Monday, June 24, 2024

Between Books - Before the Birds Sang Words

Book cover for Before the Birds Sang Words with an illustrated macaw sitting on a perch.

I have to beg the Between Kid to enter Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in the Magic Kingdom! Maybe it takes a Dole Whip to get him to agree to enter. Maybe I just have to demand a break in the AC. Cearly, singing colorful birds doesn’t excite him. Now, Pirates of the Caribbean, he can ride all day! And what’s sad about this situation is that José is essential to the story of Jack Sparrow, Elsa, Mr. Potato Head, and Hondo Ohnaka when we see them in the parks today.

Before the Birds Sang Words by Ken Bruce outlines the long, and we mean long, saga of the Disneyland Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. While the attraction may have opened in 1963, Bruce ties the origins of the singing bird attraction not in just the popular tale of the New Orleans bird toy that Walt Disney brought to Imagineering, but even earlier to the astronomical clock in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg in Alsace, France. The 60-foot clock was created in 1354 and seen by Walt as a young Red Cross volunteer and an American businessman visiting France in the 1930s. Bruce uses the clock as a foundation from which he builds intersecting histories of mechanical toys, American views on Tiki and Polynesian culture, and Walt Disney’s development of the American theme park as seen through Disneyland. With Disneyland established, and his gift of a mechanical bird to Imagineering, Disney charged his artists to develop a bird restaurant. This challenge would lead to a ten-year development cycle that includes some of Disney’s most respected artists including John Hench, Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, the Sherman Brothers, Harriet Burns, and numerous other Disney Legends who participated in the evolution of a planned restaurant to a higher-capacity singing bird show. Bruce provides a comprehensive view of the show's development discussing Disneyland food service (can we talk about Stouffer’s Foods friends), Audio-Animatronic development, show scripting, building layout, song selection, recording, and virtually any topic of relevance to the show. Bruce finishes with a discussion of the evolution of the Disneyland attraction and its duplication in other parks like Walt Disney World.

I really enjoyed Before the Birds Sang Words. It is well-organized, well-written, and engaging. As someone who is not in food service, if you had told me that I would be fascinated by a chapter discussing Stouffer’s Foods I would have loudly said that would not happen. But in the big picture of Disneyland and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, this one small detail matters for understanding the relationship between leasees in Disneyland and why Walt Disney moved away from their large role in the park. The quality of the book and its definitive coverage of the attraction is surprising to me due to the fact it’s not a Disney Press edition yet it meets or exceeds the qualities of that press.

I called this story a saga, and it really is. The short story us Disney fans tell is that Walt Disney wanted a bird restaurant, Walt Disney realized that the birds were above the food, and he moved to an attraction. No, this is a ten-year development where technology changed, capacity was better understood, and Tiki culture grew in popularity. What’s also interesting to me is that honestly no one seems to have gotten what they wanted. Marc Davis designs were rejected, along with Rolly Crump’s. I really enjoyed the pages that discussed Davis and Hench working at cross-purposes. Songs were revised by George Bruns. Scripts and roles were changed, taking out some of Wally Boag’s saucy jokes. In the end, the attraction was rarely what anyone truly wanted, but a true collaboration between many visions. Though some would be able to show in the attraction’s evolution that what they wanted likely would have been for the best from the start.

Before the Birds Sang Words
by Ken Bruce is a engaging saga of one Disney attraction. But it’s an attraction who’s impact extends beyond the four corners the bird room. Bruce notes that some like the Between Kid may not be an enthusiastic for singing birds today as in the past. But Bruce gives us a context to better understand how important singing birds really are in Disney history and a chronicle of the hit they really were for Disney fans in Anaheim and beyond. Bruce helps us understand fully the lastly impact of the tiki birds and their entertainment legacy even for those who lack modern interest.

Clearly next time I’m in the park, I need a AC break even if he says no!  Because I love legacy.

Review Copy Provided for Review

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Monday, June 17, 2024

Between Books - There are Dads Way Worse Than You

Book cover for There are Dads Way Worse than You showing an ilustrated Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker looking at Luke's severed hand.

I’m not a card guy. There is part of me that sees a card as a $5 note, which will likely go to recycling in 97% of cases, all numbers being approximate. I’ve kept a few for the notes as they warmed my heart. But let’s be honest most cards go to recycling. I know the one’s I’ve given SHOULD BE RECYCLED.

There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father
by Glen Boozan and illustrated by Priscilla Witte is what I received from the Between Family in place of a card. The book is simple, are you worried about being a dad? Well, here’s a list of fictional and real dads who quite simply you out Dad daily. The bad dads include Darth Vader (no spoilers as he’s on the cover), Disney villains, and numerous pop culture baddies. Each dad is highlighted with a cute picture and a short narrative of his failure.

There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father will likely resonate with new dads who are worried about their future parenting triumphs and failures. Geek dads, including Disney ones, will also find themselves amused by the images and memories. I am willing to admit, I may be a better dad than Darth Vader. I did like the BBQ image at the end of the book where my favorite bad dad pairing is playing catch.

There are Dads Way Worse Than You: Unimpeachable Evidence of Your Excellence as a Father
by Glen Boozan and illustrated by Priscilla Witte is a book that to me is better than a card. And maybe this is what we need to normalize small gift books with heartwarming messages, in place of recycling materials. And hey, those sweet notes we love, you can still add them on the blank pages!

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

Monday, June 10, 2024

Between Books - Where is Walt Disney World?

Book cover for Where is Walt Disney World with an illustrated fun looking version of Magic Kingdom and Epcot combined with fireworks.

Between Disney is back to bash a kid's book!

Where is Walt Disney World?
By Joan Holub and illustrated by Gregory Copeland is an introduction to Walt Disney World for readers aged 8 to 12. The book provides a history of the development of the theme park including the life of Walt Disney, Disneyland, the leadership of Roy O. Disney, and the park's opening. The book then proceeds to tour the park from Magic Kingdom, to EPCOT, to Animal Kingdom (this is not in historical or geographical order ), and then to Disney Hollywood Studios. After walking through the parks, the creators discuss special events, hotels, Disney Springs, and the changing nature of the parks. The chapters include topical inserts and hand-drawn style illustrations scattered on the pages.

When I was 12, I wrote my first major historical essay on the surrender at Appomattox. Per the publisher’s recommendation, I could have used the published level of narrative and fact in this book to support my project. If so, that would have been a mistake. The history inside is sometimes the Disney myth history, without much explanation or elaboration. It often fails to address what I think is a more interesting story of a kid. For example, they call the Ulitidors the underground tunnels of the Magic Kingdom. But wouldn’t it be more interesting to a kid to know that it’s the first floor, not a basement? Or maybe a kid might be excited reading and try to sell their parents on one of the cheaper resort hotels, Animal Kingdom Lodge! Even the All-Stars laughed when I read that line.

The text is what it is! For a 8 year old it’s likely fine as it provides brushing big strokes on Walt Disney World history and location building. But for a 11 or 12-year-old, and likely a lot of 10s it’s too surface and likely to not feel up to their grade level of reading. For kids who want to dig into the history, background, and secrets of the park, I honestly think a better choice would be a current copy of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World books which is at an appropriate reading level, makes them feel more mature, and likely give them a lot of secrets they would annoy the adults around them with.

Where is Walt Disney World? By Joan Holub and illustrated by Gregory Copeland is a fine book for younger readers who need a surface introduction to Walt Disney World with images to keep them engaged with the story. But for emerging readers and those wanting to know more of the story, it’s likely a book that lacks the depth desired.  


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Monday, June 3, 2024

Between Books - Hidden History of Walt Disney World


Book cover for Hidden History of Walt Disney World wiht a black and white photo showing the park under construction from the viewpoint of the front gates

“I’d like to talk about EPCOT’s legacy by taking a look at EPCOT’s role in the proud American tradition of getting drunk on vacation (Nolte, 141).” You have my attention!

Disney books include a vibrant sub-genre of what I call “Secrets Books”! They generally consist of short chapters, often unconnected topically, and aim to bring readers deeper into the Disney story by ripping back the curtain. Some of these titles can be largely trivia books giving you quick looks behind the scenes. Others show us trends and make deeper connections about our beloved theme parks. I don’t recommend overlooking these books, as David Koenig’s Mouse Tales is still a book that I recommend new readers start with, mostly because it’s fun and rich in story. It’s this genre that started my Between Books obsession.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World by Foxx Nolte is the latest in secrets books. Topically the book is broken into five main sections that can be labeled as Orlando before Disney, building Walt Disney World, The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and expanding Walt Disney World. The chapters in these sections are generally short and full of images with topics that can range from citrus in Central Florida, tickets, drinking at EPCOT (as promised), McDonalds on Walt Disney World property, and many more. Each chapter is engaging with the reader and well-researched. I do find the images are well-used in supporting the text, especially when some readers may pick this book up to prepare for a first-time vacation and some topics are not those that are generally known to even experienced amateur Disney historians.

Doctor Phillips was not a doctor! My family is tired of hearing me say this and they may secretly be shaking their hands at Nolte. I think this is a win as I love beating a piece of fact into the ground. What really stands out to me about this book is the connection of Walt Disney World to the city of Orlando. Nolte notes the complicated relationship between the city and the theme park. But he also urges readers to understand that the identity of each was partially guided by the other. Walt Disney World is a place grounded in the city's history, and Orlando as it exists today was guided by the growth of the Disney property. In making this connection, Nolte introduces us to Orlando's history before the arrival of Disney and helps us see how these precursors impact the park today. For me, Dr. Phillips is a spot on a map! I sometimes questioned if there was a Dr. Phillips but was too lazy to Google it. Nolte pulls readers into the story of Doctor Phillips, not MD, citrus magnet, and then draws connections to how his business empire was used by Disney and then back to the city with how Disney has helped shape the area of Orlando known by that name today. For me, this connection between the parks and the city is one of the most interesting themes found in the book.

Alright, back to the drinking! I read the sentence about showing EPCOT’s legacy through getting drunk, and I read it again, and again…and then said huh. As a reader, I dared Nolte to do it! Now, while I do enjoy a good pint, I have never and likely will never get drunk on Disney property. I read a lot of Disney books, and I have seen discussions of legacy and evolution based in business terms, cultural terms, and entertainment terms. But drinking? Nolte meets the challenge well, by providing a history of events on Disney property along with the changing views of drinking in public while at the parks. This chapter is a good example of what most chapters will provide; history you may not have seen fully before, images that visually bring you closer to the topic, and a thematic line that educates and maybe even tells you about more than a theme park.

Hidden History of Walt Disney World
by Foxx Nolte is not your typical secrets book by just highlighting events within Walt Disney World. Notle does an excellent job of connecting the park’s history to the geographical region it resides in strengthening the mental image of the parks to the city. If anything, there were times when I wanted a little bit more so I had more facts to share with those around me. Though often, like the story of the Walt Disney World Preview Center, Nolte finds ways to bring the story back around full circle.

But I do wonder what Citrus Salad Gel tastes like!

Review Copy Provided by History Press

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