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com•pen•di•um [kuhm-pen-dee-uhm] –noun
1. a brief treatment or account of a subject, esp. an extensive subject;
concise treatise: a compendium of medicine.
2. a summary, epitome, or abridgment.
3. a full list or inventory: a compendium of their complaints.

Project Future

Pop quiz: what do you get if you meld the meticulousness of a law professor with the writing chops of a journalist usually focused on the amusement park and tourism industry? Answer: you get Chad Emerson, who's been writing articles on Disney for some time and who has interviewed some of the really key folks who ran the parks at the highest levels.

Second pop quiz: what happens when Emerson dedicates himself to finding and then telling a book-length story about Walt Disney World that hasn't really been told in its entirety before? Answer: you get pretty much the FIRST book to offer a complete and comprehensive look at the genesis of "Disneyland East," from idea to construction, and especially all the nitty-gritty heartaches and setbacks in between.

If you've been at Disney fandom for a while, you probably know the term Project X; it was the first in-house word for the Disney park expansion. It would later be called Disneyworld, and only changed to today's familiar "Walt Disney World" at Roy's insistence after his brother's death. But you hear less often about "Project Future," a moniker for the enterprise between Project X and Disneyworld. Emerson's book takes that as its title, which is appropriate, since so many of the pages manage to tease out similar little details, factoids, and insider stories you haven't heard before.

An unrelated "new to me" pic: new signage at this DHS eatery.

The mainstream (i.e., published by Disney) books usually dedicate a paragraph or two to the site selection of Walt Disney World. A few independent books have taken stabs at it, too, the most recent of which was David Koenig's excellent Realityland (2007). Koenig had gone further than most previous independent books, but even he doesn't dwell more than a few pages on the distant history of WDW (Koenig has other juicy park stories to tell from later in the park history, often from the operational perspective).

While Koenig didn't leave space for more than a few pages, Emerson focuses on that genesis-to-opening phase and delivers a whopping 189 pages on the subject. You'll read endorsements by recent Disney executives (such as Greg Emmer, Brad Rex, Lee Cockerell), which is impressive enough, but what makes this book really tick is Emerson's eye for detail as the story unfolds chronologically. Do you know all of the nine parcels in Central Florida that were in the running? What name Walt Disney signed when recognized while scouting out the properties? Which university owned the below-ground rights to the winning parcel? Which lawsuits almost derailed the project? Which three Florida governors played roles (some larger than others) in seeing the project occur? In some of the meetings, we really do feel like a fly on the wall.

An unrelated "new to me" pic: the under-construction
Italy pizza place now has a themed scrim.

Emerson's got all the details – probably more than you'd ever need to know. It's a great reference book, and a breezy enough read. Don't come looking for pictures, though—it's not that kind of book. But don't let that dissuade you. Anyone with a Disney book library who collects info on Disney park history will find the book a worthwhile, even valuable, addition to their collection. It's listed at about $14.95 (full disclosure: I received a free review copy) and is available at Amazon.com:

An unrelated "new to me" pic: the entry signs have lost the
castles at the top. Looks classy to me now.

I've also got a copy of Project Future to give away. As I am wont to do, I'll run a contest to determine a winner. Since Emerson's book is focused on WDW history, let's do a historical theme. Send me a picture (max one entry per person) of something now removed; something you can no longer see/do in Walt Disney World – obviously this is an old picture! – and I'll subjectively pick a winner either on the basis of photo originality/composition, or on the emotion it engenders. Obviously, these have to be your own photos to enter, and I'll run selected submissions alongside the winner. Email your entries to [email protected] by Sunday March 14 to be considered!

An unrelated "new to me" pic: the puppet and trinket cart in China is being
replaced by the more-durable super-booths they've been building lately
in Epcot's walkways (not always to the area's benefit).

Flower and Garden

It's been cold around here, but this past weekend finally warmed up. And just in time; for it was the start of Flower and Garden! (and the Princess Half Marathon, which this year I didn't attend/race)

The cold snap last week proved too much for the poor butterflies in the usual spot at Epcot; the pupae seemed to have survived but the rest succumbed. My friend Jeff suggested I call this "Dying by Degrees" (literally, in this case, since the temperature was so low!) but I think he was only half-mocking me! Seriously, though, this one was not Disney's fault, who by all measures did what they could to protect the creatures.

Hopefully the butterfly population will bounce back.

I'm not sure if Disney did anything special for the plants, but they looked universally fresh and marvelous on opening weekend. A few old-timers told me that they found the re-use of topiaries from year to year a bit annoying, but I confess that I don't pay enough attention to them to notice. The event brochure does helpfully point out which displays are new for the year.

Don't let the scale fool you: the Chinese calendar animals are small; the lake dragon is large.

And I will give credit to Disney for not simply giving up and literally keeping everything the same. The key topiaries (at the park entrance, and at the World Showcase entrance) are changed up each time. The easy way would be to re-arrange things and make the topiaries simply "gardening" themed. But they change each time. The park entrance has a camping/outdoors theme, while the World Showcase entry was themed to farming (Mickey and Minnie as American Gothic).

Rows of "planted" crops and puns are nearby, too.

I suppose it could be considered a decline that the theming isn't consistent, but I kind of like the sub-themes. It shows creative thinking on a shoestring budget, if nothing else.

I wonder what those marshmallows are made out of?

I'm guessing the same divided reaction could be seen at the new "diorama" set up for Princess and the Frog, tucked into a corner behind MouseGear. They put up 2D cutouts and placed show elements nearby (lights dangling on trees, vines from above), and the whole thing is not accessible by visitors except from afar. It would be easy to decry this as a missed opportunity, but there was something acceptable about this low-key (and assuredly low-budget) display for me. Sure, it felt like Gummi Glen during Disneyland's Afternoon Avenue promotion, but it was new and different, and it referenced a Disney animated movie (rather than a bad cartoon). I wouldn't like a whole park of this stuff on a permanent basis, but once a year? I'm OK with it.

It looks exciting at night, but doesn't photograph well in the dark with spotlights!

That's not to say there aren't declines. Cast your minds back to 2008. We had everything we see now for Flower and Garden: musical acts, topiaries, temporary playgrounds, etc. But we also had a sculpture garden behind Innoventions-West and sand castles. In 2009, we lost the sculpture garden, but everything else (including the sand castles) came back. This year, we also lost the sand castles.

Chipping away, one little bit at a time… that's the definition of declining by degrees.

I also lamented the loss of the stream and minor waterfall right next to Refreshment Port (the former McNugget place near Canada). Each year I'd marvel at how much work went into that display, but this year: nothing. It's just grass, the same as all year round.

My seven year old complained that the rose garden playground was a mirror of the MouseGear/butterfly one, but I cannot remember if this has always been true. I rather think it was.

As I type this, it occurs to me that I forgot to look at the monorail beam, which had been cleaned recently. Just as I was unaware they were grimy and dirty until others posted photos of the work underway, so too was I apparently unfazed by their dazzling whiteness while in the park.

An overcrowded jungle canopy was cut down for the bromeliad display,
but the improved sightlines are a winner no matter what.

Safety Smart Lab

An unoccupied red dome in Innoventions-East has finally soft opened; the Safety Smart Lab is a live-spiel person interacting with animated versions of Timon and Pumbaa on screen. It's a gentle show, very much aimed at young kids, to get them to think about safety in the house (overusing plugs, frayed wires, smoke alarms, that sort of thing).

The room itself is little more than an oversized igloo, and the show only lasts a few minutes. The host will even dance along to the "three feet from the heat" song designed to make sure you treat space heaters with respect.

Safety First!

It's a harmless enough little show, and I like that Innoventions continues to reinvent itself constantly. But it's a big nagging that this presentation has nothing to do with The Future at all; it's just more content from Underwriters Lab, which also sponsors the "crash everything" cacophony just next door.

Nanooze. I think.

At the end of this space, they tore down the delightful Walt Disney mural and theme park timeline that was on one wall, and replaced it with a corporate exhibit for … something. The banner proclaims "Take a Nanooze break," and there were museum-type exhibits on molecule structures and microscopes. The new hemisphere benches were strewn with copies of a Nanooze magazine (Volume 7, apparently). The whole thing was bizarrely unclear. I guess it's better than stagnation, but I did not feel it necessary to spend more than a cursory look around here.

New to Me: One Man's Dream

That will teach me to let months go by without setting foot in the theme park history museum at DHS called One Man's Dream. The final room of the preshow has been changed (I love the preshow and range from indifferent to annoyed about the actual movie). Previously, there were models here of the Tokyo Disney Sea harbor, Castaway Cay, and Grizzly River Run, while the center of the room boasted a cheap-out map of Hong Kong Disneyland.

This Great Movie Ride scene features "fake water" on the streets; look down sometime!

The cheap-out centerpiece remains; it's the 1989 rendering for the Disney-MGM Studios in its opening year. All the models and wall displays are changed out for MGM-specific stuff: models of the Great Movie Ride, Tower of Terror, and the hated sorcerer hat. This is clearly to celebrate the park's 20th anniversary, and it's undoubtedly months or years old by now. But it was new to me. I need to make my rounds more often!

Evil Tower… You R Doomed!

One World

A tipster told me he found uncommonly fantastic prices at the Character Warehouse this past weekend, specifically on Disney Resort branded stuff. He mentioned a Fort Wilderness pullover parka, the sort of thing that usually costs $30 or even $50, on sale for about $16. He sniffed around and discovered all (or almost all?) the resort-specific stuff was being liquidated. Seems there's a movement about to replace it all with generic "One World" branded items that can be stocked anywhere.

New Epcot "retro" shirts; now in larger sizes – they got the message!

This sort of move happened years ago for the theme parks (though there's a bit of a resurgence now for park-specific and even attraction-specific items), so maybe it's the resorts' turn. Hopefully things don't get so generic that Disney feels no one wants resort-specific things anymore. This already happened with the refillable mugs, which were once themed to specific resorts, and are all now using the same WDW logo/design.

The Disney brand stands for many things, so many of them reflective of quality. Let's hope that the phrase "generic" doesn't become the newest association with it.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee received a complimentary review copy of the book discussed in this article.

2010 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.