Daily Figment 142 – Book Review: The unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

I bought a copy of the 2008 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World way back in September. I didn’t tear through the book like usual, but I read it cover-to-cover, in increments, to soak in all of the details. Honestly, I read it in between other books and whenever I had a spare moment. That is why it took me almost three months. I did skim the sections on Universal–I will go to that park once they build Harry Potter’s Wizarding World and I won’t do much of anything else there (I know, I am such a Disney snob!).

I haven’t read a copy of the Unofficial Guide, cover-to-cover, since around 1997. I have used it, but always for research purposes. The 2008 Unofficial Guide clocks in at 848 pages , which is over a 550% increase in pages since the first edition in 1986 (the ’86 version to the right runs at 174 pages). Wow. Bob Sehlinger has been producing the Unofficial Guide since 1986. He knows what he is talking about! Len Testa joined the team after developing his infamous crowd calendar. Len first appeared as a co-author on the 2006 edition.

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World, or the surrounding area, within the next 6 months, you need this guide right now!

I am a theme park junkie and I can swear on a stack of Imagineering Field Guides that I learned quite a bit from reading the Unofficial Guide. I won’t go into a lot of detail about what is covered (admission, hotels, vacation homes, eateries and the parks) because it is all there. What I can tell you is that we used small bits of the Unofficial Guide during down times at MouseFest (when Andy forced me to ride and not socialize) and it made a huge difference in how much we were able to do and what we were able to see.

To say the Unofficial Guide is comprehensive is an understatement. The authors have visited, stood in line, eaten, walked, driven, ridden, slept and swam everywhere possible at Walt Disney World and at the other Orlando attractions. If you follow their simple (and sometimes rigorous) touring plans, you will get so much more done–but it will be what you want to do. We preach slowing down and taking in the details at Imaginerding and we wholeheartedly and passionately endorse the Unofficial Guide. Following even just a few of the tips outlined in the guide will make your trip more enjoyable and relaxed.

Relaxed?

Yeah. If you can spend a half day, or so, following the touring plans and knocking out your favorite, must-do attractions, you will have more time to slow down and enjoy your time at the parks.

The very best reason to buy the book?

If you purchase the current version, you get a one-year subscription to Touring Plans, the companion web-site to the book. A normal one-year subscription to the site costs $7.95, but if you purchase the book and follow the directions, you can get a one-year subscription for free! The Crowd Calendar is the most amazing section of the site. Based on Len’s computer magic, they provide a crowd prediction level for every single day of the year. It is much faster than waiting for them to answer your e-mail on the WDW Today podcast. They also provide additional and personalized touring plans for each of the parks.

So head to your favorite retailer and pick up a copy today. You will be very happy you did. Smart, intelligent recommendations based on over 20 continuous years of writing the book and the crowd calculator. What a winning combination!

 

Daily Figment 136 – Book Reviews: Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales

I‘ve recently finished both of David Koenig’s earlier works, Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales. I’ve got his new book, Realityland, queued up after I finish Michael Barrier’s biography, Walt Disney: The Animated Man.

I really enjoyed David’s books. He does take a different perspective from most of the pollyanna Disney titles that we read here at Imaginerding. Both books are filled with behind-the-scenes tales and stories from Disneyland, USA; some of the stories are dark, many are hilarious and quite a few will make you wonder how the guests survive on a daily basis (re: guest stupidity). You will need to take off your rose-colored Disney Mouse Ears when you read these books.

My intent is not to discourage you from David’s work, by any means. They are important in the catalog of Disney-related titles that are currently available. David chronicles life working at Disneyland–there aren’t many books that do this and none that do it this well or with such depth. He writes very well and the books are structured so that the stories flow and you want to continue reading. David is a former journalist and his style is reminiscent of a journalistic/investigative piece.

David does take us behind-the-scenes and he shares a lot of stories that cast members have relayed to him. In the first book he didn’t offer anonymity to his sources. During his research for the second title, he realized that he could pass along stories that were much richer if he allowed his sources some freedom to share at will. It does pay off. At points you will laugh out loud and at other times you will shake your head in wonder and amazement

A majority of both books talk about what it is like to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. Cast member stories, firings and dealing with the guests are some of the better parts. David obviously knows a lot of people at all echelons of the Disney Company. For those of us not cognizant during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, there are lot of events that may surprise you. Did you know that there was a major strike at Disneyland?

David also tells-all about other Disneyland staples. Thought the Grad Nights were wholesome times? Which ride do you think saw the most action? Did you know one of the most dangerous places at Disneyland was the parking lot? How about the Jungle Cruise Skipper revolt?

They don’t need to be read in order, but More Mouse Tales does build on a few of the stories in Mouse Tales. David added a special feature to More Mouse Tales that really added a lot of personality to the book: Guest Pains, where Tales of tourists gone on mental vacations appear in boxes throughout the book. Basically, David has peppered the book with call-out boxes full of stupid guests questions, crazy situations and quite a few “huh?” moments.

You will enjoy both of these works. As I mentioned earlier, David does go deeply behind-the-scenes and some of the stories may cause some dismay. Working at Disneyland, like any other job, does have its highs and lows. Nonetheless, they are both very important works in the Disney literature.

My final thoughts? They are worthwhile reads and solid additions to your Disney Geek library. Some of the stories and histories that are recounted are not available anywhere else.

You can read about the Imaginerds meeting David Koenig.

Visit David over at MousePlanet!

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

http://www.imaginerding.com

Daily Figment 117 – Book Review: The Disneylands That Never Were

I posted a book update about The Disneylands That Never Were back in November.

I had a few people leave some Disney Geek Love (comments!) and they were really interested in my opinion of the work. I started reading the book one morning while I was waiting for my wife to pick me up at the car dealer (long story–don’t ask). I was only there about fifteen minutes before she picked me up. Once we were on the way, I told her about my trepidation of reviewing the book. A lot of negatives popped up in the first couple of pages and I was a little shocked.

I really liked that Mr. Finnie was able to compile all of the best rumors, attractions plans, hotel ideas and miscellaneous concepts from 32 other sources. This is a quick and relatively painless (not withstanding the need for an editor) read that will make you truly pine for what could have been.

The book has 247 pages (including the biography) and is printed in a large-type format, which was my first concern. My guess is that there is really only about 150 pages worth of actual text. Mr. Finnie writes in a very conversational style–normally I would consider that a plus, but the writing comes across as if he was speaking and someone was dictating. To me, this speaks of a very poor editor. When I investigated a little further, I discovered that the booked was published through lulu.com, a self-publishing and printing house. I have nothing against self-publishing (or vanity presses), but please have someone proofread your work. Many sentences acted more like speed bumps and caused consternation.

The Librarian in me immediately checked the back of the book for a bibliography, end notes or some other messages from the author. He lists a biography but there are no notes. This is a big no-no because you can’t tell whether Mr. Finnie is borrowing, surmising or quoting. In all honesty, I felt like I was reading a poorly-written Jim Hill article. Lots of smoke. Nothing to back it up and you weren’t quite sure if he was making it up or passing along a slipshod rumor overheard at a bar.

Now, I did enjoy a lot of the book for the Blue Sky ideas that the Imagineers presented over the years. I was reminded of things that I had read in other books over the years. If you want a quick education (for your Disney Geek training, of course) and can get past the poor grammar and sentence structure, then you will enjoy the book. If you have read Walt Disney Imagineering: a Behind-the-Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real, the Art of Disneyland or books by Jason Surrell and Jeff Kurtti–then you will have seen all of this material presented in a much more enjoyable format and with pictures!

So, what is my final recommendation? If you have read a lot of the Walt Disney biographies or the books mentioned above, then you don’t need this book. If you want to learn about the Imagineers’ ideas that were never realized and you can wade through a poorly written book without losing your mind, then pick up a copy. But in the end, I can’t fully recommend it. There are too many other great books about Disney too read that you will enjoy so much more!

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http://www.imaginerding.com

Daily Figment 112 – Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

Book Review

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Clocking in at 851 pages, this is the longest non-Harry Potter book that I have ever read. The text itself is only 633 pages with an additional 171 pages dedicated to Mr. Gabler’s notes and research. A bibliography, acknowledgements and the index round out the rest of the book.

This release was heralded as a true, in-depth look at Walt Disney’s life. Not quite the glossed-over corporate biography by Bob Thomas nor as dark and mis-leading as Hollywood’s Dark Prince. It has also been compared to The Animated Man by Michael Barrier.
Mr. Gabler spends a lot of time discussing Walt’s early career in animation. I came away from the book with one over-arching theme: control. According to Mr. Gabler, Walt spent most of his time and creative energies looking for control. Whether it was running from his father’s control or seeking his own by creating animated worlds and theme parks; Walt was always looking for a perfect and controlled world. The work is broken into four main parts: we see his early life until he leaves Kansas City; the animated days in Hollywood; the live-action films; and, ultimately, Disneyland and the beginnings of the Florida Project. In each era, we see Walt rise to greatness and break barriers until he ultimately loses feeling for the project(s) or loses his ability to control every aspect. Mr. Gabler supposes that Walt actually lost interested in animated films after completing Snow White. He realized he could never actually top it.
 
 

I would recommend this title if you have read other Disney biographies and you are looking for more information about his animation career and how he ran the studios. It paints a picture of Walt that doesn’t jibe with the corporate symbol that has become the myth. After reading the biography, Walt does seem more intent on controlling everything and it is obvious that the animation strike hurt him deeply. He never quite regained the trust in his animators after that.

I will reserve full judgment on which Disney biography to recommend until I have read Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man. For now, Gabler’s work is very exhaustive and focuses very heavily on the period from the 1920’s to the latter part of the 1940’s. For us theme park junkies, there just isn’t a lot of information available on Walt’s activities at Disneyland. Granted, Disneyland and the plans for Project X only took up about thirteen years of his life.

It is a very compelling, detailed and well-documented work. You will learn a lot (I did) and will leave the book with a greater appreciation for the fact that the Disney Studios were never quite solvent until after Disneyland.

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Daily Figment 91 – Book Review: A Visit to Disneyland

I can imagine Walt Disney’s A Visit to Disneyland being one of the most well-read, cherished and worshipped books in any child’s collection in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

I envision late evenings under the covers with a flashlight; the book spread out below you. Lazy Saturday afternoons spent dreaming of visiting Disneyland while going over the pages again and again. Begging mom and dad to take you to see the sights outlined in the pages.

The text is presented in verse form and follows most of the main lands and attractions available in 1965. There are pictures from the park and illustrations by Stan Tusan (and have a very primitive Mary Blair feel). The illustrations show two young children enjoying the park. They are shown in the background visiting the same attractions as we read about them.

The copy I recently acquired even has artwork by one of the previous owners. The verso of the title page has a map of Disneyland drawn as if a child had created it with his or her crayons. My copy has some of the icons filled in: the Matterhorn is orange, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is resplendent in purple and yellow, the foilage is green and the Rocket to the Moon is green and black. I can imagine the care and the excitement of the young artist as they added their own touch and feelings to the map.

Can’t you?

 

Do you have one moment that defines your first Disney Park experience? The one item that made you want to visit? The one that started your longing?

I can remember seeing a viewmaster of the Haunted Mansion when I was about 6 years old. I can remember seeing a shot of the front doors and another of the ballroom scene. From that moment forward, I was smitten and had the images seared into my mind. It would take almost 18 years for me to make my first trip and the Haunted Mansion would be my first Disney ride–ever.
Was it worth the wait? You bet.
 

Leave adventure and magic behind you.
But please don’t shed one single tear.
The way Disneyland’s growing
There’s no way of knowing
What suprise you’ll find next time you’re here!

–endpaper,Walt Disney’s A Visit to Disneyland

 


 

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Daily Figment 89 – Book Review: Quintessential Disney: a Pop-Up Gallery of Classic Disney Moments

Quintessential Disney: a Pop-Up Gallery of Classic Disney Moments is more than a book; it is a work of art that can be displayed with all of your other collectibles.

The book covers five Walt Disney classic animated films: Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, Bambi, Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Each page has a fully rendered pop-up scene–usually a very pivotal or memorable scene that we all know and love.

Also on each page is a fold-out essay about the importance and significance of each film.

This is one of those rare mixed-media collectibles that you can flip through and admire the details or you can display an individual scene on a desktop or shelf. I love the book, but I hesitate to recommend it to anyone but completists or to animation fans. If you are a fan of one of the films listed, you will definitely enjoy displaying that particular scene.


 

 

Book Review: The Kingdom Keepers

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson is aimed squarely at the ‘tweens who love visiting Walt Disney World with their families.

So, why I am I reading it? Well, I like books and I like Disney. It is a book about Disney…so…

I need to give my warning about this book first:

The author takes great liberties with the geographical layout of WDW and Walt’s actual involvement with the Orlando parks. If you are a grown-up Disney Geek (Jeff’s kids included), you will be dismayed with the inaccuracies and the leaps that the author takes to add suspense.

Ok, I did enjoy the book. This title rests firmly in the juvenile thriller-fantasy genre. It is sort of like a younger Da Vinci Code without all of the religious controversy. The Magic Kingdom is being taken over by the Disney villains and five young teens are tasked with saving Walt’s Kingdom and deciphering the secrets left behind by Walt, himself. Here is where I start to yell at the book while I am reading it. Apparently, Walt left behind secret codes in the attractions that will help restore the magic to the Magic Kingdom. Including rides that weren’t built until 10-20 years after he died. Uh, so how did that happen?

I do recommend the book, as long as you can detach yourself from your inner Disney Geek while reading it. It moved well, the characters were likable and the story was entertaining. It did have a pretty creepy moment where the dolls in It’s a Small World come to life. That is the real reason I don’t like that ride. It gives me the shivers!

I’m usually positive about most of my book reviews, but this one doesn’t quite satiate my Geek needs. It is still a good read and most ‘tweens will enjoy the premise and the hero aspect of the book.

Check your local library for a copy. That’s what I did.

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http://www.imaginerding.com

Daily Figment 62: Book Review: The Disney Mountains

I just finished The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell.

What a great read. No, strike that. What an amazing read!

Concept art, stories, ride photographs and some great insider (re: Imagineer) information. You will read how the Imagineers started the Mountain concept and how the art of storytelling through the actual rides became what it is today.

We start the journey with Walt’s need to fill an empty spot at Disneyland that was created by removing dirt from the moat around the castle. Originally named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, not only was it an eyesore, but the Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out for some of the park’s more brazen guests. Unofficially, the area became known as lover’s lane. After a trip to Switzerland to oversee the filming of Third Man on the Mountain, Walt fell in love with the Matterhorn. Thus began Walt’s quest to build a mountain at Disneyland

The book focuses on every Disney Mountain ever created, but most of the book is spent on the big five: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Splash and Everest. Sandwiched between Matterhorn and Expedition Everest are sixteen other mountains (counting each one at all of the parks); including Candy Mountain–the Mountain that never was.

The concept art is simply amazing. Works by John Hench, Herb Ryman, Mary Blair, Tony Baxter, Clem Hall and Dan Goozee are scattered throughout the book. The original concept art for Space Mountain called for parts of the track to circle outside the lower part of the building and near the spires. Mainly to entice people to ride it. The Imagineers feared that people would shy away from the ride if they didn’t know what to expect. The ride tracks at the top would have simply been a smaller version of the ride tracks and vehicles with small dummies in them. Weather, costs and engineering kept the original idea from fruition.

In addition to discussing Candy Mountain, a good section of the book is devoted to Imagineer Marc Davis’ swan song concept for the Western River Expedition. Marc, much like Walt, never wanted to repeat himself. He agreed that Walt Disney World should not have a Pirates attraction and he began to devote a lot of his time to the creation of the Western River Expedition.

…An audio-animatronics extravaganza that would outdazzle Pirates in every respect. The water ride was to be the centerpiece of Thunder Mesa, an expansive show complex that would also be home to hiking trails and pack-mule rides along its slopes and ridges, and a runway mine train ride down its hills and through its valleys.

Western River Expedition would be a wild and woolly musical adventure starring cowboys and Indians, masked banditos, and high-kicking cancan dancers, culminating with a raging forest fire and a final, dizzying plunge down a waterfall to the shores of the Rivers of America.

p. 61.The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak

Of course, you will need to read the book to see what eventually happened with Thunder Mesa.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Splash Mountain section. Being the Disney Geeks very favorite ride at Walt Disney World, I was happy to see fifteen pages dedicated to the most awesome and incredible ride ever. Even though the concept is from 1983 (yay, Tony Baxter), the ride has its roots much earlier. Marc Davis created the 103 animatronics in Splash for the America Sings attraction in 1976. X Atencio also had a hand in designing one of the characters.

Beautiful paintings, at times, cover the entire fold. There are pictures of the Imagineers working on scale models, standing in front of humongous concept art and working on the Mountains. Jason Surrell relates wonderful stories from Imagineers spanning almost 50 years of designing and building the Disney Mountains.

You need this book!

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Daily Figment 45: Book Review – The Art of Disneyland

The Art of Disneyland by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon. 2006, ISBN: 1423104595

Released to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Disneyland, The Art of Disneyland is a visually stunning and historically amazing work. The large scale of the book (almost 11″ X 13″) forces you to turn the book sideways to enjoy the art. This is by no means an issue. More page space set aside for the artwork is what makes the book truly shine.

Paintings, concept art, layouts and sketches fill out this impressive volume. What I truly love about The Art of Disneyland is the amazing conceptual art. The book starts with Main St and ends with Tomorrowland. And yes, it does include Mickey’s Toontown!

The Imagineering roll call is inspiring: Ken Anderson, Claude Coats, Mary Blair, John Hench, Harper Goff, Marc Davis, Peter Ellenshaw, Sam McKim, Herbert Ryman and so many more. Seeing all of this artwork in one place, by so many different artists, is like having a conversation about what Disneyland might have been. But then we actually know how it turned out. Most of the artwork is so true to what was developed, though. If you have ever spent any time at Disneyland, you will enjoy this book.
I’ve pulled a couple of the images from the book to share. They speak so much better than I do.

Main St. USA, Center Street, Sam McKim, 1967
Main St., USA, Coffee Garden, Unknown Artist, 1957
Main St. Snow Scene, Unknown Artist, 1978
Splash Mountain, Dan Goozer, 1987
My favorite section would actually end up as a fist fight between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The artwork for both sections is astounding and they both have the unique honor of being the two lands at Disneyland to have been re-done, so to speak. In the case of Tomorrowland, it has had several minor revisions, including the big mid-1990’s re-do. The famous Mary Blair Tomorrowland murals are also reproduced in the book.

The front endpaper of the book presents the Fun Map of Disneyland done in 1957 by Sam KcKim. The rear endpaper has the Fun Map of Disneyland by Nina Rae Vaughn in 2000. They hug the book; reverently and figuratively.

The Art of Disneyland is filled with beautiful paintings, ride concept sketches and amazing bird’s eye views of the various lands. At $49.99 retail, it is rather expensive, but you can find it on Amazon much cheaper. This is a great addition to any Disney Geeks library collection.

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

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Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench

Designing Disneyby John Hench is one of my favorite books in my personal library.

The book is divided into four main areas: the Art of Show, the Art of Visual Storytelling, the Art of Character and the Art of Color. Mr. Hench does an amazing job of breaking down these areas by providing concrete examples through artwork, concept art, photographs, stories and personal recollections. One of of the amazing concept art shots is of the proposed Mickey Mouse Hotel. Mr. Hench briefly discusses using forms and symbols that are immediately recognizable to the viewer. Of course, the Mickey Mouse hotel was never built; the original idea was for it to be on the monorail line between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom.

Mr. Hench was also the concept artists for the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. You can see from the picture that he was very much into color and the moods and feelings associated with color. He would use color to set the scene, invite guests further into the attraction or to simply set a mood. Mr. Hench refers to the concept art as enhanced reality. He also talks about the original iteration of the Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt wanted it to be a dining establishment with a dinner show. Once they started planning and designing, they realized that it would limit the audience capacity too much. So, Mr. Hench added the center fountain and created a theater in the round. The rest is history!

The most stunning part of the book is the Art of Color section. Actually, I consider it the most interesting and eye-opening part. Not only does Mr. Hench discuss the different properties of color as they would appear in the different theme park locales; but he tackles how the same color will have drastically different effects depending on the sunlight. Disneyland Paris has a colder sun while Walt Disney World has a much brighter sun. Therefore, the color palette has to be very carefully chosen. In planning the Polynesian Hotel, they wanted to make sure that all of the details and the warmth were accessible in the day or evening. To me, the Art of Color is something that I can apply in my life. Whether it is the color of the bedroom walls, the floor tiles in the bathroom or open sky-blue of my children’s bedroom.

I started writing this post with just the quote below. Then I started flipping through the book and I realized that there was simply too much inside the pages to leave it as is. I hoped to whet your appetite with three very minor parts of the work. This is not a book review, by any means–it is just one friend telling another friend about an incredible read. I urge you to get a copy of this book. You will never look at Disney the same after devouring reading it. This will be the next book that I loan to Disney Geek Andrew. Only if he promises to not eat Dorito’s and ice cream while reading it!

When I am asked, “What is your greatest achievement?” I answer, “Disneyland is our greatest achievement. Disneyland was first and set the pattern for others to follow.” Disneyland has been an example for many enterprises in the entertainment industry, and its design principles have been embraced by other industries as well. The concept of “themed” environments–places designed so that every element contributes to telling a story–was developed and popularized by Walt Disney. Its influence has been extraordinarily widespread, and can be seen today in many aspects of our daily experience–in shops and shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, museums, airports, offices, even people’s homes.

–John Hench, page 1.

Hench, John et.al. Designing Disney Imagineering and the Art of the Show. New York: Disney Editions, 2003.