Author: Jeff Baham
Title: The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion
Publication Info: Theme Park Press (2016)
Like it says on the tin, this is a history of the legendary Disney Parks attraction, the Haunted Mansion. The story of its is one of competing ideas among the imagineers – some wanted it to be scary, some wanted it to be funny, and Walt mainly wanted it to be clean and well-maintained. The attraction opened after over a decade of planning and work, and despite – or perhaps because of – the lack of unity on what it should be, it became an instant classic. The book also carries us through on a virtual ride on a Doom Buggy exploring the different details and modifications made over the years. Would you believe they once had a live human performed in knight’s armor swinging a sword at passing guests? This is a fun and in-depth book about the Haunted Mansion and what makes it brilliant.
Title: The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head
Release Date: March 14, 2019
Production Company: Just A Head In A Jar
This low-budget, indie film is known primarily for many scenes shot guerilla-style within Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It tells the story of a hapless Disney employee, Peter (Daniel Cooksley), who his recently separated from his wife and is struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Molly (Kathryn Jenkins), as she is growing up. While wandering the tunnels beneath the Magic Kingdom looking for a birthday gift for Molly, Peter discovers that the Disney company keeps the frozen head of Walt Disney (Roy Schneider) there, and thaw it out once a year for 72 hours to get Walt to approve new projects. Walt asks Peter to take him to actually see and experience the Magic Kingdom. Hijinks ensue.
The movie is equal parts a skewering of the Disney company and a loving tribute to Walt and the Disney Parks. I think the major problem with the film is that Cooksley doesn’t really have the comic timing to be the lead, but Schneider is excellent as Walt. It feels more like a sitcom than a movie, and I think both budgetary issues and the fact that they would never get permission from Disney to make this film hampered their ability to really run with a fun premise. So I’ll call it a failed but noble effort, but your mileage may vary probably in accordance with how much you like Disney Parks.
Author: Guy Hutchinson
Title: Letters to The Hall of Presidents
Publication Info: Independently published (May 22, 2020)
I saw this as a bargain for Kindle and thought it might be cute. It turns out that these were not actual letters written to Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents but a humor book where the author makes up letters from school students to the Presidents and their response. It’s only 99 pages with a lot of illustrations, so I read it anyway. The problem with this humor book is that there is nothing in it that is funny. In fact, I kind of hate it.
Rating: 1/2 star
Author: Christopher E. Smith
Title: The Walt Disney World That Never Was
Publication Info: Theme Park Press, 2016
Have you been to World Disney World? Do you remember riding the classic Western River Expedition ride in the Magic Kingdom? How about scaling Fire Mountain and Villains Mountain? What’s you’re favorite memories of visiting the Epcot World Showcase pavilions of Israel, Iran, Spain, and Equatorial Africa? Do you remember immersing yourself into the movie parody land of Muppet Studios? How about visiting the Beastly Kingdom, the part of Animal Kingdom themed around mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons?
Of course, none of these things exist. Drawing on a wealth of historical resources, Christopher E. Smith details the plans for these and many other Walt Disney World experiences that never came to pass. He tells the story of why these visions of Imagineers failed to come to fruition and how their influence has played out elsewhere in the parks. It’s a fun history of possibility for Disney Parks fans.
46 years ago yesterday, President Richard Nixon delivered what became known as his “I am not a crook” speech. This went down as a key moment in the downfall of his presidency, and Nixon would resign less than 9 months later.
There are a couple of things that fascinates me about this historical event. One, it took place at Walt Disney World, specifically the Contemporary Resort where the monorail passes through, which strikes me as a strange place for a president to deny his crimes. Two, on a more personal level, I was born the next day so the headlines of the newspapers on the day I was born were all about the “I am not a crook” speech.
Here’s a couple of examples from New York Newsday and the New York Times:
After looking back to a highly-relevant past, I also look towards the future. I have high hopes for 46 in more ways than one.
As always, happy birthday to my November 18th fam: Mickey Mouse, Steven Moffat, David Ortiz, and Chloë Sevigny!
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Power Play
Publication Info: New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, c2011
I was disappointed in the previous installment of the Kingdom Keepers, but the series regains its footing in the fourth book. The narrative is less bloated and even when the Keepers hit a snag in one of their moonlight adventures in the Disney Parks, it feels plot-driven rather than a dead end.
There are five Kingdom Keepers, with Finn the leader getting most of the attention, and Philby growing to be the co-leader. The other Keepers and the two Fairlies, Amanda and Jess, have had a lot to do in previous books, but this is the first book in which Willa has a big part, and it’s really great to see her character grow.
Willa is also present for a new factor in this books when she meets (and is helped) by Ariel, the Little Mermaid. The villains – known as the Overtakers – have featured prominently in the series, but this is the first time a good Disney character plays a role with hints that more good characters are looking for a leader to drive them to action. Later, Minnie and Pluto play a big part. It’s very bold for Pearson to wait until the fourth book to introduce this game-changing factor to the novels!
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney in Shadow
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2010.
In the third books of the Kingdom Keepers series, the story is starting to wear thin. This book is much longer than its predecessors and feels bloated. There are a number of false starts to getting the plot moving that don’t really add anything as far as character beats go. There’s also a love triangle crisis among Finn-Amanda-Charlene that comes out of nowhere and seems unnecessary.
Nevertheless, when the action gets going, the Kingdom Keepers stay up all night fighting the Overtakers in Epcot in attempt to rescue their mentor Wayne. The action culminates in a full-on tech rehearsal of Fantasmic! where they battle of good versus evil is very real. I think the final sequence stands well by itself and if the novel were trimmed down to simply support it, the novel would be a much better addition to the series.
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney At Dawn
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2008.
Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby return for another adventure as the five young teenagers who defend Walt Disney World from the villainous Overtakers. The story begins with a parade celebrating the return of the kids’ DHIs (holographic hosts who work in the Magic Kingdom), but the appearance of their friends Amanda and Jez forebodes dark times ahead in the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Amanda and Jez are orphans with magical powers only just being revealed to the rest of the Kingdom Keepers, and the are known as Fairlies, as in “Fairly Humans.” When Jez is abducted the Kingdom Keepers not only need to find her but also avoid falling asleep and having their DHIs trapped in the Overtakers’ new server. They spend the day at the Animal Kingdom struggling to keep awake as they solve these mysteries. Charlene gets a particularly good boost in her character as she gets to disguise herself as DeVine, the camouflaged, stilt-walking performer, for reconnaissance purposes.
Aaaaaaaaand, the novel ends on a cliffhanger, meaning that my daughter and I will most certainly be reading the third book in the series.
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2005.
This book is the first in a series of adventure and mystery children’s novels set in the Walt Disney World theme parks that I’m reading to my Disney fan daughter. The basic gist is that five young teenagers have been used as models for holographic theme park guides in Disney’s Magic Kingdom known as Disney Host Interactive (DHI). A simple one-time acting gig unexpectedly leads the kids to start crossing over in their sleep and appearing in the Magic Kingdom in the form of their holograms. An old and mysterious Imagineer named Wayne tells them that they were created to counter the characters of Disney villains who are coming to life and trying to take over the parks (and thus known as the Overtakers).
The five teens kind of have a Scooby Doo crew crossed with a Disney Channel Original Movie vibe. Finn is the leader and the main protagonist of the book. Charlene is an athletic cheerleader who is often frightened about participating in the adventures. Maybeck, a tall African-American, is the sceptic of the group and typically responds with sarcasm. Willa, possibly of Native American background, is more positive and is good at working out clues. Philby is the redheaded tech genius of the group. Finn’s mysterious friend Amanda also helps out, although she is not a DHI.
They have to solve a mystery by finding clues on the rides. The Overtakers try to stop them by turning the rides against them. Which leads to the creepiest scene ever in It’s a Small World that will totally ruin the ride for you. They ultimately have to face down Malificent and her sidekick Jez.
It’s a fun and interesting story, and much more of a literary children’s book than you might expect from it’s commercial tie-in with a big theme park. In fact, since the Disney company is so image conscious, I’m surprised that they actually make the company look bad at some points in the narrative. My daughter enjoyed this book and I expect we’ll be reading the whole series.
Author: John Hench
Title: Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2009)
John Hench joined the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939, became an Imagineer in 1954, and continued working up until a few days before his death in 2004. So there’s no one better to write about how Disney Parks are designed with an emphasis on detail and drawing the viewer in as an active participant. I particularly like how he talked about a three-dimensional cross-disolve, using a film term to describe the ways in Disney Imagineers design transitions between different lands and attractions. Hench also goes into great detail about how different colors are used, and how he gave a lot of thought to the color of the sky in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. This is a nice, richly illustrated dive into the world of imagineering, although I admit I’m still looking for the book that will really get into the nitty-gritty.
Recommended books: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real by The Imagineers and The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey