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June 12, 2015

Feelin’ the Force: A Review of the Star Wars Weekends Feel the Force Premium Package at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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By Alice McNutt Miller

I made plans for a quick Miller family visit to Walt Disney World over Memorial Day weekend months ago. My older daughter would be home from her second year of college, and it seemed like a good time to squeeze more out of our annual passes. When it was time to make our FastPass+ reservations, 60 days out from our arrival date, and I dug into the daily planning, I realized -- with some surprise, and a bit of consternation -- that the visit also coincided with one of the Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Argghh. That meant that an already crowded holiday weekend would be even MORE crowded. At first I thought we might want to avoid the Studios altogether, but then I decided to embrace the Force, and go all in.

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We are a family of mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fans. The first Star Wars movie -- then referred to just as “Star Wars” and now more appropriately “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope” -- came out when I was in junior high school. My dad and I stood in line for hours at the old Wilma Theater in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to get in to see the movie on opening weekend. I had on a really cool t-shirt that I had bought at J.C. Penney with my hard-earned babysitting money, for what I am sure I thought was an exorbitant sum. It had a picture of Luke Skywalker on it. He was dreamy.

So how does the mildly enthusiastic Star Wars fan navigate the complications of character meet and greets, talk show FastPasses, good viewing spots for the Motorcade, how to buy the coveted Boba Fett merchandise? I did some reading up on past events, and plans for the current one, and frankly, felt a bit overwhelmed. I decided to do what I am sure many befuddled first timers would do -- splurge on a Feel the Force Premium Package! There are three levels of “experiences” offered under the various premium packages. For $69 a pop ($39 for kids aged 3-9) guests receive: access to a special viewing area for the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade (including soft drinks); reserved seating for one of the celebrity talk shows; and A reserved viewing location for the nightly Symphony in the Stars fireworks show, paired with a Star Wars-themed dessert party with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. For an additional $30/person, you can upgrade to the Deluxe Feel the Force Premium Package, which includes everything in the regular package, plus the ability to follow behind the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, provides reserved seating for all of the celebrity talk shows that day in the and offers priority access to Darth's Mall throughout the day of the package. Oh, and they will throw in “a commemorative lanyard and credential to honor your most impressive day.” Since, as I mentioned before, the Miller family is only mildly enthusiastic about Star Wars, I figured that we did not need to pay an extra $30 to see celebrities we didn’t know anything about and to have the opportunity to spend even more money on souvenirs, I decided to forgo the deluxe and stick with the regular. (And I didn’t even think about spending $499 per person for the VIP Experience. Yikes!)

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Picking up the credentials.
According to my reservation information, we could pick up our credentials for the day starting at 10 a.m. at a kiosk near Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. However, while we were hanging out in the Streets of America watching Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears at about 9:30 a.m., I saw a few people with what looked like the Premium Package credentials hanging around their necks. I left my family to rock out and hoofed it over to Echo Lake to see if the kiosk was open. Sure enough, I was able to collect our lanyards and choose our Celebrity Talk Show passes. My family really wanted to see Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok from The Empire Strikes Back, Willow and various characters in the Harry Potter movies), mostly because he was the only one of the celebrities who we really knew anything about, and I was afraid that the passes would already be gone. I was lucky enough to be able to get passes for that show, and I was also given packs of autographed photos of the celebrities in attendance that weekend. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my family, Mulch, Sweat n’ Shears was just wrapping up.

Celebrity Motorcade.
As part of the Premium Package, we got access to a reserved viewing area to watch the Legends of the Force Celebrity Motorcade. We arrived a bit after access to the area was opened (we had FastPasses for Toy Story!), but about 20 minutes before the motorcade actually started. Our reservation said that water and soft drinks would be provided, and I was happy to see that full size bottles of water and Coke products were being handed out. As a special surprise, there were also Mickey Ice Cream bars, frozen strawberry bars and boxes of popcorn available, as well! We enjoyed those as we waited for the festivities to start.

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Because we arrived a bit late, our view was not so great once the motorcade and show started (guests in front of us were about four deep, and of course the tall guys in the front, who had been sitting earlier, stood and pretty much blocked the view of the motorcade and the stage from my short self). We did have a better view than many regular guests, however, and the Mickey bars and bottles of water were very welcome. We enjoyed watching the Disney characters in Star Wars garb, and that weekend’s celebrities (James Arnold Taylor, Ashley Eckstein, Warwick Davis, Silas Carson, and Vanessa Marshall) arrive, and the kick off show on the stage. The Motorcade and show were a lot of fun, and we were happy to have the drinks, treats, and reserved place to watch from.

After the motorcade, we decided to skedaddle, and head back to our hotel for lunch and a rest. The park was very crowded, and we felt like we needed a break before the evening activities that were included in the package.

Celebrity Talk Show. Our favorite part of the day was probably Warwick Davis’s show, “An Ewok’s Tale.” Our credentials advised us to show up at the Theatre of the Stars between 15 and 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. We arrived about 20 minutes early, and waited with other Premium and Deluxe Premium Package holders who had tickets for the show. There was a stand-by line for folks who did not have packages, and from my observation, it looked like there were still a few empty seats, so (at least for that show) anyone who wanted to see it, was able to get in. Our reserved seats were about 7 rows back from the stage, so we had a great view. The show was very interactive, and for anyone who has never seen Davis, I would highly recommend it, if he returns for future Star Wars Weekends.

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If you've never seen Warwick's An Ewok's Tale, here is a video from a previous Star Wars Weekend:

After the Talk Show, we decided to head over to the merchandise area, Darth’s Mall, to see what was on offer. Earlier in the day, the lines had been crazy long, but at this point -- about 6:30 p.m., an hour before the was to close for the day -- we did not wait at all to go into X-Wing Collectibles (art, pins, other collectibles), and waited only about 5 minutes to get into Watto’s Grotto (t-shirts, mugs, build-your-own lightsabers).

Dessert party and fireworks.
Following a lovely dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby, we headed back to the same area in front of the Event Stage for our dessert party. There were separate areas reserved for folks with the regular and Deluxe packages. Not sure if the Deluxe folks got any different dessert offerings than we did, but there was a separate area for them. We showed our credentials and found a stand up table. Soft drinks and water were again offered, as were two alcoholic drinks. My husband and I tried both of them, but weren’t really thrilled. They were colorful, but pretty gooey sweet. I would have preferred plain wine and beer. Desserts included themed cupcakes, and some sort of weird blue mousse. They were all cute and fun. The Symphony in the Stars Fireworks were amazing. The reserved viewing area was perfect.

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All in all, we really enjoyed the Feel the Force Premium Package during our recent Star Wars Weekends visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we are not over the top Star Wars fans, we found the special events and character photo opportunities to be lots of fun. We also appreciated the fact that the package made our day almost completely hassle free. We did not have to stand in line or fight crowds to the see the Motorcade or get into our preferred talk show. I was also impressed by the quality of drinks, snacks and desserts on offer. With the package, we were able to maximize our time in the crowded park, and really enjoy the events. I often think that the prices charged by Disney for some of these events are excessive, but in this case, I felt like we got good value for the price paid. Until next year, may the Force be with you!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world (until the Shanghai Disney Resort opens!). They live in Alexandria, Virginia.

September 20, 2014

Walt Disney World Hidden History - Book Review

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Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes,
2nd edition by Kevin Yee
By Alice McNutt Miller

If your family is anything like mine, when you arrive at one of the parks at Walt Disney World, say the Magic Kingdom, you sprint down Main Street USA toward whichever attraction for which you have your first FastPass+, without looking up, down, or around you. You miss the little details. A LOT of little details: references to Disney films and former attractions; tributes to Imagineers and prominent Disney personalities; and many other hidden gems. What you really need is a guidebook to show you where to look.

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Keven Yee has just released the 2nd Edition of Walt Disney World Hidden History, a comprehensive update of the 1st edition of the book, reflecting the myriad changes in the parks since its original publication in 2011 (See Review) .

This edition includes over 150 new and updated references, and tons of color photos. The format of the new book is the same as in the first edition, taking the reader on a virtual tour of each of the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) starting with the entrances, and moving through each of the "lands." There is also a "General Walt Disney World" chapter that includes references found throughout the resort, including in the water parks, resort hotels, Downtown Disney. Yee also throws in a bonus chapter on "History at Universal Studios Florida" and includes helpful lists of current and former attractions and of the individuals honored in the Main Street USA windows in the Magic Kingdom, as well as a comprehensive index.

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New inclusions of note include those devoted to references in the Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse, Storybook Circus and other New Fantasyland areas. After reading Yee's book, I think Disney history buffs who have not yet taken in the sights in Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse (including me!) would be well advised to do so. This area is full of subtle and not-so-subtle references, including tributes to famous (animators Wilfred Jackson, Fred Moore and Ward Kimball) and not-so-famous (marketing executive Scott Tilley) Disney personages, and installations celebrating Disney parks and attractions throughout the world.

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The New Fantasyland section sheds light on some of the newer references that park-goers may have certainly noticed, but not understood. Whose portrait is that hanging prominently in the back of the Bonjour Village Gifts? Why Magic Kingdom Vice President Phil Holmes, of course! Next time you are in the gift shop, take a closer look: "Numerous winks in the painting pay tribute to changes during his tenure: a ring with '40' stamped on it (the 40th anniversary of the park in 2011), Aladdin's lamp (the addition of Magic Carpets of Aladdin), Snow White's apple (the closure of Snow White's Scary Adventures), peanuts (for the addition of Storybook Circus), bronze statue of Donald Duck (the trinket given to Cast Members when they pass 40 years of service), and a map of the Magic Kingdom showing Mickey's Toontown Fair (the first land to close).

While I very much enjoyed the updated edition of the book, I still wish that it were organized in a more user-friendly way. Other than separate chapters for each park, , and without sub-headings for the various park locations, the topic headings are rather random, referring alternately to attractions, names of Imagineers, dates and other unrelated items. The best way to make sense of the flow would be to read the book, in order and with a park map next to you, as the references will take you on a relatively linear tour of the parks.

The book has been painstakingly researched, however, and color photos enhance the presentation. I'm not sure Yee has missed any references, as he seems to have scoured every inch of the parks for them. Readers-serious Disney history buffs and casual park visitors alike-will certainly find something to enjoy. And something to search for on their next visit!

Disclosure: The author provided a complimentary review copy, however my opinions are my own. The above link to the book is via the AllEars Amazon affiliate store.

January 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Tinker Bell: An Evolution

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Tinker Bell: An Evolution

By Mindy Johnson with a Foreword by John Lasseter

Disney Editions has recently published a lavish tome dedicated to the development and history of the beloved, but slightly naughty, fairy Tinker Bell, designed in collaboration with the Animation Research Library. The book traces the history of the sparkly sprite from her origins as essentially a circle of lamplight in J. M. Barrie's original "Peter Pan"� stage play to a fixture in Disney Parks, flying over nightly fireworks shows, to a character with a voice and a bevy of forest friends residing in Pixie Hollow in recent Disney movies.

The first part of the book delves into Disney's long quest to bring Barrie's play to the big screen, reflecting the same perseverance shown by Walt when he decided that he absolutely had to secure the rights to another beloved story that is chronicled in the current Disney film, "Saving Mr. Banks." Disney received the okay to move forward with the project in 1939 after securing the rights from the Great Ormond Street Hospital (to which Barrie had left the rights on his death). Production ground to a halt during the 1940s as a result of a number of difficulties, including an artist's strike in 1941 and the war in Europe. During that time, Disney turned its attention to making money by doing work in support of the war for the government, including military training films. The movie came back into development in 1945 after the war ended, and inched along for years as the company tried to get back on a firm financial footing. After years of developing the story, the film got the final green light to move forward from Walt in 1950, and a team was assembled to work on the film.

During this time, legendary Disney artist Mary Blair got involved in the film. "Her conceptual work on "Peter Pan" defined the role of Tinker Bell as the ever-present wisp who darts along on Peter's adventures." Johnson explains that in developing the overall story for the film, Disney artists invested a great deal of time and effort into developing the appearance and personality of Disney's most famous fairy. "It seems reasonable to conclude that when concocting their recipe for Tinker Bell, the Disney animators combined equal parts Blue Fairy and Fantasia sprite -- with a generous dollop of personality thrown in." The film was finally released in 1953-- after thirteen years of development, three years of active production, the painting of over a million animation cels and $4 million in production costs -- and a star was born.

When Walt made his early forays into television in the 1950s, he realized that he needed a character to help introduce the shows. Tinker Bell was the "perfect blend of magic and wonderment," and became a fixture in the opening sequences of several of the Disney shows, and now in the opening sequences of Disney movies. Tinker Bell has been an ambassador and symbol for the Disney brand for decades, also appearing "in person" in the parks -- she first "flew" over the park in 1958 and has continued in various iterations ever since -- and helping to sell merchandise as varied as park souvenirs and peanut butter.

This lovely book is chock full of photos and previously unseen concept art, as well as well-researched history of both the Tinker Bell franchise and Disney's long journey in getting J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" to the screen. It book will delight both Tinker Bell and Peter Pan fans, and will look gorgeous on any Disney fan's coffee table.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Tinker Bell: An Evolution through AllEars.Net's Amazon.com store:
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/1423172019


December 9, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms

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Disney Editions has just released "Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," an engaging and informative book by Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and longtime leader of Walt Disney Imagineering. With introductions by Ray Bradbury and Richard M. Sherman, and a number of interesting photographs, the book is sure to delight all kinds of Disney fans.

"Somewhere in the world, there's a Disney park open every hour of every day; literally, the sun never sets on their operation on three continents around the globe." In an article about his book in a recent edition of Disney Files Magazine (a Disney publication for Disney Vacation Club Members), Sklar explained that he had four major reasons for writing this book about his career (and I am paraphrasing): 1) he had a unique experience among all Disney Cast Members in that he is the only one to have participated in the openings of all of the 11 Disney Parks around the world; 2) he wrote a large amount of personal material for Walt Disney during the early years of his career (many of which are widely quoted, and well known); 3) he was the creative director for the Imagineers during two very distinct periods in Disney history "after Walt" (basically the pre- and post-Michael Eisner years); and 4) he wanted to provide readers with a special view into Walt Disney Imagineering.

There have been many books published about the history of Disney and its companies in their various iterations, many of which were written as memoirs by the men and women who took part in that history. I have not read any of them (until now!), but they have been written. I am a big Disney fan, and love planning vacations, going to the Parks and watching Disney movies. I once discovered pretty quickly, during a Disney cruise trivia contest, that while I may have experienced the results of the Disney creative processes, I know very little about the processes themselves, or about the rich history surrounding the Disney approach to "Imagineering." ("At WED, we call it "Imagineering" -- the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.") So, when I read the article in Disney Files, I thought it was time that I dug in, and Sklar's book looked like just the place to do it.

Firstly, I'm not sure whether to call this book a history, a memoir or an autobiography, but it really doesn't matter. Sklar presents his material in a generally chronological, but also thematic format. As noted in the subtitle, "My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms," much of the book focuses on Sklar's contributions to the openings of all of the Disney parks throughout the world, from Disneyland in 1955 to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005, and the beginnings of Shanghai Disneyland, which is expected to open in 2015. Sklar has been involved in the openings of all of the eleven Disney parks (Trivia question: can you name them all? Caveat: in this case do not include the water parks or DisneyQuest.), and was instrumental in helping to shape the attractions and experiences that millions of guests enjoy every year.

Sklar started his Disney career in 1955, as the result of a telephone message that was waiting for him at his fraternity house at UCLA while he was still a student. The call was from Card Walker, then the head of marketing and publicity for the Walt Disney Company. He initially thought that the message was a prank, as one of his fraternity brothers' fathers was an executive at a Vegas casino, and that "Card Walker" must have been a "card dealer." He did end up returning that call, and having been recommended for a writing job by a UCLA alum on the basis of his work as the editor for the UCLA Daily Bruin, started down a long, creative and storied path toward becoming a Disney Legend.

During his early years, Sklar was a writer and "ghostwriter" who was responsible for creating copy for many official Disney publications (including annual reports and public relations pieces) and for scripts for Disney leadership (including Walt) for personal and television appearances. Many quotes that are familiar "Waltisms" were actually written by Sklar! ("The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It's something we can keep developing and adding to.") In reading these examples, and in a quote that appears to have come directly from Walt -- which Sklar includes near the end of the book -- it is clear that he was very successful in capturing (and perhaps heavily influencing) Walt's signature, folksy speaking style.

Sklar spent a good deal of time in the book discussing the development of attractions for the 1964 New York World's Fair, particularly on how Disney used the development of those attractions to set the groundwork for upcoming attractions in the Disney Parks. "In fact, Walt's vision for using a temporary event as a testing ground for permanent attractions proved to be a stroke of genius." These attractions involved: the first use of audio-animatronics (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the State of Illinois, Carousel of Progress for GE, Magic Skyway for Ford), a greater focus on ride capacity ("it's a small world," Carousel of Progress), and on innovations in transportation (WEDway PeopleMover technology). He noted that technology often had to catch up with Walt's vision (and still does): "A good idea may come back to life in the world of Disney . . . but a great idea will find its way into our parks somewhere in the world." For example, Walt wanted to build a rollercoaster-style ride in the dark in Disneyland, but it took years for that idea to take off with the development of Space Mountain (pun intended).

Sklar also goes into great depth about the development of Epcot, particularly on efforts to line up critical corporate sponsors for many of the attractions, which was by no means easy and meant numerous trips from California to other parts of the country to nail down the sponsorships. Sklar was instrumental in developing the sponsorship nomenclature for sponsored attractions: "XX Attraction presented by XX Company" as in SPACESHIP EARTH presented by Siemens. "A key to maintaining the Disney standard is consistency around the world." As a result, all sponsored attractions in any Disney Park, wherever they are located, are named this way.

He also recounted the painstaking development of Epcot's vision of technology and the future, and answering the question of how Disney could tell "entertaining and meaningful stories about energy, transportation, communications, food." In one entertaining anecdote, Card Walker asked Sklar how the Imagineers planned to entertain guests on the planned boat ride in the Land pavilion. Sklar replied: "Don't worry Card, we'll be watching lettuce grow!" Sklar recounts that Walker was not amused, but guests have been enjoying watching lettuce (and bananas and nine-pound lemons) grow from the boats in the Living with the Land attraction for decades.

Since this book is an official Disney publication you might be thinking that all will be shiny and bright, with no recollections that would tarnish the Disney image. However, while the book is certainly not a tell-all, and Sklar had great praise for many of his fellow cast members, he does not pull any punches when it comes to those with which he bumped heads. I did find it gratifying, however, that it did not seem in these few critical passages that Sklar was trying to "trash" any of his fellow employees (particularly Paul Pressler) or others with which he had less than positive encounters along the way. Rather he used these occasions to point out how there are always tensions in the creative process, and that while normally this tension is central to success, in some circumstances it is not at all helpful.

Sklar also devotes quite a bit of the book, particularly the last chapters, to his philosophies of leadership and "followership." "The luckiest and smartest leaders I watched as role models as I grew up at Disney always surrounded themselves with people who were smarter, and more talented and productive than they were." Any reader who either is a boss or has a boss (in other words, pretty much all of us) would do well to pay close attention to Sklar's expanded "Mickey's Ten Commandments." Sklar feels strongly that leaders need to be mentors, and should work hard to train and develop young talent, a view that I'm sure was closely informed by the mentoring that he was given as a young (not even out of college!) Disney employee. " . . . Walt never hesitated to interweave age and experience with you and exuberance . . . " and neither did Marty Sklar.

Not having a solid background in Disney history, I did find myself wanting to draw organizational diagrams and family trees to try to keep track of the myriad names and changes in organizational structure over the years. The amount of detail presented in the book was gargantuan. Finally, when I just relaxed, read along, and didn't worry about keeping track of who was who, and who worked where when, I enjoyed the book much more. For those who already have a strong historical knowledge, I am sure that you will have no problem following along, and will be delighted to hear some new stories (or new takes on old stories) about your favorite personalities. I highly recommend this book for fans of Disney history, particularly related to Imagineering, who would enjoy Sklar's first-hand recollections and insightful musings on leadership.

As Marty Sklar exhorts us: "Life is like a blank sheet of paper. You never know what it can be until you put something on it. So Dream It! Do It! And work hard to do the best possible job. What are you waiting for?"


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Marty Sklar's book through AllEars.Net's Amazon.com store:
http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/1423174062


November 18, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told

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Vault of Walt Volume 2
Jim Korkis has followed his books "The Vault of Walt: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2010, Ayefour Publishing, out of print) and "The Revised Vault of Walt" (2012, Theme Park Press) with "The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2013, Theme Park Press. Readers may be familiar with Korkis' work through his frequent contributions to the AllEars Newsletter and blogs, and if you like his unique combination of history and storytelling, you will love Volume 2.

Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, and Mrs. Margaret Disney, the wife of Walt Disney's older brother, Herbert, was his first grade teacher. When he learned of her connection to Walt Disney, Korkis drew a picture of Jiminy Cricket to give to her. "I proudly gave the drawing to Mrs. Disney in the hope she would rush to the Disney Studios where, without a doubt, I would be instantly offered a job so that I wouldn't have to learn any multiplication tables (which I still do not know to this day)."

Well, he didn't get a job with the Disney Company until 1995, but that did not stop young Korkis from setting out immediately on a path to his future. He recounts that at the age of twelve he wrote down the names rolling through the credits of the weekly Disney television program then went through the phone book and made some calls. Many of the people he reached were kind enough to speak with him about his Disney passion, and luckily for us, he either took notes or recorded the conversations. Those conversations, others he has had with Disney personalities throughout the years, and facts dug up through extensive research, make up much of the content of the book, and provide the basis for the engaging stories that are told there.

Korkis sets out to preserve unwritten and potentially forgotten Disney stories before they disappear forever. He does so in a bright and engaging manner, capturing the reader with vividly drawn tableaux. The book is organized as a series of stand-alone tales, so they can be read independently from each other. They are grouped by theme: Walt Disney stories; Disney film stories; Disney Park stories; and other Disney stories. While there are some facts that are repeated in several stories, it is not necessary to read them in the order in which they are presented. A reader could easily sit down and plow through the entire book in one sitting (it is that entertaining!), or could choose to "dip" in for only one or two chapters. The tone is easy and conversational, while still conveying a LOT of facts. You almost feel that you are sitting in a cozy chair and having the conversations yourself.

Korkis has included a handy index, so fans of particular personages, films or parks can find their interests quickly and easily. The selected bibliography provides additional resources for those who want to dig into a particular subject more deeply.

Here are a few tidbits from the book that I found quite interesting:

Walt Disney Stories

Korkis makes many connections between experiences Walt had early in his life had significant impact on the work that many of us are now very familiar with. In the chapter about Walt's early childhood and teenage years in Chicago, Korkis recounts that the stories about working in the construction of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that Walt's father Elias told him, obviously had an impact: "It was a place where an entire family could go to have fun together, and it was educational and entertaining. Obviously, those concepts greatly influenced Walt's thinking about a future entertainment venue, in particular, EPCOT." It is clear that Elias' experiences with the 1893 World's Fair led Walt to his own involvement in the 1964 New York World's fair, with several of the attractions developed for that fair still in use in Disney Parks today.

Disney Film Stories

I took great pleasure in the fact that the subjects of section of the book on Disney films stories were not necessarily the most famous of Disney productions. The chapters brought back many memories of watching such films as Blackbeard's Ghost and Toby Tyler in serialized form on the version of the weekly Disney television program that I watched as a kid (The Wonderful World of Disney).

"Blackbeard's Ghost" is not a bad film, but it is not a memorable one, either." Korkis tells the story of the making of this less well-known film, which happens to be the last live action film that Walt had direct input into before he died. I happen to like this film very much (see my comment above about The Wonderful World of Disney). I laughed out loud (with apologies to the nice lady sitting next to me on the airplane!) as I read the intriguing vignettes about the many difficulties with the special effects used in the film (fly wires that drew blood!), and stories about the talented (but slightly difficult) cast (including Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Pleshette and Dean Jones).

In the chapter on the making of the 1958 film, The Shaggy Dog, Korkis writes about the long and strange arc of getting to the point of actually making the film, from Walt's purchase of the rights to the book The Hound of Florence, on which the film is loosely based to multiple rewrites of the screenplay, to Walt's curious decision to make the film in black and white rather than in color (possibly to save on production costs). Writer Bill Walsh said of the project: "We get stories in a strange way here. We don't literally get stories as stories. We get springboards or ideas and we develop the story around that. Like for The Shaggy Dog, which was based on a book by a guy named Felix Salten [also the author of Bambi, a Life in the Woods, on which the Disney film was based]. Kind of a nutty little thin book called The Hound of Florence. That was always on the shelf here, and nobody knew what to do with it, because it was kind of nutty. It was kind of a strange little book. It was completely impossible to read."

Just in time for the upcoming release of the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, readers will enjoy the chapter devoted to the negotiations between Walt and P.L. Travers to bring her Mary Poppins stories to the big screen. They began in 1938, when Disney first enquired about getting the rights to Travers' books, and continued until the film was finally made in 1964. The chapter recounts the many years of back and forth, as Walt and Travers parried back and forth about control over the content of the film. What comes through is that both were stubborn. In 1944, Walt asked his brother, Roy to fly out to New York to begin discussions with Travers on the availability of her book, and to "learn more about her personality." "Upon his return, Roy reported that Travers was cagey, a strong-willed 'Amelia Earhart type -- someone who seemed pleasant and soft on the surface, but was really tough as nails." While the negotiations dragged on, with Travers arguing that Walt's proposed story for the film was not true to the character in her books, Walt was so sure that the final project would move ahead that he had the Sherman brothers begin writing songs for the film. In the meantime, Travers prepared her own proposed version, which included material that Walt was not at all interested in including, and specifically did NOT include material that he wanted in. They also clashed over the choice of the actors to play Bert and Mary. It seems that the prospect of becoming enriched by the film finally got Travers to back down, and it was made according to Walt's vision. She maintained until her death in 1996, however that she was not happy with the outcome of the film: "How much better a film it would have been had it carefully stayed with the true version of Mary Poppins." When she complained to her lawyer, Arnold Goodman, that she had been "tricked" by Disney, and that her stories had been mutilated, he reminded her: "You should repeat three times nightly -- before and after prayer . . .'But for Mr. Goodman, I would never have sold Mary Poppins to Walt Disney and would now not be rich."

Disney Park Stories

In his stories about the Disney Parks, and some of their most famous attractions, Korkis points out the effort and attention to detail that Walt and the Imagineers went to in creating them. In the chapter, "The Story of Storybook Land" -- the attraction that is now Disneyland's Storybook Land Canal Boats -- Korkis recounts: "Walt demanded great attention to detail, from the tiny stained glass windows to the small toys behind the frosted glass of Geppetto's toy shop to the cobblestone streets paved with individually placed pebbles. One contractor, frustrated at being unable to cut some corners, and concerned about all of the labor and expense . . . asked him [Walt], 'Who'll know the difference?' Walt sternly replied, 'I'll know the difference.'"

Did you know that Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle was not always referred to as Sleeping Beauty Castle? According to Korkis, in early written materials the castle was variously referred to as "The Medieval Castle," "Fantasyland Castle," and even "Robin Hood's Castle." Walt even referred to it as "Snow White's Castle" on an early episode of his ABC television show (this answers my daughter's heartfelt question to Snow White during a visit to Disney World when she was much younger: "Poor Snow White. Why don't YOU have a castle?"). Disneyland's castle was basically an empty shell for its first years, with the walk-through attraction not being added until several years before the release of the film, Sleeping Beauty, in 1959. Korkis narrates an amusing story about when Walt took Imagineer Ken Anderson for a tour of the empty structure, telling him that he wanted to install an attraction inside that would promote the film. It seems that while there wasn't much in there, it WAS occupied -- by about a hundred feral cats. Needless to say, the cats needed to be removed before the installation of the exhibits began: "Walt arranged for the bathing, grooming and eventual relocation of the 'castle cats' and found them new families despite the recommendations of some of his staff to find a more speedy and permanent solution."

After reading the book, I wondered about the fine line between Disney stories and Disney legend. Korkis devotes an entire chapter to "a cute Disney story that never was," and notes that Walt Disney himself, was sometimes the source of "less than factual" information. This is a book of stories, and stories come from people; people who are not always reliable narrators. The nature of stories is that they are passed from person to person, and change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways as they metamorphosize into legends. In the chapter "Flying High with Walt," Korkis recounts the following: "According to Mark Malone, son of the pilot Chuck Malone, his father told him that during that fabled flight over Florida [to finalize the location for Walt Disney World], Walt spotted El Morro fortress while flying over San Juan, Puerto Rico, and remarked that it would be the perfect look for his new Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland." I may be a long way from 7th grade geography, but I don't remember Puerto Rico being very close to Florida. I wonder if this is a story that has now become a legend; a legend that Jim Korkis has worked to preserve for posterity. Cheers!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Jim Korkis' latest book on Amazon, via AllEars.Net's special link:

http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0984341579


ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.


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