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As I add to my massive collection of Disney books, I like to review them for usability, usefulness, and value. Keep in mind that as a bibliophile who as a teenager never knew he'd end up loving books, I have somehow coasted to the other end of the spectrum and now tend to err on the side of adulation, even when a book may not completely measure up. I'm a "completist" when it comes to Disney theme parks books in particular.

Today, the books (which are new to my collection) are listed in subjective order or importance (keeping in mind the issues of cost, value, and newness). Do note Amazon's pricing shown below may reflect a collector's premium for a few titles they may not normally stock.

Art of Walt Disney World. Like The Art of Disneyland before it, this volume revels in unique, unusual, and visually stunning images. So far, it's only sold at the resort (parks and Downtown Disney), and the high price ($60) will be worth it for the images alone. Presented in landscape format, these concept art photos will excite you and engage your imagination, capturing the Disney magic all over again. It's a stunning coffee table book, and if you collect these image-heavy volumes, you simply cannot do without this kind of thing. The book lists deceased WDI-member Bruce Gordon as a co-author, and unless the odd title or two still floating around out there also list him as a co-author, this is likely to be his swan song, and it's a fitting tribute indeed. Bruce always deplored "boring books," as he put it to me once, and this book is anything but.

 

Finding Nemo in the Disney Theme Parks. This slim softcover volume (it has perhaps 12 pages) is nonetheless worth your $7 since it's glossy, slick, official, and covers the myriad ways that this movie pops up in the theme parks. It started out only in the parks, but should eventually make it to Amazon for purchase as well. You'll find a full-color, glossy 2-page spread on every attraction that has to do with Nemo, and I just love seeing the old cast for the Nemo musical again (sigh… I miss you Allison, Lexi, Victor, etc!) But beyond all of that, this book is *exactly* the kind of thing Disney should be offering for sale. It's specific to the parks, it offers details and history, and it provides the kind of photography you often cannot do yourself, all at a price point you can swallow. Please, Disney, give us more like this!!

The Complete Walt Disney World 2009. I'm a bit late in reporting this one – I don't write these articles/updates on books as often as I should – but the second year of this incredible guide continues the tradition of excellence. I don't know how to say it except to point out that this is not anywhere close to "yet another WDW tour book." Yes, you'll find descriptions of everything. But you'll also find 300+ pages of details, trivia, and eye-popping photography that will leave you breathless to dial your travel agent and get yourself down to Orlando post-haste. Not for nothing has this book won award after award. In my view, it blows away the other WDW travel books. It's as much a decorative keepsake and coffee table book as it is your invaluable planning guide, and there should be no debate which is the right book to purchase if you're only going to get one.

 

Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland. I'm a touch late on this one, too, but I've finally had a glance at the popular "Imagineering Field Guide" version for the original park, and it's good. Like all others in this series, it points out hidden details and tributes. I flatter myself that these official Disney books exist in part to counteract my own books - 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland and 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World - that were written because no book existed in print at that time to cover this kind of content. That said, the official Disney books (and this one is no exception) exceed mine for gloss but fall short in scope and detail. Where's the Ryman tree, the Bear Country snoring effect, and the Wells Expedition? How about the Casey Jr. sleigh benches, the Mighty Ear telephones, or the Indian on Main Street? Or even the Small World earrings, the Nature's Wonderland rocks, the Lights Fantastic sail masts? The Imagineering Field Guide eschews such esoteric details and focuses instead on the "mass market" history, which is exactly why Jason and I wanted to write our own books in the first place. Don't get me wrong: this is a solid entry and deserves to be on your bookshelf, but it's not a trivia/tribute panacea. I can't quite put my finger on it, but in some ways it's weaker than many of the WDW counterparts in the same series, and that's doubly unfortunate because Disneyland has such a rich history to call upon.

Anaheim Vacationland. This book ($55), might strike you as expensive at first. It's softcover and with unnumbered pages (maybe 100? 150?), but don't be fooled into thinking it should cost only $20. This coffee-table sized tome is full-color, which adds enormous cost. And it's chock - and I mean chock - full of images from the Anaheim of yesteryear (and your memory). If you grew up in Southern California and remember the years before DCA opened at all, this book is for you. There are postcards, brochures, and personal photographs (most in color) of the businesses that surrounded Disneyland, with special emphasis on the hotels. Why? Because the author Dave O'Neal grew up hotel-hopping as his primary residence, and he apparently kept alarmingly good records and was every bit as much a packrat as you'd want. Who's Dave O'Neal? Oh, he's the guy behind Extinct-Attractions.com, so you know this is a guy with one foot in the past. From Zaby's to the Heidi Motel, Japanese Village to Lion Country Safari, and Sambo's to the Kona Kai, it's all year. A majority of the images are promotional in nature, perhaps even scans of brochures, but let's not mince hairs. If this speaks to your memory, it's a worthwhile investment indeed.

 

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World. Like the Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland, this independent book similarly charts some of the territory I've covered before: trivia, tributes, and hidden theming details. The title sounds promising enough, and indeed the guts of the book deliver, by and large. It's a photo-free tour of the parks and their rich details, with pauses to explain history every so often. To give you a sense of what's covered and what you might have seen before, here are the bolded items (ie, part of the "600 secrets" promised on the front cover) from page 76, which discusses Test Track and mentions crash test dummies, pictures of Imagineer children in the queue, mile markers that mention MOO, frying eggs as a visual gag, icicles that grow upwards, and corrosive robots CRUS-T and RUS-T. In fairness, I learned something every few pages in this book—there's that much detail sprinkled in the parks that even a weekly visitor can learn something! But a good many of the "secrets" seem a tad… padded, as if to raise the total count listed on the front cover. It's a "secret" that the trash cans say "waste please" on them? Or that Indy's giant boulder weighs 400 pounds? But let's not be cynical. This is a good book, and you're pretty much guaranteed to learn at least several new things.

Hidden Mickeys has new editions: Disneyland ($10) and Walt Disney World ($13). You've heard of these books before, I warrant, and you'll note that they are the ONLY fan books to be sold in theme parks themselves. The previous edition of the Disneyland volume had 175 Hidden Mickeys, and author Steve Barrett packs on a full 100 more here in the second edition. He quotes a very long list of helpful contributors. As before, the books comes with a list of clues and points, with hints thrown in when needed. It's 118 pages of tall-format fun.

 

The WDW version (now the fourth edition) is a hefty 253 pages. It's the same format, and the same degree of thoroughness. If you thought the credits pages on the Disneyland version were hefty, wait till you see this eye-glazing spread of hundreds of names of folks who helped. The real litmus test, of course, is whether these books are fun. Hidden Mickeys have never been my thing, but by golly they are popular. Almost every single weekend I'm in the parks, I see someone toting these books. Popular? Intensely. Current editions can only be a good thing for fans.

Art of Disney Stamps. A hardcover volume ($49) with 100 pages of high-quality artwork, this well laid-out book has a pretty narrow subject: the relatively few sheets of stamps that have come out in the past few years from the US Postal Service to showcase Disney characters (there doesn't appear to have been any about the theme parks). It's printed on high-quality paper and the oversized images are rich (many show conceptual artwork), though there's a slight dearth of text (and details), so the concept stays a bit superficial. Still, it's a unique book, and it's so very niche that it reminds me to the scope of "Disney Dons Dogtags," a look at Disney-created dogtag artwork from WWII. Here's the thing: this stamp book is only for sale from the U.S. Postal Service web site, and checking now, the ostensible link for it doesn't work, so I don't know if it's even still available for purchase.

Art of Up. I find that the "Art of" books from Disney are consistently good, especially in recent years. You're treated not only to artwork and concept drawings you've never seen, but also to inner details that help layer meaning onto your next viewings of the film. Page 77 is pretty typical of this hardcover book: there's a giant image covering 2/3rds of the page, showing the dark interior of Carl's house, and a quote by an art designer saying "Pete wanted the house to feel claustrophobic because Carl doesn't ever leave it, and his world has become very small. But then for the tepui and Muntz's lair, the scale had to feel grand." Quotes like this help us appreciate the movie anew, like a commentary track on a DVD, only in book format.

 

Art of Pixar Short Films. Another hardcover, this time formatted in landscape format, this book takes 160 pages to provide everything from pencil sketches and storyboards to wireframe models and watercolors, sketching the story of the initial Pixar films. The majority of the book is told via images, which is a fitting enough way to honor the Pixar tradition to begin with. After all, this is a company which excels at visual storytelling. That said, the book will also not disappoint those seeking a textual narrative, since the first quarter of the book features dense (and small!) text giving the history of the short films in words. This book is a true winner if you care in the least about the short films, which have always been good for a laugh in my opinion.

Walt Disney Animation Studios: Story. An oversize, and supremely heavy, book from the "archive series" of the studios, this volume focuses on story development in animation by providing a series of "warts and all" artwork, animation cels, and concept drawings. There is no appreciable amount of text, which is a bit of a letdown for me, since unlike the "Art of" books, this one doesn't have a well-known narrative to work with. The story to tell us in this book is the explanation of story-writing, which somehow manages to come across less effectively here than in the Art of Pixar Short Films. That said, though, interested parties will still delight in the images and drawings. It seems that every year brings us new, undiscovered images from all our Disney favorites from the past, and this book is no exception.

 

Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation. Most academic books written about the Disney universe are difficult for the average outsider to countenance (if not understand), and several dance in such ethereal academic language that they remain all but impenetrable, leading hopeful readers to simply set the book aside and never return. This hardcover is different. Written in accessible language and focused more on a narrative of events than an argument about cultural meanings (hegemony, homosociality, and erotic triangles, anyone?), Hippo in a Tutu doesn't so much steer a middle course as opt to aim at the masses rather than at academics, despite having a topic that usually would appeal to academics (and written by a professor). Moreover, each page is attractively presented, with images numerous and central to the argument. The result is a clean narrative that makes you want to read more and more, as much an endorsement of a book as any author could hope for.

Where in Disneyland Park? This slim (62-page) softcover book comes from 1994, but it's been absent from my collection all these years until I got it from eBay. I'd seen it long ago in the parks and wasn't impressed enough to buy it; the entire premise and the delivered product was a bit simplistic for me, especially at the original $10 price tag. These days, you see this kind of game on numerous discussion boards. You're prompted with a small (perhaps zoomed-in) image, and then on the next page you see the zoomed-out answer for where it comes from. Think of it as a 30-question quiz, which seems pretty light to me. Worse, the game itself struck me as too easy back in 1994, and it's even easier for me looking at it now. Granted, I'm a constant park-goer, so certainly I'm not the target audience. But I have this book only because I'm a completist.

A Non-Disney Book - Knott's Berry Farm: The Early Years ($15), by Jay Jennings, is part of the "Images of America" series, which encompasses hundreds of titles and is best thought of as a kind of local publishing, providing laser-like focus on local issues. This one, as you might expect, provides a history of Knott's, and is very heavy on the (black and white) photos - you can usually expect two large photos per page (with 8-20 lines of text explaining what's there to see). There's another major Knott's Berry Farm book on the horizon - something like Mumford/Gordon's Nickel Tour - but it's not out just yet. In the meantime, this one is a snack.

More iTunes Apps

Disney Facts ($1.99). This app has a simple premise: when you start the program, you cycle through tons of individual factoids, each on its own page, about the Disney company. The categories are DL, WDW, Cruise Line, Films, Pixar, Quotes, and Mousecellaneous. Here are some samples, DID YOU KNOW that:

- Sleeping Beauty Castle was given its name four years before the film was released?
- The maiden voyage of the Disneyland Monorail took place on June 14, 1959?
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cost $1,488,000 to make?
- The Walt Disney World Resort is the size of San Francisco - or two Manhattan islands?
- Until the 1960's, young men with beards were not allowed to enter Disneyland?
- Donald Duck's middle name is Fauntleroy?
- Spaceship Earth at Epcot weighs 16 million pounds?
- Walt Disney collected a total of 32 Academy Awards?
- The wind sound effects in Wall-E were recorded at Niagara Falls?

My own books tend to focus on items on when there is a "so what" factor, but there are loads of folks out there who like trivia just for its own sake (ie, how much Spaceship Earth weighs), and this app certainly delivers.

Breakspin ($2.99). This is an official Disney app. Yes, I know. I would also prefer that Disney start creating apps for the parks, but in the meantime, this is what we get. What is it? It's an arcade game, a bit like Pong and Breakout mixed together. No Mickey, Donald, or Goofy here! Imagine a circular game field, with bricks in the middle. On the outside of the circle are two curved paddles that you control (with different fingers), and your job is simply to play Pong "inward." It's fun and challenging, though I would have made the Easy levels even a bit easier (obviously, the difficulty ramps up as you go on).

Disney Slider ($1.99). Unlike the previous item, this official app from Disney *does* have characters in it. The basic idea is those puzzle sliders, like the kind of cheap plastic thing you get in gift bags from birthday parties (often, missing one puzzle piece). There are multiple modes here, from the insanely easy (2x2 puzzle) to the difficult (5x5, or 5x5 with a hidden block). You have your choice of what type of image to solve, but the game has a built-in incentive to keep going. You earn points for each puzzle, and when you earn enough points, you can unlock hidden levels. Get enough of those, and you get desktop images for the iPhone - a nice touch that definitely adds repeatability and replayability.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Kevin Yee


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Kevin's Disney Books

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

  • 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.

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