. However, to Lescher’s readers, the story of the facility quickly changed as the tour educated guests on the traditional cell process but the animation team used techniques supported by computer workflows. While not truly equipped with Disney’s Computer Animation Production System (CAPS), Florida’s work was entered into CAPS production instead of following traditional hand-drawn animation. The Florida studio participated in the increased use of computer-supported animation as their hand-drawn images were scanned into CAPS in California.

The Florida studio were key contributors to Disney feature animation releases such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The popularity of Disney animated films evolved the Florida Studio’s emphasis from education and park attraction to animation production. This would eventually lead to the massive growth of the studio and the assignment of feature films fully produced in Florida starting with 1998’s Mulan. However, this success was short-lived as technical innovations changed animation, new largely CGI studios entered the market, and corporate politics eventually lead to the closure of the Florida studio in 2004.

The Disney Animation Renaissance is written for an academic-minded audience. The text can easily be used in a college classroom, with clear and accessible writing. But also the text has numerous citations and references which provide the text academic authority. That being said, for Disney history fans the book is informative and likely to scratch the hobby itch. The warning I would give is this is not a relaxation text but a study text. I read the monograph with a highlighter, bringing myself back to my college days. Lescher provides no unneeded sentences and every sentence and paragraph is combined to chronicle a period in Disney animation history. Lescher’s conclusions are well-argued and ones that readers can easily find themselves agreeing with.

Lescher was well-placed to offer up this book. She held a PhD, was a researcher, and museum curator who had facilitated animation exhibits. Lescher maintains an academic tone throughout the majority of the book. But she does break free of that tone at times as she brings forth personal prior experience as a long-time staffer of the Florida studio. This tone swap helps her reader understand her passion and beloved memories of this experience. But it also explains how and why so many veterans of the Florida studio have emotional deep memories of their time there. This experience also provided Lescher the academic access to numerous other Florida studio staffers for oral history collection.

The Disney Animation Renaissance: Behind the Glass at the Florida Studio by Mary E Lescher is an academic monograph that is also accessible to Disney animation and parks fans. Lescher provides several important conclusions about the second Disney animation Renaissance, technology, the role of CAPS, and most of all the Florida studio’s contributions to the history of animation. Animation fans will lock onto the history of the films that the studio contributed to making. Parks fans cannot help but be fascinated by the evolution of the attraction and the perceptions of the animators behind the glass. And most of all, the work shows how serious academic studies on animation endeavors can provide us with valuable lessons about business, technology, innovation, and culture. 


Review Copy Provided by The University of Illinois Press

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Between Books - Santa Stops at Disneyland

Santa Stops at Disneyland written and illustrated by Ethan Reed is a Little Golden Book that depicts a moment that everyone who is young at heart would love to imagine, Santa Claus spending an evening at Disneyland. The words and images depict an evening trip for Santa and his sleigh at Disneyland Park. Reed shows his young audience a jam-packed day that includes both fun and work. Reed takes his readers through a truly joyful evening.

I am just starting to gather up Disney Parks-themed Little Golden Books. Many of us had them when we were kids. The Between Kids are now too old to be the target audience. But even as a Disney adult the book was still very fun for me. The images are cute and Reed illustrates Kris Kringle visiting the entire park, including my favorite rides. And Santa in a bobsled just looks right! We get to see Reed’s vision of the entire park. And plot-wise, Reed lets us know that Santa is a Disney adult! No seriously, he is a full-on Disney fan. If you are reading this review, you likely would believe that the Spirit of Christmas could be your pal. You read guide maps, Santa reads guide maps, clearly, we should all be holiday friends!

Santa Stops at Disneyland
by Ethan Reed put me in the Christmas mood. And I love the idea of a cute illustrated journey through Disneyland at Christmas. Maybe Little Golden Books are not just for the young, but also the young at heart.

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit


Blue book cover showing three figures, one with a lightsaber standing in front of a Jedi crest.

Welcome to Star Wars: The High Republic!

Okay, we have actually been here before. Welcome to earlier in the Star Wars: The High Republic than we have ever been before!

There are Jedi!

There are lightsabers!

There is a lot of talk about the Force!

There are some young ladies with a name we have seen before in Star Wars: The High Republic!

And look over here, there is a ship that will become important later!

Yoda is not in the building!

Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland opens up a new chapter within Star Wars: The High Republic. Years before the creation of Starlight Beacon space station and the attack of the Nihil on the Republic, a Jedi, and her Padawan Kevmo Zink are tasked with finding stolen artifacts rich in the Force. They believe that on the planet Dalna, a group called the Path of the Open Hand is connected. The two investigate with Kevmo meeting the young Path member Mardo Ro who brings brightness to Kevmo’s life and challenges his beliefs about the Force itself. Kevmo and Mardo navigate the tension between the Path of the Open Hand, Jedi, and a plan that is greater than two young people.

Star Wars: The High Republic can be hard for me. I am convinced that Star Wars is best when visually presented. The mind needs visuals to see the whole magnificent picture. So, as we are invited into a tale that has no characters we have seen on the screen or in comics, LucasFilm is asking the authors to take on a hard task. They have to provide us information about where we are, hints to what is to come, and characters that we need to care about…and quickly. And they need to deliver the request at a young adult reading level. And I am a Disney adult, which I am sad to say only really means young at heart. This meant that Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit did not work the best for me. The authors complete their charge, a young adult novel earlier in the High Republic than we have gone before. But I found myself asking the bigger questions; first, why did they not continue from the end of the last major event publishes in the High Republic instead of jumping backward? Second, I have friends who question the distribution of television series as they do not want to watch every episode of Star Wars: Rebels to understand what is occurring on Disney+. Is it possible by not giving us familiar characters in publishing that some of the hardcore readers may be turning away as the non-core asks this question?

Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit has some familiar story threads. And the text has concepts that tell you that you are in Star Wars. And the authors clearly completed their assignment. But perhaps Disney executives should be reviewing their strategy in greater detail.

I mean, I will still read what is next! 


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