Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Between Books - The House of Tomorrow


Book cover for the House of the Future showing an artists depiction of the while mushroom like home in front of the Matterhorn.

David Bossert gives Disney fans a tour of an attraction that graced Disneyland with Walt Disney’s spirit of innovation for a decade, but that he never experienced. The Monsanto House of the Future ended its run in a Disney park over fifty years ago. But it still is hailed by Disney fans as giving us a snapshot of how Walt Disney may have seen his EPCOT’s role in educating and entertaining.

David A. Bossert in The House of the Future: Walt Disney, MIT, and Monsanto’s Vision of Tomorrow provides a visual history and tour of the extinct Monsanto House of the Future which demonstrated the power of plastics in our near future from 1957 to 1967. Bossert starts by giving readers a history of plastics and the story of how Disney, MIT, and Monsanto came together with the idea to build a showcase home using primarily plastics as a building material and furnishings. This history is followed by a visual tour of the home, using archival pictures that show readers the layout and furnishing of the showcase, complete with renovations that occurred during its decade of existence. The book ends with legacy, with Bossert balancing a discussion of plastics and their impact on the environment, with an overview of the House of the Retro Future Suite down the street from Disneyland at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel.

I never visited the Monsanto House of the Future, it was gone well before I was born. And I think this is probably the closest I can get. The House of the Retro Future Suite is a fantastically designed tribute to the extinct attraction, but it is not a reproduction. The sequence of photos that Bossert provided gave me the sense of a walking tour. His written narration made me feel like I had a researched in-person guide weaving me through the rooms of the home… especially since I don’t know anything about architecture or the chemical composition of plastics. The experience also reminded me of the Imagineering books that give us the behind-the-scenes, story overview, concept art, and images of the final attraction all in one package.

I will say as Disney fans, we have visited Pixie Hollow and debated walls and stones which may have been part of the Monsanto House of the Future. Bossert uses images, his walkthrough, and other experts to attempt to put to rest what of the house remains. This discussion gives us the blueprint to be able to do our fieldwork during future visits to see Tinkerbell.

I’ve never visited the Monsanto House of the Future. With it being extinct for 50 years, there is a chance you haven’t either. David A. Bossert through The House of the Future: Walt Disney, MIT, and Monsanto’s Vision of Tomorrow gives us a path to visit this attraction through the page. It also gave me an experience, I would love to have for other attractions that I can no longer visit. 


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Friday, December 8, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars The High Republic: The Eye of Darkness

Yeah, I just can’t stop. Call me a completionist! Call me stubborn. Or just call me a bit loony, because Star Wars: The High Republic is back with a book and I chose to read it so you don’t have to…unless you want to.

Star Wars: The High Republic The Eye of Darkness by George Mann brings us back to the later High Republic after Lucasfilm publishing had moved us to earlier in the period for several books. We need a printed info graphic timeline to track this thing! In those books we learned why Marchion Ro hated the Jedi so much. Though, I am not buying it! Now, Mann brings us back to the original High Republic time frame and story line that Disney introduced to us. There’s just a lot of confusion here as we jump between different stories in different times in a Star Wars era we’ve not spent a lot of time in. For example,e, I found myself confusing characters between the two phases of the High Republic.

Back to Star Wars: The High Republic The Eye of Darkness! The Nihil led by Marchion Ro are at the heights of their power after the fall of Starlight Beacon. Ro’s forces has claimed a portion of the galaxy, with the Nihil establishing the Stormwall, a buried that Republic forced cannot pass. Within Nihil space, the chaos of the Nihil causes disorder and death. Outside the Stormwall, the Jedi hide from Ro’s ultimate weapon, the Nameless, animal force user hunters. Mann follows a few key Jedi as they struggle to stay alive within Nihil space or seek to crack the Stormwall to bring freedom to the Nihil captives.

It is getting better? A little bit! There are fewer characters to keep track of which helps a lot. Honestly, the first volumes had so many Jedi and other characters it was difficult to remember who was who. At this point, the cast has been weeded down enough that really we are focusing on a few characters like Avar Kriss. It just makes the plot easier to follow. And it also brings stakes as we have seen so many of them reach the end of their stories in their past. The basic plot of hostages and hopelessness also creates a lot of internal stress. I will admit, there are stakes as we don’t know where these heroes and villains end.

Mann’s writing provides an adventure tale that holds attention. However, it does feel like it rushes to an ending. I kept looking at how much needed to get at least partially involved and it felt like a lot for me, especially reading in Kindle and knowing there was a small percentage of the book to go.

Yet, I still have thoughts.

I don’t believe that the added earlier phase of the New Republic is needed to enjoy this story. The story within this phase focusing on Starlight Beacon is the best preread for this story. The idea that the Ro family has complaints about the Jedi doesn’t give me more depth to Marchion Ro. No, just let him be a horrible terrible person. That’s enough. And we could have avoided the literary flashback that none of our characters asked for.

I’ve had concerns about the Jedi, starting with the prequel trilogy forward. When I was a kid, Yoda was a hero, mentor, and someone to look up to. Now knowing that he worked closely with a Sith Lord and allowed him to groom his future apprentice under his watch my thoughts have evolved. The earlier phase of the High Republic makes it even worse for me. Yoda we now know was aware of the Nameless, had seen Jedi die to the Nameless, and seemed committed to learning how to combat the Nameless. Now generations later, he seems to have done nothing. Yoda quite simply does not come off as the hero that young me needs and wants him to be.

I recently saw a TikTok that declared the High Republic to be a failure. I’m not that far yet. I may say the High Republic isn’t the most interesting or what I want! But that did get me thinking. Disney and Lucasfilm have a history of scraping projects. We have all heard of movies and Disney+ offerings that were canceled, never made, and walked away from. I mean I would still like to see Star Wars: Rouge Squadron. If fans are not loving the print offerings on the High Republic, why hasn’t Disney done so here? I get that publishing is a lot cheaper than movies and television. I understand how comics and books can be trial balloons to gauge interest. And if this is a pilot, well I think interest is low. Personally, I think that it’s time to revise what the High Republic could be or should be. If I was the architect, I would revise the plan for this era to follow one Jedi, I vote for Porter Engle, who is longed lived, like Porter Engle, has some mystery behind him, a Porter Engle type, and some drama, such as Porter Engle, and is respected by others, much like Porter Engle. They’d probably need to create an entirely new character! You could have this one Jedi travel the galaxy and have adventures. Then this one Jedi’s journey could give us the backstory for the High Republic if Disney really wants us to enjoy stories in this era.

Star Wars: The High Republic The Eye of Darkness by George Mann shows us that Marchion Ro is a bad bad man. He holds millions hostage and the Jedi are helpless. If one can look at this story as one of good versus evil in the Star Wars universe, the tale works. But as something that is part of a larger framework, it does not connect as well as Lucasfilm might hope.

Oh yeah, remember when I said I felt like Mann had to rush to an ending? As those who have read books before might guess, the story doesn’t end here. So everyone can look forward to more Marchion Ro and his hatred of the Jedi.

Will I try to read it? Well, there is no try, only do or do not!


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Friday, August 11, 2023

Mousey Movies - Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansin movie poster showing the cast hovering over a crystal ball which contains a haunted house inside.

As Disney parks fans we have waited for years for a new Haunted Mansion movie. Many fans have mixed thoughts on 2003’s The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy. Personally, I don’t like scary things so a more comical version was more than fine with me. We need to remember this is an attraction that creators debated scary versus funny. That debate led to a story that was a mix of both and we loved it. But it has seemed to me that the movie reboot debate has been let’s get something really different from Murphy’s take and make it scary, and that’s a no-thank you situation for me. Much like the first time I entered the Haunted Mansion, I was afraid to attend the 2023 movie on opening day…because I don’t do scary! And I heard this was scary,

For comic book fans, my summary is; Night Nurse shares a house with Mobius and the Joker won’t let them sleep!

Gabbie, a doctor, and her son Travis relocate near New Orleans to a dark and dusty Mansion. The two discover quickly that the house is haunted by ghosts they cannot escape. In trying to escape their fate, Gabbie gathers ups a rag-tag crew of a priest, an astrophysicist, a historian, and a medium who all get pulled into Gabbie and Travis’ fate. The group discovers that one spirit has more devious plans than haunting a family, and they must avoid becoming the last ghostly inhabitant of the mansion so he cannot gain his full dark power. Along with the horror comedy of the mansion, the group, such as astrophysicist Ben, struggle with their own grief and what the existence of ghosts could mean.

We came for the movie but stayed for the ride. Haunted Mansion attraction fans won’t be disappointed. The big bad is the Hatbox Ghost. And we mean bad, real bad. He’s not fun at all. There are stretching paintings, busts, and ghosts that all bring us into the ride. They pulled some much of the attraction in that I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it all and will still miss things when I rewatch on Disney+.

Is it scary? We have gotten a lot of questions from friends about can my ten-year-old, and my twelve-year-old watch the movie? You likely know your child’s horror tolerance. The Hatbox Ghost is scary and dark. The ghosts are definitely not always nice. There are a few jump scares. I hate scary, but this movie is well within my scare tolerance. It’s dark and forbidding, but no over-the-top gore and images that kept me from sleeping at night. If anything the Eddie Murphy crypt scene may be scarier than anything seen here in 2023.

Speaking of The Haunted Mansion. Personally, I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. And I currently just see it as a separate thing in a different universe. There has been so much added over the decades to the attraction, I really don’t see any story as canon. To me, neither The Haunted Mansion or Haunted Mansion are the true and only story of the mansion. And I enjoy them both for what they are without either taking from the other.

We have to give a special call out to Danny Devito as Professor Bruce Davis. The man is a national treasure and must be protected at all costs. He delivers the best one-liners in the film. And while he doesn’t get to play a beloved classic character like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Madame Leota, he is a new fresh, and fun one that gave a lot to the film, especially when a laugh was needed. A member of my group did not enjoy the film as much as the rest but made sure to let us know that Devito was the actor she kept following throughout the film.

Sigh, did I mention Disney+? The box office for this release under performed, by so so much. There are clearly two reasons for this. First, Barbie and her friend Oppenheimer are dominating the box office at release. Having seen Barbie, it definitely felt more fresh and new and it also has a lot of nostalgia. While there are a lot of Haunted Mansion fans, Barbie definitely has more. Second, do you want to see a Halloween-themed movie in July? Disney originally was going to release The Marvels in this slot but switched movies. The July release seems questionable. But, it also allows Disney to add it to Disney+ before the fall holiday. Maybe Disney is playing chess here, accepting that the movie release window would mean less at the theater but maybe have more of an impact when it hits streaming! I enjoyed watching the movie in a theater, mine was actually packed on opening day with that energy, but I would have liked it better in the fall.

I really enjoyed Haunted Mansion. But the question I am getting is do I need to see it in the theater? If you are a Disney Parks fan, Haunted Mansion fan, or even a Halloween holiday fan, I think you really should see it big. But I think of my friend who is a genre fan but not really a Disney fan at all. He likely can wait for it to arrive on Disney+ mainly because the material likely means a little less to him than to me, the guy who showed up in the Hitchhiking Ghost baseball jersey to see the movie. He’s really going to be entertained and enjoy Haunted Mansion, but he’s likely to enjoy his living room seat just as much as a theater seat.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Between Books - Who Was Walt Disney?

Book cover showing Walt Disney in an Hawaiian shirt standing in front of a castle.

When I was a kid I remember falling in love with history. One of the important moments I remember is a kid’s Albert Einstein biography that I borrowed from the library. I am not huge into Einstein's history today, but I remember the feeling of being fascinated by a true life story of obstacles and triumph. And I hope that kids can still use the pages of books to reclaim that feeling.

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is a Walt Disney biography for kids ages 7 and up. Along with Stewart’s text are illustrations from Nancy Harrison. The book is a from-birth-to-death biography of Disney. It glances over all the big moments but does not go deep into many topics. With around 100 pages there is only limited space to discuss in depth a full life. This is especially true when many of the illustrations are full or nearly full-page spreads with a medium-sized font.

For a child in the 7 to 10 age range, I think this is a fine biography to introduce a child to Walt Disney or help grow Disney excitement in a young fan. As a biography there are a few moments where I was like, no that’s not right. And I mean a few handfuls of moments. As I looked back at them, it was really items that were actually true, but being the person who can be asked a question and then answer for 30 minutes, items of omission. There is simply just not enough room in 100 pages for a comprehensive take on Disney. But hey, we have really long Disney biographies for those adult fans. Even with it being brief, Stewart does introduce kids to the major themes of Disney’s life. For example, Stewart captures Disney’s emotional change as the studio grew and the animator’s strike in the 1940s showed him that his company was no longer a tight family.

Some of the illustrations don’t feel to be fully on model. But this is also an unauthorized biography. The publisher does need to be cautious in the handling of Disney images. And how many 8-year-olds are really going to be worried about if Roy O. Disney looks just like his photos?

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is an accurate introduction to Walt Disney’s life and legacy. Hopefully, kids can find excitement in triumphs in the face of obstacles in the book. And maybe it will help foster the next generation of history nerds, if it be here or another of the volumes in this very successful series. 

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Between Books - Disney Presents The Haunted Mansion

Book cover for Disney Presents the Haunted Mansion with an illustration of the hitchiking ghosts in front of the mansion.

The first time I rode the Haunted Mansion, I was afraid. I hate scary things. I also was a grown adult. So if I was scared, I think kids would likely be also.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion with music by Buddy Baker, lyrics by Xavier Atencio, and illustrations by James Gilleard presents a kid-friendly version of the mansion. The printed lines come directly from Atencio’s lyrics, with a verse or two on each page. The illustrations are all new with fun child approachable images. The lyrics and illustrations provide a walkthrough of the attraction, with scenes that those who have enjoyed the attraction will find very familiar. Along with the book, included in the packaging is a CD of the beloved song.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion is really cute. I can see how for some young readers they could come to enjoy this packaging and begin to fall in love with the Haunted Mansion. It may even take away some anxiety in enjoying the Mansion. It may even bolster the courage of some before seeing a potentially scary live-action adaption.

The enclosed CD does make me chuckle a little bit. My copy is still sealed in the envelope not because I’m refusing to open the package for collecting, but because it is actually harder to listen to a CD than it was 5 to 7 years ago when all the music I listen to is digital. I did listen to a copy of the song with the book. It led to some really fast page-turning as the lyrics played. And then as the song went into reprises, a lot of playing without turning. I honestly liked it better without the tune.

The Haunted Mansion is beloved by young and old. Disney Presents The Haunted Mansion is a fun part of that program to create young fans. It is definitely one path to helping young fans enter fandom. It is cute, but perhaps a little misleading for those preparing for a live-action fright!

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Monday, June 12, 2023

Between Books - All of the Marvels


As my brother-in-law and I strolled through Disney Springs he found All of the Marvels and tossed it to me to thumb through. He knows I love comics and thought I may need a impulse buy...I did not. A few days later I was able to borrow a library copy and found something that was not Star Wars The High Republic (am I in a rut) and allowed me to review some of the history of another Disney universe.

Douglas Wolk for All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever took on a challenge that I still struggle with. I mean, I know how big this task is, and in fact, I mentally think of it as semi-impossible. Wolk read 27,000 plus comics. Now I have read most of Marvel’s run for a few years in trades from the library. But the idea of decades and decades of reading is flabbergasting to me. Yes, he does call out the restrictions he gave himself so he could focus on the Marvel throughline. But honestly, it’s more comics than I can comprehend.

The journey of the history of Marvel comics is really broken into two essay sets. The long essays deal with major Marvel characters or themes. These essays include topics like the X-Men, Thor, and Black Panther. There are also shorter essays or interludes that cover more obscure topics like presidents in Marvel, music, and Linda Carter also known as Night Nurse. Wolk uses specific comics as milestones in his essays. He lists the title and date and then summarizes it. Then he jumps to another title, usually with a gap between issues, and explains how they all together make one large story. Sometimes, he even goes backward.

The good news for me as a reader is I am highly familiar with almost all of these titles. So the essays have a structure that I know, understand, and sometimes add my own commentary. But, the essays are also really recaps too of the stories. So I would suggest one not look for a deep-dive literary essay in every summary. What Wolk does is show how “it’s all connected” as a Marvel fan would say. But it does not deeply go into every major turn with full literary dissection. If one really does not want to read recaps, this may not be the book for you.

For me, one of the best points that Wolk makes about the Marvel story is that the main theme is a romance comic. And that is why Linda Carter is really so important to this tale. Before superheroes, Marvel (under any of its former names) printed all kinds of genres. They could be Western or monsters before superheroes. One of the most important in this history is romance. And this is why Linda Carter, who was a romance title lead and eventually found herself pulled into the chaos of superheroes is so important. Wolk does an excellent job of showing how romance titles evolved into the Marvel universe we enjoy today. Peter and Mary Jane…Reed and Sue…there are so many romances among our superheroes and it is a theme that’s been in place since the beginning.  

All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever by Douglas Wolk is a Herculean effort, and I’m not talking about the superhero version. It is just so many comics to read in a reasonable amount of time, says a guy who reads a lot of comics. I applaud the effort and am glad that I read it. I just wonder if it may be too recapping or too inside the panel for comics novices. 


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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X


Tessa Gratton continues the tween reading program for Star Wars: The High Republic with a follow-up to Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City. I hoped this time, new author, new setting, and mostly the same teen heroes would create a less gloomy situation.

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton tosses a Jedi Padawan and a young hyperspace prospector from the earlier book into the Hyperspace Chase, a race to find new hyperspace lanes. The duo joins a third youngster, a member of a powerful prospecting family member with an agenda of their own. They make their target Planet X, a world of great promises for all three of them. But their agendas and the Path of the Open Hand may stop the trio from obtaining their prize.

Gratton’s offering fits what is wanted for a tween book. There is action. There is adventure. There are crossovers to adult books from the High Republic. If anything, that is a little frustrating to me as here in the non-adult book we get part of the origin of the Leveler. And I’m even more frustrated as Yoda in other books makes the Leveler’s existence a Jedi secret, yet here we have a Padawan who fully knows of its presence, origin, and even name.

Where Gratton excels over some of the other authors in this round of stories is making members of the Path of the Open Hand more rational and intelligent than we have typically seen. They are not all brainwashed. They are often nice people. But they have gotten themselves caught in something bad by sincerely believing. Sadly, that’s more common than we might think in this world.

If anything I at times find myself asking, who is letting these children run wild through the galaxy? It’s dangerous out there for heaven’s sake. The funny thing is of the three young people, it’s really only the Jedi who don’t seem concerned that a youngster is unsupervised. Does this mean the Force is an acceptable emergency contact?

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton does what it’s asked. It provides growing readers with some fun and adventure from their viewpoint. I think I just wish it did not rely so heavily on the books in the series that may be a stretch for some readers who enjoyed this offering. Do those readers have somewhere to go next? It definitely was not as gloomy as the last quest book.

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Friday, May 26, 2023

Between Books - Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1


Sometimes I think it’s fashionable to question the writing skill of Stan Lee. Many want to credit him for his marketing and promotional skills, but not his writing. We all know that The Fantastic Four changed the comics industry. But often the credit goes to Lee’s co-creators and not Lee. But for me, I have often argued that Lee was someone who was creative and artistic and partnered with other fantastic creatives to make great things.

Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1 collects the first thirteen issues of the 1960s comic written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. The stories depict the fictional United States Army Commando Nick Fury and his band of seven Howling Commandos. They are sent on secret missions in the European Theater of Operations, once to the Pacific. The missions are generally the same, something fantastical for non-superheroes to complete. And generally, Fury and his Howlers win the day (okay there are more volumes) through teamwork and fierce dedication to duty.

The stories are as good as any military action movie not based on a true story. Lee deals head-on with issues of class and race which were prevalent in the discourse of the 1960s. He does not hide from it but instead gives a very traditional conservative military landscape for these issues to be played out. And in the heat of battle, as one would expect, right often wins out. And while Kirby may have framed the action, we cannot forget that these messages were scripted with words given by Lee and are very consistent with his other writings on social issues.

There is a reality to this writing. This is a war story, not a superhero one. And yes, Captain America and Bucky do make a co-starring appearance. Yes, Baron Strucker is a villain, but he is one on par with Sargent Fury, not Captain America or future Agent Nick Fury. This volume reminds us that while Marvel is known for superheroes, we cannot forget comics including multiple genres including military, horror, and romance, formats that Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all familiar with. A constant complaint about comic stories is that they often lack weight. If you are not Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, you can be killed and return again. But here, characters are killed, and we know they have passed. As a reader, you can feel the grief. Lee and his artists crafted tales they felt were real.

I have an unpopular opinion. Jack Kirby draws really ugly people. Often in comic books, this doesn’t work for me because superheroes are well pretty. Kirby’s art works perfectly here. This Fury is ugly. He is a dogface, unpretty, and not yet Marvel’s super spy. Dino Manelli, the pretty boy in the group and former actor, looks very different from the gruff squad leader. And of course fan favorite Dum Dum Dugan looks differently than both of them. Kirby’s art works perfectly for me, and Ayers when he picks it up matches pencil to pencil. They created a group of separate models that differ and do not merge.

I’d say don’t sleep on Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1. I found a kindle version for less than a dollar. Kindle Marvel collections often are put on deep discounts. Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all veterans of World War II and clearly were passionate about telling the story of Fury and his men, giving it more realism than one expects from a Marvel title. The collection also reminds us why Lee and Kirby really were the masters of their industry, especially when collaborating together.

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha



That’s how it started. I opened up the Kindle edition of Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha and saw it was a script, not a book and I could not do it. I returned the book immediately and requested the audiobook immediately! This was a good choice.

Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann provides us with a narrative of a moment from the High Republic that other books have hinted at. The battle was a moment where the Path of the Open Hand challenged the Jedi’s ability to make peace in the Forever War, many Jedi were lost, and the Order was at a low point. The audiobook provides a dramatic account of the incident, complete with total audio production. The story covers a few days on Jedha as the Republic attempts to sign a major peace agreement, and the Path of the Open Hand attempts to strike silently at the prestige of the Jedi. The manipulations of the Path create a full-out battle on the world that we best know from Rogue One. There is a lot of action and fighting to keep the listener entertained.

No Yodas appear in this adventure.

I grew up loving audio shows. I had a volunteer experience where I could listen freely to old-time audio shows like The Shadow. And while I had read a script version of a Star Wars book/audio presentation in the past, I simply could not do it again. I needed the version as it was intended to be, an audio presentation with all its narration, acting, audio cues, and sound effects. And I was happy that I went to the story as it was meant to be. It was entertaining. It did its job, even being a tale from the High Republic which I am not in love with.

I do grumble a little bit about the Forever War…it’s lasted all of five years! That oddly does not feel like forever. Even in our world, the Forever War seems to have lasted a natural amount of time. I would have preferred a name like the War of Water and Sand! I just think the name was a little misplaced especially in a galaxy where the creators could have made it last 100 years or more.

This story also shows the Jedi to not be all the powerful and beloved space wizards we may expect. At Jedha, the Jedi are just one of many brands of Force users. Not everyone trusts the Jedi. This makes the manipulations of the Path even more believable. This is likely my favorite story point as we see Jedi vulnerable to galactic opinion.

I am a fan of audio productions. And Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann is produced well with a professional cast and plenty of sound effects to keep a listener engaged. The voice actors help you care about these Jedi who you know nothing about due to voice inflection and acting. I support not reading this book and listening instead as the actors and production allow you to hear the script notes versus reading them and imagining what it should like instead. This entry is likely my favorite of the early High Republic stories, due to the well-executed production of the sound team to support Mann’s writing.

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Monday, May 8, 2023

Between Books - Agent Carter: Season One Declassified

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified has sat on my shelves for years wrapped in plastic. I popped it open wondering if this volume would better inform my one viewing years ago.

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez walks readers through the first season of the 2015 ABC Marvel series. The book frames the question of how a Marvel One-Shot evolved into a series. Then Rodriguez provides an episode guide for each of the eight stories. And then finally, the book ends with production notes including special effects, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and other production services that lead to the final product of our home screens. The text is adorned with numerous striking color set photos and production art.

I am conflicted about this volume. Visually, the photos and art really pull us into Agent Carter's world. I find quotes from Hayley Atwell to be fun and delightful. But there are only, yeah just only, eight episodes. And while this is the same size as the other MCU art of books, it does feel a little thin. Television does have less production time than a movie, so there is a lot less art. Also, the book feels more publicity than behind-the-scenes secret sharing. The quotes and interviews provided to Rodriguez feel like publicity. And while there are a lot of set photos they feel like they have tossed every publicity shot onto the pages.

If anything, the thing that is frustrating to me is the book’s production. For example, 99.9999% of the photos have no captions. And since I have not watched this show in five years, I may have forgotten who some secondary characters are. Also, I have no idea who the producers, directors, showrunners, and other production staff are. There are pictures where a director may be speaking to Atwell, but please don’t ask me who that nameless man is!

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez gave me a flashback to when Agent Carter was on TV and Disney+ didn’t exist yet. It was fun to remember and I found myself arguing to myself that I needed to have a rewatch soon. I guess that’s the win, it is a publicity book that convinced me I need to watch a series I have already seen. But I don’t feel like I unlocked the code of Agent Peggy Carter and her corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 


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Friday, April 28, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm


In Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence stuff happened. Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm launches from the earlier book’s stuff with worlds we don’t know, heroes we’ve just met, Jedi we barely know, and an enemy that we’ve never seen on film or tv.

Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm by Lydia Kang continues the second phase of The High Republic. Newly married Phan-tu Zenn and Xiri A'lbaran hope for peace for their warring worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh. Still, an unseen enemy works against the young heirs to the thrones of their worlds and they are separated after an attack against the potential peace. Xiri and a group of Jedi travel to Dalana to confront the Path of the Open Hand for their role in the potentially world-killing threat. We of course know that the Path of the Open Hand are really the big bad. On Dalna, numerous Jedi, politicians, and lost young people coverage for a massive battle where the Jedi may not have the advantage.

I did like this volume more than the earlier offering. I think there were numerous reasons. First, I had met the main cast before and had developed feelings about them. And with them being all newer cast members they were all at risk at every moment, so we have the tension that Kang likely wished to create. Second, Kang was able to avoid a trap other authors have been asked to take on, mentioning Yoda without actually showing Yoda. And in this case, we are able to see actions from both Yoda and Yaddle, two Jedi that are well-known to Star Wars fans. And I really do believe that having some familiar characters who we know will escape this battle is beneficial to the entire story

Also, this story is action packed It feels like the whole second half of the book is action. This fact provides a payoff for Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence. It is finally faster more intense action.

Honestly, I am still not in love with The High Republic! Sorry, it’s not for me. But this installment is likely my favorite volume to date. I do feel like Kang in Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm did succeed in providing a book that was packed with action and generally kept my interest.

Maybe I am a sucker for Yoda doing a thing instead of being talked about as a wise warrior who is so far off-screen that we know we will never see him swing a lightsaber. I have a feeling I am not the only one with that opinion.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Between Books - The Official Walt Disney Quote Book



Book cover for The Official Walt Disney Quote Book with a portrait of a smiling Walt Disney.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles have strengthened me.” Walt Disney

That just has to inspire you as a Disney fan, even when you have a bad day!

We know the story. We know how it started and ended. And we know there was a lot of adversity.

The Official Walt Disney Quote Book by the Walt Disney Archives provides us not a story but quotes such as the one above to inspire our spirit, jumpstart our imagination, and provide us insights directly from Walt Disney. The book is divided into 21 chapters around themes such as films and animation, the Disney theme parks, television, animals and nature, family, life, wonder, and more. The quotes are a page or less in eye-catching fonts on pages embellished with pictures from Walt Disney’s life. While there is no index, as topics are easy to look for in their chapters, the Walt Disney Archives staff does provide an original source for all quotes and images.

This book is honest. It is a quote book, and there is no story provided. Though the themes of the chapters do provide some thematic cohesion that keeps readers from feeling like they are jumping from topic to topic to topic and I quite like it. The title is part of the Disney 100 campaign, with Disney Editions making it very visually attractive with its hardcover adorned by Walt Disney along with good use of fonts and images on the page. The text can easily serve as a thought jogger as one considers Disney and non-Disney topics.

I do have another Walt Disney quote book printed in the 1990s for the parks, which I have not reviewed. That edition is smaller and softcover. And honestly, it does not look as good on the shelf. It also has 100 plus chapters, which are really headers with multiple topics on the page and not thematic but in alphabetic order. That version may make it easier to find a topic, but it lacks the idea of moving together a story.

Is The Official Walt Disney Quote Book by the Walt Disney Archives for everyone? Probably not. It is however attractive visually and I like having it where I can quickly grab it when I need a Walt Disney quote. Yes, I could get those in an internet search too, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying as flipping the pages myself. Often times inspiration for me is easier to find on a page in my hand than a screen in front of my face.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that Between Disney receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site.


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars

Book covering of Star Wars Jedi Battle Scars showing the 4 crew members of the Stinger Mantis with a large image of an Inquistor in the background.

Cal Kestis…never heard of him!

Okay, maybe I heard about him with they started selling his lightsaber in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. I saw the excitement. I recognized the actor/model from Gotham. But I had no interest because I’m not a gamer and have never played Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Also, many of you may have suggested that Star Wars books and I go on a break because the Old Republic has made me really grumpy.

But hey, I read these so you don’t have to…you’re welcome!

Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs follows former Jedi Cal Kestis and the crew of the Stinger Mantis about a decade after the fall of the Jedi and Order 66. Kestis and his crew are drawn into a caper to acquire a super secret super powerful piece of technology before the Empire can get it. Leading the empire’s attempt to collect this item is an Inquisitor who is also seeking to kill or turn Kestis and his Jedi master. As the crew plans and executes their plan, we are pulled into all the emotions of the crew.

I am familiar with Star Wars. I know the general story of the Empire and the Jedi refugees post-Order 66. I know what Inquisitors are, I’ve seen them in comics, animation, and live-action. I even feel the pain of former Jedi as they hide from the Empire. So while I was not familiar with Kestis, there are enough context clues around me to put me into the story without me saying I know this world but this isn’t right and gosh now my head hurts. Basically, I think unlike the Old Republic the pre-knowledge from being tied to the already well-built Star Wars era makes this functional for me. So yeah, look at me not railing against this and being really mad. I was entertained!

This book is a caper. It is Star Wars: Firefly with Maggs (and the video game designers maybe) giving us a ship and a well-designed crew of misfits that many of us can see likable traits in. With my brain not hurting, I was able to slip into the story and just let it do its job, tell me a story. I was also willing to get to know the characters better.

Kestis wasn’t even my favorite character. It was Merrin the Dathomir Nightsister. Again, I think it helps that we’ve met Nightsisters before in Ventress and have been pre-delivered the background of these non-Jedi force users. Merrin gives us very “human” emotions of grief, trauma, and multiple versions of love. In fact, we see with Merrin a Star Wars character who does something I rarely believe happens in this universe, display intimacy.

Boom, Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs did the job. I was entertained! To me, that’s really the job of a Star Wars book. It is escapist fiction and works best when I get pulled into a fun adventure. Here, I also get the bonus of some real emotional character reflections that make me feel like this crew is, well, real.

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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Between Books - The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder

Book cover for The Story of Disney 100 Years of Wonder with shilloutes of Disney characters ringed along the edges of the book.

No hologram Walts here my friend!

The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder by John Baxter, Bruce C. Steele, and the Staff of the Walt Disney Archives is a companion book to the Disney100: The Exhibition which began traveling the world in 2023 to coincide with the Walt Disney Company’s 100th year. The book is broken into topics that include the foundation of the company, adventure, innovation, the parks, sound, and others. Since the book is topical, each chapter generally covers large spans of the company’s century of history and multiple subtopics. Each chapter comes across as an essay with a variety of supporting color images and interstitials that highlights historic people or moments.

This text is trying to capture in a visually pleasing way 100 years of history. This is a drinking from the firehouse situation. As a reader, you will get deep on nothing. But you will glance off a lot of Disney creations as they get namechecked for their historical contributions. It does at times feel like films and tv get more space than parks, but the parks-specific essay is in the last half of the book. If one was to teach a course on Disney history, The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder could serve as the textbook. But other texts would be required to ensure that students could learn deeply on specifics. The images are visually wonderful, as one would expect from the Disney Archives.

I do find it interesting how Bob Chapek is managed in this book. The book was being completed during the time that Bob Chapek’s tenure began to sour and eventually Bob Iger returned as CEO. Chapek is thanked for his interviews…but he’s never mentioned in the text of the book. But Bob Iger is really prominent as he adds color to the company’s history. I speculate that much of the real estate given to Iger speaking as the company’s leader may originally have been reserved for Chapek. And with him leaving the company, he was replaced and removed from the history. Disney can be very controlling of their history’s image. And I wonder if, like Michael Eisner, who is mentioned once, we will see Chapek have a historical return in a few decades, especially for his work in home video.

The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder
by John Baxter, Bruce C. Steele, and the Staff of the Walt Disney Archives is a celebration of 100 years. It is visually appealing with text that varies between historical examination and marketing speak, as one would find in D23 Magazine. And that is not shocking with contributors that are often asked to fill this assignment of informing fans about and marketing Disney products.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Between Books - Walt Disney's Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks

Book cover for Walt Disney's Ultimate Invetor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks showing Iwerks drawing Mickey Mouse at an animation desk.

Disney history is full of larger-than-life characters such as Bob Gurr, Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, and even Walt Disney himself. But while Ub Iwerks may not be a name known to every Disney fan, his contributions to early Disney history are irreplaceable and placed next to Walt and Roy O. Disney on the Mount Rushmore of Disney legends.

Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks by Don Iwerks is a highly visual history of the co-creator of Mickey Mouse. The text is broken into six key sections highlighting different phases of Iwerks’ life. The opening outlines Iwerks early life and animation work which included meeting Walt Disney in Kansas City, a failed partnership, and Disney asking him to join him in California. During this first stint at Disney, Iwerks would create the Mickey Mouse design and lead the development of the innovative Silly Symphonies. After a disagreement, Iwerks formed his own studio best known for Flip the Frog. Iwerks would return to the Walt Disney Studio, not as an animator but using his skill and curious nature to create special effects which included Aerial Image Optical Printers, sodium traveling matte, and Xerox processes in animation just to name a few. As Walt Disney expanded his parks, Iwerks used his knowledge of cameras to create Circarama and Circle-Vision 360. The younger Iwerks provides images and schematics along with personal know-how to explain the innovations that helped define his father's genius.

This book is personal and visual. Disney Legend Don Iwerks is writing a very personal story about his father. Oh yes, there is definitely respect and nostalgia. But Don as a member of the machine shop was also a colleague to Ub. So along with understanding the personal man, he also understands the very complicated inventions that his father dreamed up. In many ways, it’s the best of two perspectives, and Don makes his bias clear. Though that bias never seems to get in the way of his writing. And technical expertise is really needed to help explain these numerous mechanical changes. For example, I am not a camera expert. I don’t believe that most readers will be. So having Iwerks walk us through the tech, as someone who often contributed to the manufacturing of them, is completely necessary. Luckily this oversized coffee table book has numerous images which help illustrate the developments. For those who are not interested in technical details and want another starting point on Ub Iwerks’ life, The Hand Behind the Mouse is likely a better starting point and is co-written by his granddaughter.

Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks by Don Iwerks taught me a lot about cameras…and Ub Iwerks. While I have read biographies of this legend, this text has a personal touch and technical understanding that I would urge Disney history fans to not sleep on. And while we may struggle at times with technical developments, Don Iwerks helps us overcome them to better understand his father’s genius allowing us to better understand an innovator that has helped shaped animation, cinema, and theme parks. 

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Thursday, March 16, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City

Welcome to Gloom, a world of ruins and monsters.

I mean, welcome to Gloam, a world of ruins and monsters.

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City by George Mann is part of the second High Republic story campaign, which chronologically is before the first wave. This volume is for older child/young teen readers. In short, bad things are happening on the gloomy planet of Gloam. On this world a Jedi unit of Pathfinders, a father/son pair of hyperspace prospectors, and monsters all intersect for an adventure during the High Republic.

Yeah, my summary is short, It’s a pretty straightforward story of getting different groups onto Gloam and then pushing them all together. The story has a horror element, which I am not a fan of, but I didn’t get too scared. It reminds me a bit of the now non-canon Star Wars: Death Troopers or Star Wars: Red Harvest meant for older audiences but also giving a feeling of creeping doom.

I scratch my head about how this is all to come together. There are mentions of the Forever War and Jedha which are found in other books or mentioned. But all of the Jedi and non-Jedi characters are new. I am finding it very difficult to create a literary relationship with any new characters. Mann’s writing is fine and very much at the reading level of his audience. I just wonder if we replaced the word Jedi with Wizard if some of these books would be better off on their own without a Star Wars label.

Oh, do not worry! I am not done with these Star Wars: High Republic wave two books. Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City like it’s predecessors failed to be the key to open up this new chapter of Star Wars literature for me. But maybe the next offering will get a less gloomy opinion from me.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Between Books - Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie

Book cover of Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie showing Chris Hemsworth as Thor holding a sparking Mjolnir

I like Thor: The Dark World more than you!

I’ve never met anyone who legitimately seemed to enjoy it, to the level I did. So a few years ago I bought a copy of Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie because for that devotion and being a collector I had to catch them all after reading a few others. Then it sat on the Between Shelves, and I saw the prices of the rest and there was no completionist urgency in the world to get me to finish the whole set. And so that pages figuratively rotted on the vine till now.

Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie by Marie Javins and Stuart Moore takes readers through the journey to construct the movie of the same name. The book discusses general story settings of the journey such as looking at Asgard and Svartalfheim. A big emphasis is really on the scenery and the breakdown of scenes, where character development explanations are generally smaller portions of the book. The text is filled with a lot of concept art and storyboards.

I have read a few Art movie books. And this was generally not a favorite for me. As I mentioned, this book is a lot about the scenery and I feel like a lot of Art books give us greater detail on how the plot is developed. This book goes deep into how the worlds were physically and virtually built and not the story. The characters are also not fully discussed in their evolutions either. For example, the book discusses the replacement of metal with rope and fabric in Thor and Odin costumes but I don’t believe it really explained how the characters softened internally. And while one of my favorite model breakdowns was creating the dark elves, the evolving models did not really build characters but really attempted to show a visual representation of stock not-nice elves.

And while the art is beautiful and grand in scope, especially when showing backgrounds and scenery. But I also think there are too many black-and-white storyboards in this volume which cover numerous pages of the book. They are to me not as visually interesting as the giant splash images. And while I can see how concepts moved from page to screen, they did not differ to me enough to show me an evolving thought process which is often the most interesting thing in these books.

As someone who collects, completing a full set of Marvel Cinematic Universe art books seemed impossible to me. The secondary sales of some of these volumes were well beyond any price I might consider. I think this is why this volume sat unmoving on my shelve…why read it when I can’t catch them all. But hope has returned as Marvel has announced a new printing of 24 volumes of MCU “Art Of” books. Though I think I may have lost the desire to fill out the full set. 

I’m a weirdo. I may have liked Thor: The Dark World more than Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie. It is a fine volume. It does what it is asked to do by giving a visual description of how some concepts went from page to screen. But it lacked the discoveries that I really enjoy in this book genre.


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Monday, February 27, 2023

Between Books - Disney's Theme Parks and America's National Narratives

Book cover for Disney Theme Parks and America's National Narratives showing a large crowd in front of Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World.

I started this book and couldn’t get past the first page. I just couldn’t read it. And that’s why I got glasses!

It has been a while since I have read a monograph with smaller type, smaller pages, and with only occasional pictures. And the addition of glasses did make me feel like an academic reading a book for scholars.

Disney Theme Parks and America’s National Narrative: Mirror, Mirror For Us All by Bethanee Bemis hypothesizes, argues, and defends an academic thesis about the history and culture of the United States and Disney Parks. Bemis puts forth that Disney theme parks are a physical location where the American public negotiates the meaning of what it means to be American. She looks at five points of contact. She examines the use of American folklore and myth in the parks, Disney characters as American symbols, the transformation of folk history into an experience, the legitimization of Disney’s version of history by national figures and organizations, and finally Disney's use and evolution of history in the theme parks. Bemis argues that what is reflected in theme parks are not just conservative viewpoints but an evolution of how Americans see themselves. The book chapters delve into these topics, by demonstrating numerous examples in a short number of pages. For example, “Mickey Mouse/White House: Celebrating American Indentiy at Disney Parks” provides an overview of every President’s relationship since Dwight D. Eisenhower with the Disney Parks. In this chapter, special focus is given to presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan who had more than glancing visits to the parks. And Bemis uses these examples to show the messages that Presidents were delivering using the parks for context and emphasis.

Bemis is a well-trained and respected academic with ties to the Smithsonian. She writes for an academic audience with numerous citations and a reference section that shows she’s done the work. The writing is clear and straightforward. And honestly, I feel like it’s accessible to the non-academic reader. But. this is a very different tone than a memoir, biography, or even non-academic history with a goal of entertaining. This is not a fireside or bedtime read, this is a monograph, a complex study. And that tone may not attract all readers. Also, this is a $40 book, which while a standard for an academic monograph may be too pricey for a 120-page book with limited pictures.

As I read through this book, I do feel Bemis very much depicts a relationship between the parks and American people that evolves. And while American history and even Walt Disney himself were often conservative in nature, there are many pieces of clear evidence that show the parks evolve along with society. I think the most impactful evidence for me of this evolution is Disney’s view of Gay Days. Bemis shows us how Disney had negative reactions to same-sex relational displays in Disneyland, to their caution but allowance to the first Gay Days events, to current corporate acceptance and support. Bemis shows us how the American viewpoint on this issue evolved the parks’ changing narrative making her point about the changing narrative.

Many early academic Disney books were, to be honest, attacks. The Disneyfication of American history is painted in a negative light as it may have glorified patriotism and ignored peoples and minority groups. I fully see the point that Bemis is making, the park narrative, which is not a true depiction of American history, has evolved as guests interacted with the parks. But what you look for, one will find. And I can see how those who believe that Disney parks and executives are immoral agents manipulating historical views, would be validated by this study. And I can see how those who believe that Disney creatives have only good intent would also be validated. In the end, Bemis to me paints a picture where the parks and the people for good and ill have informed each other. And it is a much more interesting and complex relationship of gray instead of black and white.

Professional academic Disney works are coming! They are not marketing. They are not Disney-sponsored history. They are not love letters from fans. They sometimes require reading glasses! Disney Theme Parks and America’s National Narrative: Mirror, Mirror For Us All by Bethanee Bemis is part of this professional trend. The monograph would likely not be for everyone, as it is not as fun or nostalgic as a memoir or entertaining secrets account. But it does paint us a valuable picture of how an entertainment company can be influenced by society, and how that narrative can be mirrored back to the people.

And it appears that thanks to Bemis I can see clearly now! 


Review Copy Provided by Routledge

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The Halcyon Legacy

Book cover for Star Wars the Halcyon Legacy showing a Jedi wookie standing in front of an image of the Halcyon


I love it!

It may not be for everyone, but I generally am a fan. And with something as big as the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser it’s all departments on deck as Marvel supports an ambitious new hotel experience!

Star Wars: The Halcyon Legacy written by Ethan Sacks with art by Will Sliney takes readers on a historic journey on the fictional galactic starcruiser. We join a grandfather and granddaughter on a voyage when it is stopped by pirates. The space pirates are seeking out a spy for the Resistance, and they hope to be rewarded by the First Order for turning over the agent. During this crisis, the Halcyon’s logistic droid Deethree Ohnine tells the family stories of past events, including one that involved the grandfather. These tales also give Star Wars fans moments with The High Republic, Aurra Sing, Asajj Ventress, Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, Lando Calrissian, Hondo Ohnaka, and many more. The stories together paint a picture of a cruise liner with a long history of intrigue and adventure.

Overall, the story is what you expect for a comic book tale. And it is written clearly and approachable especially for younger fans. I assume that Disney and its subsidiaries did require that the story include a large number of tie-ins…for synergy. The art is well done and gives you the visual reference you need to enter the Star Wars universe.

Huh, so you want to open with a story about the High Republic? I get that the High Republic is a massive Disney publishing program. But do you really want to open with that? To me, this comic has a purpose. Okay, I will agree that Sacks and Sliney had the purpose of creating an enjoyable story. So two purposes. Purpose two, as likely seen by Disney as purpose one, is to get guests excited about Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. I’d also argue that kids are a great target for the comics format. I am not convinced that kids really know anything about the High Republic publishing effort. I’m not convinced as a Disney adult that the High Republic, especially wave two, is successful also. So while I get the references to the newest trilogy, especially how it aligns with Batuu, I scratch my head with the inclusion of an era of Star Wars that is really only on the page at the moment.

To continue to overstep myself, I think if Disney Parks, Lucasfilm, and Marvel wanted to really use synergy this story should have gone a little differently. First, we only get to see Captain Keevan in the story from the actual park experience cast. I think they could have added more current crew to the story. That would have better prepared you for who you will meet on the Halcyon. We really don’t get to see as much of the ship as I wanted. And I still scratch my head that anyone can do lightsaber training after tv has shown us they are super hard to use (nerd alert). Second, I would have rolled into the moments that older Star Wars fans may really have wanted, the original trilogy cast on an adventure. I think this would have been a perfect moment to adapt Princess Leia’s and Han’s honeymoon into comics. They’ve adapted entire Thrawn novels into comics. And this would have been a great moment to give that story some visuals. Now that is synergy and maybe help get Disney some bookings. And spoiler, younger fans like that first group of heroes too!

Star Wars: The Halcyon Legacy written by Ethan Sacks with art by Will Sliney is a fine representation of a comic book that can be enjoyed by numerous audiences. I just see the ability to better apply synergy. I think that Disney could have better used this opportunity to get bookings by making guests feel both informed and excited about a vacation of a lifetime. I would have simply recommended sprinkle in more of who we know and who we will see.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Between Books - Not Just a Walk in the Park

Book cover for Not Just a Walk in the Park showing Jim Cora standing in front of a Disney castle.

Do you want to talk about the Disney navy? Did you hear about the time Disney almost bought an aircraft carrier?

Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career by James B. Cora with Jeff Kurtti outlines the late Disney Legend’s life and career. Cora begins his tale with a story of immigrants. Cora’s family immigrated from Lebanon before his birth. This resulted in a circumstance where his complexion and culture made him feel out of place. Cora entered the Air Force after high school, and post-service balanced school (which he struggled with), and a job at Disneyland (which he flourished with). Cora would be noticed by Van France and Dick Nunis for his ability to train and organize. After ten years that saw Cora move between Disneyland and Retlaw, he was asked to help oversee the on-site development of Walt Disney World with an eye toward operations. This established Cora as a Disney projects expert which launched him into decades of international adventures with roles overseeing development at Tokyo Disneyland, Euro Disney, Tokyo DisneySea, and unbuilt concepts as the leading executive for Disneyland International. Cora would retire after 44 years of Disney projects, but in his later life, he continued to make himself busy mixing his project, operations, and storytelling expertise to continue to delight his audience despite significant health problems.

Honestly, I was not aware of much of Cora’s career. And his writing is clear, and to the point, and I imagine his tone. He writes a book that is not just about Disney, but also his family's legacy in the United States, his personal failures, and his attempts to hold to a strong operational standard. I found myself amused by stories that were best told by him, like a pitch to purchase a scrap aircraft carrier to create a mobile Disney park. Cora also had a great vantage point to compare the creation of Disney parks in Japan and France. Spoiler, he found the Japanese to be the superior group of managers to work with going so far as suggesting their staff and not Americans may be the best trainers abroad. His life gives us a view from the middle of the hierarchy in getting Disney projects made abroad and lessons on managing up. As someone who grew up in the Eisner era, I enjoyed the stories of Michael Eisner asking for medical advice, while neither Cora nor Eisner should have been working. And the tales of the supportive Frank Wells just help to make him even more endearing.

I recently had a conversation about networking. I don’t like it. I am just a little too introverted. And I would like to think that my work and effort are what I should be evaluated against. I really get the sense that this is how Cora saw life too. He was raised by his parents to be hardworking. He was proud of what he did. Cora points out Disney Legends, such as Marty Sklar, who knew better than him how to be political in the office. But I think it is likely this what you see is what you get, and what is get is pretty darn good, which led figures like Dick Nunis to rely on him. And Cora himself did not suffer fools. His text has several references to organizational tendencies that he felt lacked efficiency. And there are stories of executives who lacked the proper work ethic or Disney spirit. Not everyone liked Cora, he at one point was key in corporate layoffs. But at least in his writing he also showed a very human side of himself.

Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career had been on my to-read list for around a year. I’m really glad that I added it to my Between Books. Sure, it’s not a book filled with excitement and artistic lessons. And there is a lot about operations and career building, which I appreciated. But most of all while I am getting older in Betweenland, it reminded me that I have a lot to still contribute. And that everything behind me, can lead me to situations where I can still give to others.

Thank You, Mr. Cora!

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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!