Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Dreaming Disney - 50 Years of Magical Learnings

 

Professionally, I have spent over 20 years in education. This has always put the Disney Institute courses on my radar. But they were dreams. I could not afford this training which primarily was site-based courses where one might also get to visit a theme park. I mean I am down with combining education and theme parks.

The pandemic changed everything.

Education went online, including the Disney Institute.

 

In 2022, I had to change a lot about my life due to the pandemic’s impacts. As I reviewed my next steps, I also ran across an online Disney Institute course celebrating the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. My wife and I decided to sign me up partially to entertain me, and partially to keep me thinking about the business world. I think we both decided that the course was going to be highly fact and trivia based. Instead, I got a business-focused management course that one could place on LinkedIn…if others understood exactly what the course entailed.

“50 Years of Magical Learnings” is a 30-plus module course that combines Walt Disney World Resort history and business principles. Each lesson uses a variety of text, video, interactive activities, and journaling to convey business lessons seen in the history of Walt Disney World. The segments can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to complete. Topics explored include employee recognition, continuous improvement, telling a story, customer service, safety and so much more. Seven of the lessons include insights for Disney executive George A. Kalogridis who served as the 50th Anniversary Ambassador, which allow him to reflect on his professional journey as he moved through the resort leadership.

The content varied in content, but the majority of it was helpful and relevant to a professional journey. Instead of completing a course in one sitting, I spaced it out for nearly a year trying to complete one module a week. My payment did give me access for a year. And during the year new modules were released as they further developed the course. It provided me with a good professional development opportunity that I controlled and could drop in and out of as needed. I will admit I did struggle at times with some of the journaling as my career path went up and down a few different roads. I enjoyed it, professionally, as it framed issues within a familiar to me setting. And the content and videos were professionally developed.

Financially did it make sense? Pre-pandemic these courses were well outside of my price range and I did pay out of pocket. The course at the time I enrolled was $399. We found a deep discount that made it even more financially viable. And since I spent a year engaging the content it felt like an investment in me. The courses on leadership, employee engagement, and customer service are listed as taking 45 to 60 minutes for a cost of $199. Therefore, I found myself feeling like I got a steal for the year. I do intend to add the completed course to my LinkedIn. My only worry with this choice is that someone might think it is a trivia course and not a business course. But hey, that wouldn’t be the first Disney-related business entry on my resume. I also am considering paying out of pocket for an additional shorter course.

“50 Years of Magical Learnings” may attract Disney fans with the promise of stories and facts about the Walt Disney World Resort. But it is packed with leadership and business content wrapped into a well-produced professional development course. I do prefer the way I managed my course completion allowing myself to marinate and reflect on the lessons instead of rushing quickly through the lessons while they jumped past my eyes without thought.

Let’s be real. Unlike required corporate learning, I paid for this. And hey…Mickey Mouse!

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Between Books - They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era The 1950s and 1960s

 




Short Version - They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era The 1950s and 1960s by Didier Ghez, as expected is really good. And with the inclusion of the Blairs, Disney readers will likely be familiar with two of his five subjects.

Long Version - They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era The 1950s and 1960s by Didier Ghez continues an exploration of the contributions of Disney story artists to animated shorts and features. Ghez provides a short biography followed by numerous pages of concept art for Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Tom Oreh, John Dunn, and Walt Peregoy. Readers can explore the images created for films such as Alice in Wonderland and 101 Dalmatians. These images show an evolution from paper to cell for the movies which gave many of us joy during our childhoods.

The book follows the same format as the other volumes in the series. The biographies introduce readers to the artist, their Disney journey, and their post-Disney careers. This is followed by numerous color images which are visually pleasing. Mary Blair may likely be the most prominent featured artist to date. Sadly, this is the biography that I found the most lacking. Disney fans know a lot of her time after leaving animation between her fine art and Imagineering contributions. I found the Blair entry to be shorter in the post-animation days than other narratives. For me, I found the entry of Tom Oreb to be more interesting due to the combination of an introverted personality, interesting art, and concepts that appeared to be delivered straight to the movie theater with an artist that we generally know less about.

If you are deep into Disney animation history, you likely already have They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era The 1950s and 1960s. If you are that person and you don’t have a copy yet, you likely will in the future. This series is just so visually pleasing, it really is a must-read and collect.



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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Between Books - 2021-2022 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual




I blinked and somehow the third Hyperion Historical Alliance professional journal escaped my notice. And then I saw it on Amazon…at a price that is simply a steal.

The Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual 2021-2022 consists of 5 scholarly articles on different topics in Disney History. “Bianca Majolie In the Story Department” by Didier Ghez delves into Walt Disney classmate Majolie’s time and contributions to story. “Drawn to Disney: La Verne Harding and Fred Moore” by Tom Klein discusses the influence of Disney Legend Moore on animator Harding at a non-Disney studio. “Walt Kelly in the Story Department” by Ghez outlines the contributions of Kelly in story. “Walt Disney Left His (Post)Mark on the World” by Maggie Evenson narrates the history of Disney postage stamps. And “Presidents, the Nixon Tapes, and the Disney Parks” by Bethanee Bemis chronicles presidential visits in the United States parks.

Overall, the Annual is scholarly writing. They are essays that have been researched and documented just like one would expect to find in the Journal of Insert Discipline Here. And that is really the point as the Hyperion Historical Alliance attempts to frame the group as a scholarly endeavor. For me, the most impactful essay was by Klein. The entry helped to flesh out a portion of Moore’s life for me, his exile from the studio. But it was also a strong reminder that due to prejudices, the Disney studio was not all it was meant to be. Harding was a wonderfully talented animator. But as a female professional, she would not be able to enter Disney at the position she had earned. I believe I spent around $3 on this journal. And that essay was well worth the purchase to me.

Of course, my yearly grumble is the lack of democracy among the Hyperion Historical Alliance. They want to be a professional organization taken seriously. So they have done much to close membership and stay labeled as scholars. While other organizations like the Society of Baseball Research (SABR) have sought to crowdsource research and build a community. I honestly would be very willing to pay $30-$40 for a copy of the journal, an online community, meeting discounts, and maybe a webinar or two. I heard Ghez discuss a PowerPoint presentation given to members about project status. And I would have loved to see it discussed. So yeah, there’s my yearly plea to consider opening up membership at a supporter/ally level. Because we Disney fans have some power and we want more Disney history.  I see that Heritage Auctions supported the publication of this latest edition, and I think Disney history fans would support this effort also.  And I would remind everyone that SABR has done an excellent job promoting baseball scholarship to the point I have been associated with history departments that taught baseball history seminars.
 

 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence





Not that Jedi!

Not that desert planet!

Not those star-crossed lovers!

Not that droid!

Not that handsome rouge!

Welcome back to the High Republic!

Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence by Zoraida Cordova continues the Disney/Lucasfilm experiment of giving us Star Wars without a Skywalker. Star Wars’ books can be hard for me as this is a visual universe, yet I can’t stop reading them. I blame the collector in me. I just wondered if this would fare better for me than my last outing in an era before the Clone Wars!

Somewhere on the edge of the Republic, two planets that we have never seen in the Star Wars universe are in an endless war. The Republic and the Jedi send aid and attempt to end this conflict. But it is really the role of a royal from each planet to solve this problem and help these worlds move forward into peace. Outside of this resolution, a threat we’ve seen before in the High Republic lurks in the shadows hinting of more schemes and conflict to come.

I have intentionally left the names of the worlds, Jedi, royals, and other details blank. To be honest, other than name-checking Yoda, Coruscant, and Jedha there is not a lot of detail that ties this book to the rest of the Star Wars universe. I prefer to think of this as a standalone story that does not rely on Star Wars details to make it work. To me, the central characters are the royals and their struggles for peace and everyone else including the Jedi are really set decorations. Now that being said, I think that this book is attempting to move forward the struggle between the Jedi and a threat that we have seen elsewhere. But other than the Jedi and the antagonist who hates the Jedi, there is not a strong connection to other High Republic books.

I will admit, this was a hard story for me to get into. And it could have been in the first 20-30% of the story I was trying to slot the tale into Star Wars and the High Republic. Once I made it a story of the two young Royals who by this time in the book were better fleshed out, it was a more enjoyable read. But the struggle with the whole High Republic concept is trying to create new Star Wars without the figures we know at least in support. And it may also be lacking in the fact they are not or cannot use the figures from comics and books that fans love and are no longer considered canon. I feel like they are attempting to not overexpose Yoda during this timeframe, and maybe it’s best to toss him into the center of a story.

Overall, Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence by Zoraida Cordova did better for me than the last outing in the High Republic. But that is because I focused on the two completely new characters who were not Jedi and had literally the least to do with anything Star Wars that I read before. I’ve heard Marvel and DC authors state that the key to pitching a story is not to make it a Spider-Man story but make it a story that functions with a hero who may remind you of Spider-Man. In the end, that’s how I chose to read Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence. The Jedi became wise warrior wizards to me. The Republic was an outside intrusive and also helpful government. And the unseen antagonist…I just tried to push them out of my mind. Because I think without the baggage of Star Wars I would have gotten into this story faster and more intense.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Between Books - The Imagineering Story

 




It’s a brick!

Don’t get me wrong, bricks are good. Bricks give us firm foundations.  

When I ordered The Imagineering Story, I saw the 700-plus pages and had a thought. It’s an oversized art book? That many pages just have to be filled with a lot of pictures, definitely more than text. It will definitely be artful, fun, and light.

There are five pages of pictures…and all in the front of the book!

Stop thinking art books, and start thinking 700-page fiction fantasy or thriller because this book is just as wild of a ride as any of those! And it is all words my friend!

The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering by Leslie Iwerks is more than a companion to the Disney+ series of the same name. She documents the actions of Walt Disney Imagineering from Walt Disney to the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. She draws a line of artists, creators, and business people who shared a common mission, “to create fun.” Iwerks provides a deep narrative that moves from park to park and milestone to milestone for Disney creatives. While giving us a history of things and events she adds multi-page biographies of Imagineers that often includes how they were recruited by Imagineering and their impact on an important project. The writing is clear, detailed, and consistent. And while it is not an academic press, it is clear that Disney sees this volume as exactly what the title claims “the official biography.”

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Iwerks overall keeps a calm tone. It is one that neither gets too high nor too low, it is honest and consistent. So while readers may come up against names that give them internal frustration, Iwerks avoids name-calling and dirt-digging. Everything is neither always good and never always bad. It is just frank here are the facts. It is likely this tone that allowed her to talk about some low points in Imagineering history in both the book and series in a Disney-sanctioned program. Let’s be honest, Disney does have a tendency to paint a rosy at all times picture. And Iwerks does not have to run away from the bad times for employees and the parks. I am still shocked that Michael Eisner was given such a big role in her series, and I am all for it. In the end, Iwerks can go places that maybe Disney marketing may not have preferred because to be blunt she wasn’t looking to flame anyone, she’s just providing facts.

Personally, I really liked her biographies of Imagineers. And yes as expected we get our Tony Baxters and Kevin Raffetys and other well-known figures. But I must admit, I was shockingly under informed of the career of Disney Legend, and guest star of The Mandalorian, Wing Chao. These biographies also answered questions for me about some Imagineers I saw in the program. For example, Doris Woodward was a new to me Imagineer, and Iwerks has time on the page to give us the background on this key leader for Shanghai Disney. And maybe these biographical asides were my favorite part as they allowed me to connect with people.

As Disney fans, we have dreamed about staying overnight in a Disney park. In the United States, we dream of winning an in-park suite for the night. Or we daydream of getting locked in by accident. Internationally, we may have the opportunity to stay in a Disney hotel in a park. But in 2011, 70,000 guests were marooned in Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea after a devastating earthquake and national tragedy. This is not how I would like to be staying overnight in a park, especially with cold temperatures. And Iwerks’ retelling of this incident has stuck with me. It shows that we may not know everything and The Imagineering Story has so much Disney history something that you’ve never read about is going to be in here. And Iwerks’ clear writing creates drama and tension.

The biggest personal issue I have with the book is a lack of an index and a lack of cited sources. Lack of index is likely my biggest future problem. This book is huge. And really one does need a map to go back and find content for future projects. Even writing this review required me to dig to confirm content a little harder than I really wanted to. Have I mentioned this book is huge? The lack of citations I am going to give her a pass on. Iwerks is a filmmaker, not a historian. I have a history background and I like to see the work. Iwerks relied heavily on interviews and internal sources and when quoting someone she always gives you the speaker in the text. She had access to the Disney Archives and most of all the people who lived the creations. We must remember that Iwerks is the granddaughter of Mickey Mouse’s co-creator and the daughter of a Disney film legend. Disney Legend could be the family crest! She is more focused on telling a story of creating fun, and her lack of citations keeps moving the story she’s telling forward of creativity and innovation.

In 2023, we enter the one-hundredth year of the Walt Disney Company. The Imagineering Story is the beginning of a book program to support this milestone. And Leslie Iwerks gives us the first good brick in the magical year’s foundation.



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Thursday, January 5, 2023

Between Books - Space Mountain



I am just not sure that the audience for the Little Golden Book Space Mountain by Nicole Johnson, illustrated by Mike Wall, and designed by Winnie Ho meet the height requirements for those wishing to enjoy the Disney attraction. The book follows a family, minus dad who is too scared, as they board, enjoy, and rejoin dad after enjoying the attraction. It is a clear-cut story with illustrations filled with brilliant colors. The Space Mountain featured in the story is clearly found in the Magic Kingdom due to the seating formation and being adjacent to the PeopleMover, because us Disney adults need to know.

I am not joking when I say Space Mountain’s audience likely do not meet the height requirements. It really is for a young child audience. And while other Little Golden Books may prepare a young rider to me this really communicates my friends and family on the ride will be okay. The book does not really match the ride scenes. For example, the book is wonderfully colorful and lacks darkness. Also, the scenes found on these pages do not match the actual attraction route. For example, I have never found any bake goods on the real-life route. If anything, this text makes it okay for young riders to not ride Space Mountain. Dad does not ride, so if an adult does not need to ride you do not need to either.

Color and fantastic snacks are the highlights for me in this young read. The book may not fully prepare a youngster for the fun of Space Mountain. But it will communicate that the attraction is a future fun adventure that is okay to be a bit afraid to ride. 

 

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