Monday, January 31, 2011

More Books!

The first and last titles featured in this update should thrill any Walt Disney World fan! These four books put my Disney-related collection to 388 titles.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review: Building a Better Mouse

Building A Better Mouse: The Story Of The Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot by Steve Alcorn and David Green. 2007. 140 pp.

About the Authors
Steve Alcorn and David Green wrote this book to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Epcot in 2007. Steve worked for WED during the construction of The American Adventure (the subject of the book) and currently runs Alcorn McBride. He is still heavily involved in the theme park industry and teaches a class on theme park design at Imagineering Class. David spent many years working for the Walt Disney Company on the Fantasyland refurb, Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland. He is the principal creative at Monteverdi Creative with a long list of accomplishments.

The Book
Building A Better Mouse tells the story of two Imagineers and their work during the three years that Epcot was designed and built. Steve begins the story at the end, when the project is over and he has to deal with being let go from the company. From there, he takes us back to his beginnings with WED Engineering working in department 510, a group of electronic engineers. Steve delves into a fairly standard introduction to Walt's dream for Epcot and the development of the theme park before beginning the real adventure.

What you get is a deeply satisfying look into what it was like to work for Disney during the design, development and construction of the world's most expensive theme park (and the largest private construction project) at the time. Although it is written by an electrical engineer (Alcorn), the narrative is very enjoyable and fun to read. Green steps in to offer his thoughts and "contributed all the sections that sound like they were written by an English major." (Alcorn--Acknowledgments)

About halfway through reading Building a Better Mouse, I realized that I would never look at any theme park attraction the same. Attractions at Disney parks are usually so polished that you often take everything for granted. Reading about Steve working more than 24 hours in a row in order to get a lift functioning is mind-boggling. Steve describes the size and scope of the infrastructure of the American Adventure and relates it on a level where you can comprehend the grandness and interoperability of each part. It is amazing to think of the systems that were developed that keep the attractions running all day, day after day.

Steve and David take us behind-the-scenes at WED in California where we share a glimpse of what it was like to work at Disney. When they write about their time in Lake Buena Vista where all WED employees were given a rental car, a trailer at Ft. Wilderness and the ultimatum of finishing Epcot by October 1, you are amazed how it all came together. It is hard to imagine the demand that was pressed upon these young and idealistic engineers, but after seeing the results, it must have been well worth it.

Building A Better Mouse is a fascinating look at an amazing time in Disney history; especially one written by an insider who loves the magic as much as most enthusiasts. There is nothing else like it that looks into the development of a single attraction or the life that Imagnieers lived during the heyday of building a theme park. If you are a fan of Imagineering, theme park or Disney, then you will love this title. I wish that it had been a little more in-depth, but I am not sure what else the authors could have added.

UPDATED: Steve Alcorn sent me a link with some of the photos from that time period. They are stunning!

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Geek-End Update, Saturday, January 29, 2011

Theme Parks

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    For Your Consideration This Oscar Season!

    The following letter from Roy E. Disney was included with a copy of Disney's Aladdin: The Making of an Animated Film that I recently acquired. After the success of Beauty and the Beast and its subsequent Academy Award Nomination, Roy sent out a letter and a copy of the Aladdin book by John Culhane to entice Academy members to see Aladdin and vote for it in the Oscar race.

    December 21, 1992
    Dear Academy Members,
         Last year's landmark best picture nomination for Walt Disney Pictures' animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast," was a great honor for all of us involved in animation and a milestone for the animation industry. We are extremely grateful to the entire Academy membership for recognizing this film in such an important and prestigious way. In the spirit ofthe holidays and as an expression of deep appreciation, we are sending along the recently-released videocassette version of "Beauty and the Beast" for your personal film library. For those of you who received a cassette* of the work-in-­progress tape last year, this completed version provides an entertaining and illuminating companion piece.

         I hope that many of you have already had an opportunity to see Disney's latest animated "Aladdin," Animation has always been the heart and soul of Disney and I am extremely proud that our creative team is not only carrying on the tradition but stretching the boundaries of their imaginations and artistry in new and exciting ways. If you are unable to see "Aladdin" over the holidays at a regularly scheduled performance at the El Capitan or your local moviehouse, starting next month, your Academy card will admit you and a guest to see the film at most local theaters or, for your convenience, at one of the special Academy screenings (see schedule below). As members of the filmmaking community, I thought you might also enjoy having a copy of John Culhane's excellent new book, Aladdin: The Making of an Animated Film, which describes the complex creative process and technical innovations involved in bringing this to the screen.

         Thank you again for the wonderful honor you bestowed upon "Beauty and the Beast" last year and for your consideration of "Aladdin" this year. The growing popularity and acceptance of animated is something that would have greatly pleased my Uncle Walt, my father Roy, and all the great talents that collaborated to pioneer this unique form of filmmaking. These are truly exciting times for the art of animation and we appreciate your continued support and recognition. Happy holidays and best wishes for the coming year.
    Roy E. Disney

    *A cassette is how people watched movies before DVD and Blu-ray!
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    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Book Review: Walt's People Volume 10 by Didier Ghez

    Most tenth anniversaries are celebrated with a gift of tin or aluminum. What do you get a noted Disney historian when he publishes the tenth volume of a critically acclaimed series? Should we get him a Tin Toy? What about something from the Kaiser Hall of Aluminum?

    All Giants Among Mortal Men!

    Regardless, the release of Volume Ten of Walt's People should be greeted with hallelujahs and much fanfare. Not only is the series an indispensable tool for researchers, but Didier has compiled an astounding collection of interviews with people that have worked with Walt Disney or on Disney-related projects.

    The Tenth volume is special because Didier was able to collect all of the interviews that Bob Thomas did for his seminal biography: Walt Disney, An American Original. The majority of the interviews took place in 1973 when people were still reeling from Walt's passing in 1966. Artists, family and WED employees are interviewed and provide a fascinating look at working with and for Walt. It is obvious that most of the interviewees had a fondness, if not love, for their boss. The anecdotes provided are priceless and provide an insight into Thomas' writings and the direction of the biography. I would hope that this volume of Walt's People will inspire other authors and researchers to share their interviews with Didier.

    Interviewees and essays:
    Foreword: Diane Disney Miller
    Jim Korkis: A history of the Walt Disney biography by Bob Thomas
    Didier Ghez: Bob Thomas
    Paul F. Anderson: Bob Thomas
    Walt Disney
    Walt Pfeiffer
    Lillian Disney
    Edna Disney
    Ub Iwerks
    Wilfred Jackson
    Bill Cottrell
    Herb Ryman
    Jim Korkis: Walt’s secretaries
    Dolores Voght Scott
    Ham Luske
    Woolie Reitherman
    John Lounsbery
    Ward Kimball
    Frank Thomas
    Milt Kahl
    Hazel George
    Marc Davis
    Dick Huemer
    Ollie Johnston
    Ken Anderson
    George Bruns
    Larry Clemmons
    Bill Anderson
    Robert Stevenson
    Bill Walsh
    Roy E. Disney
    Winston Hibler
    James Algar
    John Hench
    Harper Goff
    Dick Irvine
    Card Walker
    Donn Tatum
    Wathel Rogers
    Roger Broggie
    Marvin Davis
    Joe Potter
    Robert Foster
    Joe Fowler

    Pretty impressive, no?

    The majority of the Walt's People volumes focus on interviews with artists that worked on the animated films. Occasionally, you find interviews with people that worked on Disneyland. Take a look at the bottom part of the list of interviewees. Most of them were directly involved with creating Walt Disney World after Walt's passing. As noted earleir, the interviews took place around 1973 and many of the interviews focus on the plans for Walt Disney World and the expansion of the Florida Project.

    I will iterate: Didier's Walt's People Series is a very important addition to the collected research about Walt Disney. Walt's People will be used for many years to come by researchers and publishers.

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    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Forthcoming Book: Four Decades of Magic!

    Chad Emerson (author of Project Future) released the cover to the forthcoming book, Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World. The book is scheduled to be released in February.

    Make sure to check out the STELLAR listing of authors that contributed to the book. Did you look close enough?

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    Hearing Voices: The Talking Mickey Mouse

    From the Winter 1987 Disney News, we find this advertisement for "The Talking Mickey Mouse". Premiering 17 years before Pal Mickey, it offered a similar experience, minus the in-park interactivity. There were 13 cassettes/interactive stories that were created for Talking Mickey. The cassettes included commands to move Mickey's mouth, nose and eyes. Also available were three costumes for him: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Sleeping Mickey and Bandleader. Talking Mickey was created by Worlds of Wonder; the same company that brought us Teddy Ruxpin.

    You could also purchase a Talking Goofy that worked in concert with Mickey. They were connected by an audio patch cable. Apparently, Goofy could not work without Mickey!

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Blu-ray Review: Alice In Wonderland

    Alice In Wonderland (Two-Disc 60th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

    Often maligned, the Blu-ray presentation of Alice in Wonderland provides a reason to revisit this animated classic from Walt Disney. It is fairly well known that Disney spent over 13 years trying to develop this project and started it no less than five times.

    I won't spend time critiquing the film; either you already love it or hate it. The high-definition presentation is eye-popping and shows off the skills of the animators and artists. Alice was created at the peak the Nine Old Men's animation prowess and it is evident. Besides the amazing visuals, the other major reason to invest in the Blu-ray edition is the extras, which provide an interesting new twist.
    Brand-New Blu-ray Features:
    • Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland - View the movie in this special mode and discover references to the original Lewis Carroll classic. Kathryn Beaumont introduces. 
    • Disney View - Watch the movie in this expanded viewing experience with new Disney art in the wings of the screen.
    • Painting the Roses Red Game - Help paint the roses red in the Queen's garden. Careful, or someone could lose their head. 
    • Walt Disney Color TV Introduction (1959) - A never-before-seen color TV intro by Walt. 
    • Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob - Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Alice, provides an introduction to this newly discovered reference footage of Alice talking to the doorknob. 
    • Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks - Kathryn Beaumont introduces a newly discovered pencil test of Alice shrinking.
    Plus, Classic Features:
    • "I'm Odd" Newly Discovered Cheshire Cat Song + Intro
    • Thru the Mirror Mickey Mouse Animated Short (Now in Hi-Def)
    • Art Gallery (with new design and new images)
    • Reflections on Alice
    • Operation Wonderland (Now in Hi-Def)
    • One Hour in Wonderland
    • An Alice Comedy: Alice's Wonderland
    • Original Theatrical Trailers (1951; 1974)
    • Walt Disney TV Introduction (1954; 1964)
    • The Fred Waring Show (Excerpt)
    • Deleted Materials

    I really enjoyed the documentary about the film that is presented in Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland. Instead of a commentary track that plays over the film's audio or a talking-heads only documentary, Disney has created a new way to view commentary/documentary. The full feature film is presented on one side of the screen while historical photos and the ubiquitous talking heads take up the rest of the screen real estate. In this case, we are introduced to Disney historians, Caroll experts and Disney artists. They tell the story of Lewis Caroll mixed with Walt's attempts to bring the film to fruition. It was great to see Brian Sibley, Charles Solomon and Paula Sigman (all noted Disney historians) provide on screen commentary and historical tidbits that offer keen insight and tie the film and book together.

    Reflections on Alice (listed under Classic Features, even though it is new) is a shorter piece that looks at the animated film and the Disney Company. Disney historians are interviewed and provide commentary about the films, theme park attractions and merchandising. Noted animator and Disney Historian Stacia Martin joins blogger Matt Crandall (and others) to discuss how Alice has been part of the company since 1923. Matt runs Vintage Disney Alice in Wonderland.

    Should you buy this?
    If you love the film, yes. It is an astounding presentation on Blu-ray. Most animated features really shine on Blu-ray and Alice is no different. The Bonus Features are nice, especially the commentaries. I still wanted something more exciting as a feature, mainly to extend the life of the film, but it must be difficult for Disney to find new things. If you haven't seen it in a while and don't own it on Blu-ray, then this is a good choice. No one is really sure what the next format is going to be (hi-def streaming?), so this might be the last time you can own a copy of this film.

    This Blu-ray disc was provided as a review copy from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.

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    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Geek-End Update, Saturday, January 22, 2011

    I wanted to try something a little different this week. Instead of presenting a straight forward list of links (usually presented chronologically), I used my amazing library skills to create three subject headings: Theme Parks, Animation and General. Leave me a comment and let me know if you like it!

    Theme Parks


    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Walt and Libraries

    Walt's People, Volume 10 is about to be released by Didier Ghez. This collection of interviews focuses solely on the research that Bob Thomas did when writing his astounding Walt Disney: An American Original. Page 18 features this wonderful quote about Walt Disney and libraries.
    He told me that when he got into a problem and couldn’t figure it out, he would go to the library to find out what the answers were. He continued to do that all of his life. He would either go to the library or call people who would be able to tell him what he needed to know. And in the reverse he was available for people who wanted to question him about their projects. It was a very interesting aspect of his life.
    The Walt's People Series is a must-have for Disney enthusiasts of every interest.
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    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Book Review: Project Future

    "I'm doing this because I want to do it better", Walt Disney on the Florida Project.

    Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World by Chad Denver Emerson. 2009, 185 pp.

    Any serious student of Walt Disney World history bemoans the dearth of information available outside of the corporate archives. There are some fantastic resources in print and I have complied a bibliography of titles that focus on Walt Disney World history. Still, there are many gaps and many unanswered questions.

    Chad Emerson is a Professor of Law at Faulkner University. He is also a lecturer, author and consultant in the area of amusement and hospitality law. His interest in piecing together the tale of Walt Disney World began when he stumbled across information about the Reedy Creek Improvement District and his wife thought that it would make a fascinating read.

    Chad took her advice to heart and began researching the book.

    Most of us are aware that Walt began to secretly purchase land in Central Florida for his Disneyland East idea, which blossomed into the City of Tomorrow. Before the publication of Project Future, very few of us were aware of the political machinations, maneuverings, time and money that went into the acquisition of the land that we call Walt Disney World. Project Future has been described by other reviewers as "spy-like" and full of intrigue--they are correct, but it is also full of anecdotes from former employees and government officials.

    Chad's book fills a very important vacuum in the time-line from Disneyland's inception until the opening of the Vacation Kingdom. The style of the book is very straightforward and most lay people will be able to consume the work without consulting a legal dictionary. The language, tone and writing are one set of the book's strengths.

    Included is a listing of key players, which is very helpful. Many times, I found myself flipping to that section to refresh what a certain player's role was. Chad has a detailed time line that focuses on the major events of the land acquisitions and lobbying efforts.

    In all, this is a pleasurable read that paints a picture of how daunting a project like Walt Disney World actually was. You will never take the 43 square miles purchased in the mid-1960's for granted again! You will also come to realize that a project of this size and scope will never be duplicated.

    You can learn more about the book by visiting

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    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Check Me Out!

    A list of recommended titles for first-time visitors to Walt Disney World!

    Here's my list of recommended titles:
    1. Birnbaum's Walt Disney World 2011. Most of the time I suggest people read The Unofficial Guide, but that tome can be a little overwhelming and off-putting for a first time visitor. This is a great book to ease people into that Walt Disney World frame of mind.
    2. Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers (2011) by Lisa Battista. Although this is geared towards parents of preschoolers, Lisa offers lots of great advice. And if you are traveling with toddlers, this is a must-have resource!
    3. Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories and Magic Behind the Scenes (Six-Pack).Every Disney Geek (or Deek) needs to own this set. This is a great way to preview the parks and relive your past vacations. Simce Walt Disney World is so overwhelming in scope, I recommend the DVDs to get people acclimated. Sort of like purifying yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka! Check out my review of the set here.
    4. Modern Marvels - Walt Disney World (History Channel). Don't tell your family and friends that you bought this before your vacation and be prepared to gain instant Deek Credibility! This DVD is the two-hour documentary about the creation and building of Walt Disney World that was created for the History Channel.
    5. The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom by Susan Veness. This is a quick and easy book to read that will give you all of the geeky little secrets about the parks. Some of the facts or secrets are, well, not quite right, but overall there is a lot of great information presented. This is a book that you can read on the flight or in the hotel room the night before you visit a specific park.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Geek-End Update, Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Special Mention:
    Jeff Kurtti (one of my favorite authors) has penned a fantastic article about the beginnings of Walt Disney's live-action films. Check it out!

      Thursday, January 13, 2011

      Fire Sale at The Enchanted Tiki Room, Under New Management

      Daily Disney - Lets All Sing Like the Birdies SingImage by Express Monorail via FlickrLook to Disney to open the Advetureland Veranda soon with an improved menu.

      Roasted parrot, hornbill and various other birds of paradise will appear shortly on the updated menu.

      In other news, a fire broke out in the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management attraction at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 5:30pm.

      An uncredited and very reliable resource has confirmed that Iago 1, Zazu and the bird mobile were damaged in the fire. Iago 1 was damaged irreparably. Iago 1 is the animatronic that is there for most of the show, not the one that is already charred from Uh-Oa's spell (the pre-burnt Iago sits above the EXIT sign).

      Don't forget to follow me on twitter since I tweeted the rumor there first.

      Let's hope that Disney will take this opportunity to return the Enchanted Tiki Room to Old Management.
      Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki RoomImage via Wikipedia
      Yes, I know this is the DL poster, but I am being hopeful...
      DisKingdom Discussion Kingdom on twitter
      UPDATE #2: Cast Member also said they're going to do a refurb now since it's down from the fire. (info thanks to @Laurabearz)

      Discussion Kingdom
      DisKingdom Discussion Kingdom
      UPDATE: Enchanted Tiki Room is still closed today. Cast Members outside are saying it'll be closed for approx. a month.

      Make sure to check out Ryan's post about the Adventureland Veranda at the Main Street Gazette. He has some great pictures.
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      Tuesday, January 11, 2011

      The Future of Junction Point Studios...Ducktales?

      The February Game Informer Magazine interviews Junction Pouint Studio head, Warren Spector about Epic Mickey and the future of Disney games. It i spretty obvious that Warren is a big time Disney Geek and can't wait to get his hands into other Studio properties. You can read my full review of Epic Mickey over at 2 Lonely Deeks.

      Would Junction Point like to do more with classic Disney characters? What new ideas might you be interested in exploring in a second Epic Mickey game? 

      I've actually always envisioned Junction Point well, once we became a part of Disney - as the studio that draws inspiration from the Archives. I've been pretty up from about my love of the Ducks. l’d love to do a Duck Tales game, and a Gremlins game would be amazing. Oswald would make a great leading As far as a second Epic Mickey game goes, there's no shortage of interesting challenges to tackle. l have some ideas about music gameplay that could be fun and there is a world of stuff we can do with paint and thinner that we even have thought of the first time around. Or we could do some stuff completely different and not do any of the stuff I've mentioned here. Who knows? There's no shortage of ideas!
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      Monday, January 10, 2011

      Book and Audio Updates


      • The Art of Mulan by Jeff Kurtti. Do I need to say anything else but Jeff Kurtti wrote this?
      I was fortunate to get a signed copy of the book, as well. I did contact Jeff and he verified that it is his signature. Now, I just need to visit with the rest of my books to get them signed!

      • Disney and His Worlds by Alan Bryman. This is a socialogical treatise on Disney, consumerism and the theme parks. It looks really good.

      • Musical History of Disneyland (W/Book)This six-CD set with accompanying book (written by Stacia Martin and designed by Bruce Gordon) is absolutely stunning. It is particularly satisfying to listen to the music and read the book at the same time. I know, it is tough to be able to multi-task like a true Deek!