Polishing the Dragons Making EPCOT’s Wonders of China

Polishing the Dragons: Making EPCOT’s Wonders of China by Jeff Blyth, a book review

Polishing the Dragons is an interesting title for a Disney history book, right?

The subtitle, Making EPCOT’s “Wonders of China,” relates to the Circle-Vision 360 film that played for more than 20 years in the China Pavilion at Epcot. But maybe you’re only familiar with the current film Reflections of China?

Still, I know what you’re thinking…

A whole book about the making of a Circle-Vision 360 film?

Leonard Kinsey reached out to me about reviewing the latest release from Bamboo Forest Publishing; pretty much every Bamboo Forest Publishing book has risen to the top of my favorites list. Leonard and his crew pay incredible attention to detail and have some of the most evocative layouts of any Disney-related book (plus a special shoutout to the mad genius Hugh for his impeccable editing).

What is Polishing the Dragons?

As inferred, the book is about the making of the Wonders of China film that played in EPCOT from the grand opening in 1982 until March 23, 2003 (it also played at Disneyland). The title refers to the extreme steps that the author and film crew took to make Wonders of China. And not just polishing dragons.

As a Disney book nerd, it shocked me that someone could write a book about this. But the book equally shocked me in that Jeff could remember enough about the experience to pen a 248 page work. Polishing the Dragons will surprise you! (And maybe shock you—in a great way!)

Polishing the Dragons starts before the advent of the filming process and offers background on Jeff and his early career. We accompany Jeff as he follows his passion of filmmaking and storytelling. And that’s important to know: Jeff is a storyteller, as it comes through in this book and the projects he has worked on. After completing an IMAX project, the company Jeff worked for came to the attention of Disney. Imagine needing to coordinate the opening of the world’s largest theme park (at the time); you would need to get the best people you can. In this case, Jeff became the best person to coordinate the hauling of a massive Circle-Vision camera around China.

What Is Circle-Vision?

If you’re not familiar with Circle-Vision, it’s a massive camera set-up with nine cameras that offers a 360 degree view. The nine cameras have to be focused and synced (along with other camera and filmmaking techniques). You also have to ensure that you don’t have anything extra that you don’t want in any of the nine images is in the frame. Other Circle-Vision films include the current Oh Canada, Reflections of China, and the former Time Keeper.

The book spends a majority of the time in China as Jeff negotiates (on a daily basis) getting the shots needed. In some cases, the nine camera set-up would be hauled all day for just a few seconds of film. Imagine spending 7-8 hours of physcal labor and hiking to get a few moments captured. This book almost acts as a guide for making a film in a foreign country.

Most modern readers will probably be unfamiliar with the post-Mao China. It’s quite eye-opening to read about how closed off the country was and how difficult it was to complete the project. There were many times it seemed as if the project were going to be stopped.

From what I understand, Jeff kept an incredibly detailed journal, which explains the crazy amount of detail presented to us almost 40 years later. Jeff goes surprisingly in-depth in an almost day-to-day basis. It might seem like overkill, but it’s fascinating to relate his experiences to the finished film.

Why Should You Read This Disney History Book?

Bamboo Forest Publishing has a strong record of publishing engaging, creative, and authoritative books. The Charlie Walker books by Nick Pobursky are some of the best fiction titles related to Disney and the  Drinking at Disney title was my favorite book from 2016. And with Polishing the Dragons, they’ve knocked it way out of the park. Who could imagine a 248 page book dedicated solely to one singular attraction (well, besides the Haunted Mansion).

Jeff has a fantastic writing style and I felt like I was on the trip with him (minus the cold, heat, rain, and unfamiliar food). The book never bogged you down with useless information about the process; he actually keeps you fairly entertained during the multiple visits to China to scout and film. A circle-vision film takes so much work and time! You will never take another Circle-Vision film for granted.

Again, a single book dedicated a theme park attraction seems like overkill, but Jeff makes voyage very entertaining. You will never take the Circle-Vision film for granted. You will also walk away with a deeper knowledge of how a large project comes together and the multitude of people that partook in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and reading about all of the details that went into the film. If you’re a fan of EPCOT Center or a filmmaker, then you will devour Jeff’s book.

Are You Going to Pick Up Polishing the Dragons?

FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Spectre Thirteen: A Charlie Walker Novel by Nick Pobursky

Spectre Thirteen: A Charlie Walker Novel by Nick Pobursky

The number of fiction books written about Disney parks is rather small. The number of good fiction books about Disney parks is even smaller.

With that out of the way, I’d like to introduce you to Spectre Thirteen, the second book in the Charlie Walker series. And one of the great fiction books about Disney parks. Check out my review of the first book, Hollow World, here. Leonard Kinsey from Bamboo Forest Publishing sent me a review copy and I was eager to dive into the book.

Charlie Walker is an ex-detective that made his way to become the head of Walt Disney World Security through the events of Hollow World. In Spectre Thirteen, we catch up with a Charlie Walker that’s living his best life surrounded by his family and friends. As expected (and hoped) Charlie’s enemy hatches a diabolical plot to destroy Walt Disney World!

Destroy Walt Disney World?

Author Nick Pobursky weaves another tale that is wrought with high action, intrigue, suspense and Walt Disney World. Nick knows Disney inside and out, and is able to paint a (Disney) world that is true. Fans of Walt Disney World will be surprised at the locations that Charlie explores as he hunts down Spectre Thirteen and attempts to pull apart the plan to destroy (yes, destroy) Walt Disney World.

Aided by the CIA X-Ray team, a rag tag bunch of highly skilled operatives, Charlie works to  keep his family alive. And Walt Disney World safe. Nick also brings Leonard Kinsey’s maligned Habst character into the novel. Habst is the unexpected anti-hero of Leonard’s Habst and the Disney Saboteurs (2016) novel and plays a major roll in the latest Bamboo Forest Publishing title. With Spectre Thirteen, Nick further unites the Bamboo Forest Publishing Universe of characters.

Nick is a master of action and plot development. His characters are rich and you feel the connections between them. Several moments in Spectre Thirteen are painted so cinematically that you’re just waiting for the movie announcement. Seriously, Nick is one of the lucky authors that can write action scenes and make them believable and exciting.

Spectre Thirteen is a novel for adults; no bones about it. There are scenes of violence and other adult activities, but don’t let that scare you away. Nick’s book is an E-Ticket experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Dive into Spectre Thirteen, you won’t regret it. But make sure to pick up Hollow World first so you enjoy Nick’s latest book to the fullest.

Have You Read Spectre Thirteen or Any of the Other Bamboo Forest Publishing books?

FTC Disclosure: In some cases, a copy might have been provided by the company for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

2016 Best Disney Books from ImagiNERDing

2016 Best Disney Books from ImagiNERDing (Including the 2016 ImagiNERDing Book of the Year!)

Check out my 2016 Best Disney Books of the year! Every year, I take a look at all of the Disney-related books that have been published during the calendar year and that I’ve reviewed. I’ve reviewed 56 books in 2016, including many that were released over the previous years (so, many of those don’t count for this award). The best Disney books run the gamut from animation to theme parks to history and from large and small publishers. The books are presented in no particular order!

2016 Best Disney Books: Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: a Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt and JB Kaufman

The first section of the book is a, history of the Silly Symphonies animated shorts. About 30 pages are dedicated to looking at the cultural effect of the animated shorts as well as how they evolved as the needs of the Disney Studios changed. We’re introduced to a lot of key players who would go on to leave a lasting mark on animation forever. The section dealing with the shorts is incredibly comprehensive—even the price of the negative was included. Merritt and Kaufman provide all of the basic information that you’d expect, usually over a page and a half per animated short. There’s a lot included and the information on the Silly Symphonies truly makes this book an essential purchase and a one-of-a-kind research tool.

2016 Best Disney Books: The Disney Story: Chronicling The Man, The Mouse & The Parks by Aaron H. Goldberg

The Disney Story: Chronicling the Man, the Mouse & the Parks by Aaron H. Goldberg is a book that takes us on a journey through the high marks of Disney history through the eyes of the media. This is a fantastic title for anyone who wants a good overview of Walt and his entertainment empire. The Disney Story isn’t just a book for people who are new to Disney history, but for anyone who is interested in learning more, especially in a non-confrontational and non-academic tone. (Seriously, some Disney history books can be a little overwhelming for the lay person.) Goldberg has also presented the book in two fairly unique ways: he has reprinted articles from media outlets verbatim and he is offering the Disney Story website as a larger repository of articles. Goldberg includes original scans of the articles for further reading at the website.

2016 Best Disney Books: Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes by Drunky and Rhiannon

Drinking at Disney? Someone has finally published the book that everyone has been thinking about writing forever! We’re talking about Drinking at Disney by Drunky (seriously, that’s his name) and Rhiannon. It’s a guidebook from Bamboo Forest Publishing that covers every single drinking location at Walt Disney World. It includes full bar menus as well as tips and tricks for your visit. The reason to grab this new book is simply to have an amazing resource for enjoying libations at Walt Disney World. And it’s an astounding reference guide. It’s funny, charming, slightly sadistic and quite sardonic.

2016 Best Disney Books: Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghai

The book is broken down into six major sections that closely follow the operating decades and major developments. The book is large and the publishers took great advantage of the physical size of the book when reproducing the maps. And, of course, that’s what people want to see. Many of the maps take up one entire page and a lot of the artwork actually covers two pages. Remember the Disneyland Fun Maps? You’ll find reproductions of many of them by Sam McKim and, most recently by, Nina Rae Vaughn. They also take a section of the map and blow it up on the following page to give you a better view of the art that went into the map. There’s a lot of concept art, which makes the book different from what most people expected.

2016 Best Disney Books: The ImagiNERDing Book of the Year!

The award for the 2016 ImagiNERDing Book of the Year goes to…

Drinking at Disney by Drunky and Rhiannon!

Congratulations to Bamboo Forest Publishing for creating an informative, funny and extremely entertaining guidebook to Walt Disney World.

What’s your thoughts on the 2016 Best Disney Books?

Drinking at Disney, a book review!

Drinking at Disney, a book review!

George: Drinking at Disney? Someone has finally published the book that everyone has been thinking about writing in forever! We’re talking about the recently released Drinking at Disney by Drunky (seriously, that’s his name) and Rhiannon. It’s a guidebook from Bamboo Forest Publishing that covers every single drinking location at Walt Disney World. It includes full bar menus as well as tips and tricks for your visit.

Jeff: The first impression I got when the book arrived was how gorgeous it was. Seriously, for a book about drinking, it has a whimsical design that perfectly suits the style of the book. It’s entire layout is wonderful to look at, and it really stands out as a good looking book…about getting drunk.

Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes by Rhiannon and Drunky

George: Shannon Laskey, who did the amazing Going To Guide for Disneyland handled the artwork and the layout for the book. It truly is incredible. Still, the reason to grab this new book is simply to have an amazing resource for enjoying libations at Walt Disney World. And it’s an astounding reference guide. It’s funny, charming, slightly sadistic and quite sardonic. Drunky and Rhiannon are more hosts than writers and it shows (still, they’re very good writers). By the first few pages of the book, you understand that you’re in for a treat, especially with the running gags. And drinking gags.

Jeff: Their back and forth translates beautifully onto the page, with one sometimes interrupting the other with their comments. It’s extremely well done, and never jarring, but often hilarious. I know we’ve been talking about the layout and the authors, so let’s get into the meat of the book itself: It’s good. Very good. There has never been a more complete guide to drinking around Walt Disney World before, and one done in such a way that it’s not a chore to read, but well worth every page.

George: Drinking at Disney has 11 chapters that include: the bar of the Magic Kingdom (yes, just one bar); EPCOT; Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Animal Kingdom; the water parks; Disney Springs; all the hotels and pool bars; and quite a few Drinking Plans. There are actually 111 bar reviews, which is slightly less than the number of books I’ve reviewed on Communicore Weekly—so, they must know what they’re talking about!

Jeff: The book is also populated with hilarious lists, like “The best bars to have an affair at,” “The best bars for a break up,” and so on. Though they are all played tongue in cheek, they actually ARE quite well researched, and on the money for what you may be looking for…just, don’t blame them if something goes wrong, either way.

George: There are photos for each bar as well as #Drunkies (or selfies of them with a bottle in front of their face). And if I only have one complaint, it’s that I’d rather see more photos of the bars and less of them (nothing against them, just want photos of the bars, instead). It’s not a big complaint, either, since there really isn’t much to complain about with the book. There are so many great aspects of the book, that I’m hard-pressed to pick out a favorite. Except that the sense of humor in the writing is pretty wonderful.

Jeff: Seriously, for people like us, this book has been a long time coming, and I think Drunky and Rhiannon did a masterful job. A lot of research and/or drinking went into the making of this book, and I commend them for taking one for the team, and traveling to EVERY bar across Walt Disney World property in order for us to enjoy it. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.

George: And this book isn’t just for people who want to do nothing but drink on their Disney vacation. This book offers a little something for everyone, especially people that might be looking for a fun night out or just want to try something different while their at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Jeff: But mostly for drinkers.

Title: Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes
Author: Daniel Miller and Rhiannon
ISBN: 978-0991007967
Release Date: August 2, 2016

What do you think about Drinking at Disney? Are you going to check out this guidebook about libations at Walt Disney World? What’s your favorite place to drink at Disney?


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Habst and the Disney Saboteurs by Leonard Kinsey

Habst and the Disney Saboteurs by Leonard Kinsey, a book review

George: When I got my review copy of Habst and the Disney Saboteurs, the new novel by Leonard Kinsey, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was glad to have his second novel in my hands, especially since I knew it would be a great read even if it was only half as good as Our Kingdom of Dust. Leonard is known for positing on the Dark Side of Disney and not everything he writes is safe for work. That’s what makes his novels so good; he takes the magic of Walt Disney World and infuses it with comedy, great characters and a ton of action. There are also a few surprises tucked in there.

Jeff: Like George mentioned, Leonard has never stayed on the family friendly side of things when it comes to his writing, and the same holds true for Habst and the Disney Saboteurs. This is definitely not a book you want to read to the kids at night. Instead, this is meant for when you’re relaxing in your easy chair, drinking your scotch in your smoking jacket. Having thoroughly enjoyed Our Kingdom of Dust, Kinsey’s first foray into fiction, I was very much looking forward to this one. And I wasn’t disappointed.

George: Smoking jacket? Like those robes we had at the Grand Californian?

Jeff: Just like them, but more classy! Speaking of classy, Habst is not! Tell us a bit about him, George!

George: Okay, Habst is our hero, of sorts, who doesn’t really think he’s the hero, He’s a burnout, tech prodigy and Disney fanatic. He’s also living with his slightly underage girlfriend and her very wealthy mom. He sounds pretty bad and it might be hard to see how Habst is the hero until you find yourself deep down the rabbit hole. And what a rabbit hole it is! But before we get going, there are some Dark Side of Disney returning characters we need to talk about.

Jeff: Of course! For those of you who have already read Hollow World by Nick Probusky, you’ll recognize Charlie Walker. Charlie is now head of Walt Disney World security, and helps kind of tie the “Bamboo Forest” fiction world together. There are a lot of great little nods to previous Bamboo titles, and it’s really interesting to see Leonard (and Nick) create this world that they can play (and write) in!

Leonard called. Needs more boats.

George: Besides being very excited to see high-quality fiction about Disney come out of Bamboo Forest Publishing, it’s great to just see really intelligent, exciting and funny fiction about Disney. Moving along, we are introduced to a large number of characters, including two brothers that might surprise everyone. Leonard himself will tell you that there’s a fair amount of fantasy involved in the book and, and, unlike Midlife Mouse (which was good but oddly put together) in which we find a secret society controlling the future of the Disney Company, Habst and the Disney Saboteurs has a deep setting in advanced technology that is believable and fantastic at the same time. It feels like you’re reading what could of and should have happened with EPCOT Center.

Jeff: Overall, Habst and the Disney Saboteurs takes you to places that others have not been before, especially in a Disney setting. It definitely combines reality with a good bit of fantasy, but fantasy that theoretically is possible. Sure, Habst may be a burn out and a loser, but by the end of the tale, you do wind up rooting for him and hoping it all works out. It’s definitely a good, adult oriented yarn of fiction that I think fans of Disney, especially EPCOT Center like George said, will appreciate.

George: It wouldn’t be a review of a Bamboo Forest Publishing title without a caveat or two. Habst and the Disney Saboteurs isn’t for the faint of heart or readers who aren’t fond of illegal and illicit material. There are references to drug use, sex and the Darknet, which could offend readers but I would urge you to look past those and enjoy the book for the well-crafted story and fantastic characters.

Jeff: Exactly. It is a heavily researched book, and Kinsey definitely put a lot of time into the material, so he definitely knows his stuff. That said, like George mentioned, if you’re easily offended, stay away. But, if you’re looking for a good read, this is definitely one to pick up!

George: It does need more boats.

Are you going to pick up a copy of Habst and the Disney Saboteurs? What do you think about darker fiction based at Walt Disney World?

Ward Dizzley’s 100% True-Life Adventure Comics

Ward Dizzley’s 100% True-Life Adventure Comics, a review

George: I’ve known the World Famous Dave Ensign for many years. I followed his exploits, virtually, over at Mesa Verde Times and I’ve been a fan and supporter of him and Chief since their first post. Dave has created a comic series, called Ward Dizzley’s 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics. So, who is Ward Dizzley and why should we care?

Jeff: Ward is Dave’s Uncle Walt-like alter ego. And it’s great. It’s a “character” he’s had for a few years, but he just channeled it into these amazing outlets, such as the comics. And now that two issues of the Ward Dizzley comics have come in, it is high time we take a look at them. Are these funny books worth your time and money?

George: Bamboo Forest Publishing sent us review copies and I was glad to see such a high-quality presentation, especially in this digital age. Basically, the comics present a main story and several ancillary tales and satirical ads. After reading both, it looks like the Ward Dizzley comic is going to be a vehicle for Dave to share his adventures exploring the Magic Kingdom with his good buddy, Chief. Honestly, I’m very thrilled with the presentation and I’m glad Dave has an outlet to share his stories.

Jeff: Dave is incredibly creative (as evidenced by his 9-5 work, as well), but it’s great to see him really go nuts here. The Ward Dizzley comics themselves are presented much like comics from the golden era…amazing art, inter-spersed with fantastic (but unfortunately, fake) ads for amazing products. Want a “Burning Settler’s Cabin” or a “Blow-up 20K Sub”? Ward has got you covered.

George: My initial reaction was that Dave went for a very retro look, even adding fake stains to the pages. Dave has a great eye for the color choices and his style is very reminiscent of John Kricfalusi (of Ren & Stimpy fame). He does a wonderful job of using the Magic Kingdom as a backdrop and he captures the feel of the attractions and restaurants. The story that takes place in the Columbia Harbour House really shows off the restaurant as a character. You even get some insight into what it was like to work there.

Jeff: Like George said, the comics are broken into a few stories: usually a main adventure, along with a few ancillary tales as well. ALL of them are hilarious, though. Like, laugh out loud funny. However, it should be noted that these AREN’T for little mouse ears. The subject matter skews slightly more adult at times, so parents should enjoy this themselves, but keep away from the little ones

Dave totally captures the essence of the Columbia Harbour House!

George: I’ve read hundreds of books about Disney (heck, I’ve reviewed 200 books for Communicore Weekly, alone) and I’ve read every book about Walt Disney World. What Dave has done with the Ward Dizzley series is absolutely brilliant as a means of conveying history about the Magic Kingdom. Yes, the main story is about how Hoot (Dave’s other alter ego) and Chief explored the Magic Kingdom, but Dave offers such clever insight into the “goings-on” on-stage and off- that you will be thankful just to hold the comic in your hands.

Jeff: I absolutely agree. And again, in addition to the awesome stories, there are a ton of extra activities to make it look and feel like a real, vintage comic. Yes, the ads are great (I really want that burning cabin), but so are the extras. Cut out the paper versions of Hoot and Chief, and use your fingers as their “legs” to help them escape! Laugh at the caricatures of people Dave used to work with! I mean, really, reading isn’t enough. There is a lot to do in each comic, and it”s great.

George: After thoroughly enjoying both issues, I can’t wait for Dave and Bamboo Forest Publishing to release more Ward Dizzley’s 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics. The comics aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy a little irreverence and more than a healthy dose of snark, then you should check these out. The more copies that people buy, the more impetus that Dave will have to release more!

Jeff: More comics means more hilarity for us DisNerds. ALSO, I really, really want that Burning Settler’s Cabin. Can we make that a real thing? Let’s make that a thing.

Have you had the chance to check out the Ward Dizzley comics? What do you think about a non-traditional comic celebrating Walt Disney World?

From Dreamer to Dreamfinder by Ron Schneider, a review

From Dreamer to Dreamfinder by Ron Schneider, a review

George: From Dreamer to Dreamfinder  is 295 pages of amazing awesomeness. This is Ron Schneider’s professional memoir, but it’s so much more than that. Most adult Disney fans know Ron Schneider as the Dreamfinder from Journey Into Imagination, when he portrayed the charming wizard from 1983 to 1987.  But after devouring this book, I am shocked and amazed by everything Ron has done over the past 40 years.

Jeff: Just like George, I was blown away by some of the things Ron had to deal with and overcome in all of his years in the business. But what really struck me was the incredible amount of information that Ron packs in here. This is quite possibly the best (unofficial) manual about theme park and entertainment performers ever written. And even for people who do not want to be performers, this is an amazingly entertaining book. Ron makes the material incredibly approachable and unbelievably funny. As a performance guidebook, it’s invaluable. As a memoir, it’s incredibly rich and extremely entertaining.

George: I ran across so many amazing quotes from the book, including a bathroom break. Ron is taking a tour of the Studio Archives from Dave Smith:

“I’m suddenly struck with an over-powering urge, the kind no man can resist… so I ask Dave where the bathroom is. I fully expect to have to go back out into the hall to use the men’s room, but he points to an adjacent door and I step into Walt Disney’s personal bathroom. I would have known it anywhere… the wallpaper is covered with small graphics of antique steam trains. Humbled, I take a seat.”

The book is full of great stories like this as he meets and works with Disney legends like Wally Boag from the Golden Horseshoe Revue.

Jeff: While we’re throwing out quotes from the book, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this one that really stuck with me, from when Ron was working as Dreamfinder:

“One day I’m working upstairs, surrounded by guests and having a swell time, when I notice a young man with a clipboard and a hand clicker standing on the far side of the room, watching me and clicking away madly. Once I’ve worked my way through the waiting guests I amble over and ask what it is he’s doing. “I’m counting the number of people you’re affecting. Not just the ones who interact with you, but the number that stop and smile or stay and watch for any length of time. You’re averaging about 600 people every thirty minutes.”

That, to me, shows the incredible value of these walk around characters, not just at Disney, but in other parks as well. And this only adds to the impact that Ron had on many a child’s memories of early EPCOT Center. Being able to remember these moments of interaction with Dreamfinder, albeit only briefly, brings me back to such a warm, fuzzy place of my younger years.

But really, working at Disney is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things that come before, and after, in Ron’s career.

George: For someone who spent about 20 years employed by Disney, he spent just as much time working at Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Florida and various dinner shows in California, Florida and Canada. I was completely blown away by the range of characters and jobs that Ron did over the years. He managed and ran a popular dinner theater at Universal and even had the ear of Jay Stein, president of Universal during his many years as creative writer at Universal.

Jeff: I think people will be amazed at just how many beloved theme park and entertainment attractions that Ron actually had his hand in. But of course, with all the good, comes the bad. Ron just a good job of portraying his frustrations during his various jobs without coming off as too cynical. Some of the things that management did will leave you scratching your head and wondering just who the heck put them in charge!

George: But you also see the slow change that seems to permeate every theme park endeavor: new ideas, fresh thoughts and a willingness to wow guests slowly turns into a moribund process that is more about efficiency than creating a lasting guest experience. It seems like every time this happened, Ron fought the law and either moved on or was seen as a champion.

Jeff: Not to spoil any parts of the book, but I was especially surprised at one section where Ron is helping to run a themed restaurant, both in a managerial and creative aspect. His ideas are loved by the staff, but as soon as upper management finds a way to make things more efficient and cost effective, it’s bye-bye to Ron’s ideas and hello penny pinching. How he deals with each of these situations that arise are unique in their own way, and truly show Ron’s diverse style of creativity.

George: Even if you approach this book solely as a Disney fan, or even as a Dreamfinder fan, you’re still going to find plenty that will keep you entertained. Ron has a great style and you will find yourself immersed in his world and the worlds of his character. It is obvious that both of us loved the book and feel that it should be in every fan’s collection.

Have you read from Dreamer to Dreamfinder? Did you ever get to meet Ron as Dreamfinder?

Hollow World by Nick Pobursky, a review

Hollow World by Nick Pobursky, a review

George: Anyone who reads us regularly knows that we’re not big fans of fiction set at Disney parks. We’ve run across a few titles, though, that have been fantastic reads. This summer, we reviewed Disneylanders by Kate Abbott and we were both enamored with this tween story set at Disneyland. Our Kingdom of Dust, the second publication from Bamboo Forest Publishing was also a fantastic read. Both titles were written by authors with a love of the parks and an intimate knowledge of the geography. So, when Hollow World rambled across our respective desks, we were excited—not only because it’s a Bamboo Forest title, but the advanced material showcased an exciting and fast-paced story. And there were flaming monorails!

Jeff: Agreed. Anything that shows a monorail on fire or things blowing up is bound to hold my attention, and Hollow World did not disappoint.Telling the story of a detective on vacation at Walt Disney World who gets caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a psychopath while his family’s life is on the line, I was truly blown away. Not only is the story great…but it just happens to take place at Walt Disney World.

George: Nick’s book had me within the first few pages and kept me on the edge on my seat until the end. It’s more than just an action-packed novel, it’s filled with believable and highly likeable characters. Nick also tells a great story that never seems to lag or get caught up in too much action. Based on the cover, I was expecting a Die Hard story line with lots of action—granted, there was lots of action but it was deftly woven within a plot that had me guessing and truly wondering what was going to happen next.

Jeff: It wasn’t just all action, all the time. The characters that Nick created were likeable (the ones you were supposed to like) and believable. He hints at their back stories (which you can read up on a bit in the prequel stories, available as a free download on iTunes or Kobo), and makes them real characters. He certainly created a well-rounded-out cast of characters that I wouldn’t mind seeing in future installments. But getting back to what George said, the plot did keep me guessing until the end. Sure, there were some action-film cliches that you’d expect, but there were some new surprises thrown in, too.

Hollow World author Nick P-something-or-other (we don’t know how to pronounce his name). You’ve just written your first Bamboo Forest Publishing title. What are you going to do now?

George: So, who’s going to enjoy Hollow World? If you’re a fan of suspense stories or well-devised plots that keep you thinking, then you’re going to enjoy the book. As expected, there is a fair amount of violence in the novel, but it never detracts from the story or the characters. Nothing that happens seems out of place for any of the characters. The language is fairly adult, but it’s nothing that you wouldn’t hear in a rated R blockbuster. That being said, most well-read Disney fans are going to enjoy this one.

Jeff: I think it also takes a sense of humor to enjoy the book as well. Though some people will probably bash him for his choice of setting, it’s fairly obvious that Nick enjoys Walt Disney World quite a bit. He knows the layout and uses it to his advantage. At no point is the setting merely a prop to say, “Hey, look where we are!” Instead, he kind of creates it into its own character in a way, integrating it into the story flawlessly. Action fans, and Disney fans, will both get a kick out of this book.

George: A lot of people compare novels at the parks with the Kingdom Keeper series. We both love Ridley Pearson and enjoyed the Kingdom Keeper series (although, you do have to suspend a lot of disbelief) but Nick’s book is miles apart and set for a completely different audience. As Jeff mentioned, Nick uses the Vacation Kingdom of the World as a backdrop to keep the story moving and not as a gimmick, which we’ve seen in other works. To me, along with Disneylanders (by Kate Abbott) and Our Kingdom of Dust (by Leonard Kinsey), Hollow World is a terrific read by itself, regardless of the setting. Adding the parks is just icing on the cake, er, dust jacket. Well, it just makes it that much better!

Have you read Hollow World? Do you have a favorite book set at a Disney park?

Our Kingdom of Dust by Leonard Kinsey

Our Kingdom of Dust by Leonard Kinsey, a review

Jeff: Aside from our massive Disney book collections (OK, fine, George’s is bigger than mine), we’re also voracious readers. So, when a novel comes along, that also takes place in a Disney theme park, of course we’re going to snatch it up and read it. I’m sure most of you have heard of The Kingdom Keeper series before, but if you’re thinking this book will be like that…think again.

Our Kingdom of Dust, by Leonard Kinsey, is a fantastic debut novel set at Walt Disney World.

George: The track record of novels set in Walt Disney World is fairly poor. Usually the author compromises on geography or just doesn’t get the theme park magic. Leonard Kinsey is most familiar as the author of the Dark Side of Disney, which is a decidedly more irreverent and humorous look at visiting Walt Disney World. Leonard’s novel, Our Kingdom of Dust, builds on his knowledge and love of Disney with a compelling and thought-provoking story.

Jeff: Dust follows the story of Blaine McKinnon, whose life has left a lot to be desired. After a series of tragic events forces him to rethink his life, Blaine returns to the only place that ever truly made him happy: Walt Disney World. Once there, the book follows a similar vein of The Dark Side of Disney, showing that there is always a dark side to everything. Like George mentioned, Leonard uses his knowledge and love of the Park to create a wonderful story set in some very familiar places.

George: A hallmark of a great novel is when you can place yourself in the situation and examine what you would do. Kinsey’s novel is a gripping page-turner that made me wonder how I would have reacted in certain situations. I’m not saying that Kinsey has written the great American novel, but he has written a great read that is full of compelling characters. You will find yourself drawn into the story and wondering how Kinsey will resolve the issues, if at all.

Jeff: What struck me about Our Kingdom of Dust was how real everything felt. Leonard did an amazing job of not just describing a place that we all know and love, but he also populated it with characters that seem like they could be people we know. A few are based on real Disney personalities, but he altered them just enough to make them his own. It’s a quick read at 180 pages, but Leonard manages to weave a compelling story that keeps you on the edge of your seat for all of it.

George: As can be expected from the author of the Dark Side of Disney, this book does travel down some interesting streets, but I would still urge most Disney fans to check it out. Frankly, I would recommend this book to non-Disney fans because it helps explain our unique, umm, obsessions we have with Disney theme parks. You might be turned off by some of the language and situations, but I urge you to take the time and invest several hours in Blaine’s world (Party Time! Excellent!) and seeing Disney through his eyes.

Jeff: Exactly. This won’t be the typical Disney cup of tea, all bright and cheery. It does, however, keep true to the human condition. This is a book that contains real people, and really messed up situations. But these messed up situations are ones that you can find yourself in very easily. Leonard doesn’t skimp on the harshness of life in Our Kingdom of Dust, and honestly, the story is all the more better for it.

George: This is a book that I enjoyed reading and I am glad that I took the chance. Well-developed characters, a place that I love and some seriously laugh-out-loud moments combine to make a really good read. I applaud you, Leonard and I am seriously looking forward to your next project.

Jeff: All in all, I’d definitely give this book two thumbs up (if we’re rating by thumbs, that is). I’d even give it five out of five Mickey heads. If you can get past the surreal situations and the darker side of all things Disney, I would highly recommend it. I really don’t think you’d be disappointed.

George: I think we should give Our Kingdom of Dust five out of five Citrus Swirls!

You can visit Bamboo Forest Publishing to learn more about the book or purchase a copy.

You can also purchase the book from Amazon in print or for your Kindle.

Have you read Our Kingdom of Dust?

Have you read any good fiction that takes place at Walt Disney World? What do you think about fiction that takes place in a Disney park?

It’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump, a Review

It’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump as told to Jeff Heimbuch

It’s Kind of a Cute Story is a Disney memoir that stands heads and shoulders above the slew of small- and self-published books from the past year. It’s also a book that surpasses most of the Disney Publishing releases and it raises the bar for how an artistic memoir should look.

If you’ve set foot in Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot or Knott’s Berry Farm, then you have seen and felt the influence of Rolly Crump. Rolly started as an animator and quickly moved into helping design and build Disneyland. He was instrumental in bringing it’s a small world to fruition and laid the groundwork for the designs on the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Haunted Mansion. Rolly was a visual artist that had a long-standing career in and out of Disney and It’s Kind of a Cute Story is an amazing look at an amazing life.

Before we get too deep into the review of It’s Kind of a Cute Story, there are a few disclaimers I need to put forward. The author, Jeff Heimbuch, is my writing partner, my co-host on Communicore Weekly (the Greatest Online Show) and partner in all things shenanigans-wise. I have a deep interest in promoting the book, but I’m also a huge proponent of books and Disney research. If I tell you a book is great when it isn’t, then you’re not going to trust me.

It’s kind of a Cute Story is extremely entertaining and informative. I felt like I was sitting in Rolly’s living room while he regaled me with these amazing tales of his life. The book follows Rolly’s life as he develops as an artist. We read about his earliest days discovering his love for art and his move to his animating days at Disney. The anecdotes that Rolly relates are incredibly heart-warming and charming. Like any of the animators that worked at the Studio in the 1950s, you get a true sense of the camaraderie and mischievousness that permeated the work environment. The stories will make you laugh out loud.

For us theme park nerds, the book really shines when Rolly talks about designing attractions for Disneyland and working with Walt. It’s amazing to think that Walt would set Rolly free in Adventureland to design and build a new shop. No committees, no lawyers and no need to run every idea through someone else. The tales of designing attractions and Rolly scratching his head to put them together are priceless.

There are forays into the 64-65 New York’s World Fair, including the design and construction of the signature attractions. It was an incredible time to be working in the Disney organization and if Walt liked and trusted you, then you had a lot of free reign. After reading about Rolly’s experiences, it’s surprising that the World’s Fair actually got off the ground. It’s also charming to hear the tales of the attractions being brought back to Disneyland. I’ll never look at the facade of it’s a small world the same way again.

Much of Rolly’s career after Walt’s passing was spent designing attractions for Knott’s Berry Farm, Steve Wynn’s casinos, Jacques Cousteau and many more. Even though I’ve never visited a lot of these locations (I’m working on it), it was incredibly insightful to see how Rolly worked with organizations and for people that wanted to capture that Disney magic. You can see how Rolly tried to bring the same work and design sensibilities to these other projects. Sometimes it worked an sometimes it didn’t; usually it was no fault of Rolly, just a lack of vision (and funding) from the owner. Regardless, seeing the other attractions and shows that Rolly designed is truly inspiring. I was glad to read about the project that Rolly did for Oman (and to see photos of it). It shows the ability this talented artist has.

This book isn’t sanctioned by Disney, which is a good and bad. Rolly iterates his stories like he would to a trusted friend; he doesn’t pull any punches. There were people in the Disney organization that he didn’t like and he let’s us know. He never skewers anyone, per se, but there are a few people that he didn’t like working with for various reasons, mostly because they were Walt’s Yes Men. Therefore, there isn’t any art from the Disney Archives–everything presented is from Rolly’s collection or from fans. Hopefully we’ll see more memoirs like this in the future.

The chapter on Rolly and Walt was one of my favorites. As with any biography, memoir or history of the Company, you come away with a specific view of Walt Disney–whether it’s Walt the Imagineer, Walt the sotryteller or Walt the businessman. Rolly takes the opportunity to talk about his individual interactions with Walt and you step away with a sense that Walt loved what he did and held everyone to the same standards he held himself. It’s safe to say that Rolly had a very unique relationship with Walt simply because Rolly believed in himself and his vision; undoubtedly Walt respected the simple fact that Rolly wasn’t a yes man.

Congratulations to Rolly and Jeff for creating such an astounding memoir. Also, kudos to the publisher and staff at Bamboo Forest Publishing for working incredibly hard to make It’s Kind of a Cute Story a reality and for the singular vision of creating an unparalleled work. The design of the book is spectacular and truly relates to Rolly’s own artistic vision.

It’s rare that you see a publisher go all out for a book, especially in such a niche market. Bamboo Forest Publishing has released a string of great titles and they’ve set the bar high for all future books from any publishing house. This book is charming and offers something for every Disney fan. Disney researchers need to grab this to add to their collections. There are a lot of stories that haven’t been heard before.

Have you had the chance to pick up It’s Kind of a Cute Story? What do you think? Do you have a favorite Rolly attraction?

This review was originally published in November, 2012