Saturday, May 10, 2008

A House of Mouse Primer

I have been to the Walt Disney World parks in Florida more times than I can count, literally hundreds of times, and I have never once paid for admission. The three times I went as a kid, my parents obviously paid. And then I moved to Central Florida in 1990 and got a job working for the Mouse. My friends and I were in our early twenties, broke, and all worked for Disney, so the cheapest way for us to spend an evening or a day off was to go to the parks. Even after I left Disney, through the friendships that remain and comp passes I had amassed, I have never had to pay to get into the parks.

As is pretty typical for your twenties, there is a lot of baggage around my time spent with the Mouse, but I left the company after almost five years with some great friendships that have remained strong despite life, family, and geographical changes over the last 15 or so years. I was pretty jaded on Disney when I left the company. Although I appreciate what the company represents to so many people around the world, I also recognize it as a money-generating corporate machine based largely on manipulating emotions.

Yet contrary to what my brain tells me, I can't deny I have many good memories associated with Disney. That first family vacation there when I was nine, and camping at the Fort Wilderness Campground. The first date between my wife and I was a blind date at the Disney-MGM Studios. (My close friend, who would be the Best Man in our wedding almost three years later, got us into the parks that day.) Our then-four year-old son's first visit to the Magic Kingdom with my wife and me and my parents a few years ago. Incredible, treasured memories.

Why share a glimpse of my personal history with the company? I'm currently rereading one of my favorite books, James B. Stewart's DisneyWar. I first read it two years ago when I went on a Disney book reading jag that encompassed six books and fairly effectively told the story of the Walt Disney Company. To accurately paint the picture, I would recommend reading the books in the following order:

1. Walt Disney: An American Original - Bob Thomas
As a former employee, there wasn't much in Thomas' book I hadn't already picked up about Walt's life over the years living in Central Florida and working for Disney, but it was a good refresher none the less.

Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando - Richard E. Foglesong
Rollins College professor Foglesong's book takes a magnifying glass to the complicated relationship between Central Florida and the Walt Disney Company. This book offers some great insight into how these two entities came together and who benefits from their now-inextricable link.

Storming the Magic Kingdom: Wall Street, the Raiders and the Battle for Disney - John Taylor
The summer before I first moved to Florida, I read Taylor's great book. It deals with the fight that led to Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold successfully saving the company in 1984. The story is compelling enough that it reads more like a novel than non-fiction. When I reread it two years ago, I found that it has held up well over time.

DisneyWar - James B. Stewart
The perfect unofficial sequel to Storming the Magic Kingdom. After a brief recap of the events in Taylor's book, this incredible tome picks right up and takes the reader through an in depth exploration of the Eisner years -- the success, the hubris, the fortunes made, the egos, the tragedy, all of it. If you're only going to read one book on this list, this is the one to go with.

Work in Progress - Michael Eisner with Tony Schwartz
Laughably self-indulgent and one-sided. Not necessarily a must-read, it does give you Eisner's messed up point of view on much of what you have already read up to this point if you're working your way through this list.

Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World - Carl Hiaasen
More biting than Dave Barry,
Hiaasen is where native Floridians go for their humor. And Team Rodent is his brilliant skewering of the Mouse. Hiaasen claims he had hoped this book would have resulted in his being banned for life from the Disney parks. An admirable dream, and somehow appropriate if you have any familiarity with the man or his work.

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