Honoring Walt Disney’s Greatest Creation

The books in my Disney library are a valuable resource for my ongoing quest in learning the story of Walt Disney and the “kingdoms” he created; kingdoms that continue to expand in the 56 years since his passing.

But even books have limitations…

You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality.

Walt Disney

Over the years I have been fortunate to make friends among Disney Cast Members, both current and past. A handful of those friends have been Imagineers, and as you may imagine, they are amazing storytellers, creative geniuses, and innovative to the core.

So…learning more about Imagineering? Sign me up – literally!

When the news that a new steaming service called Disney+ was coming in the fall of 2019, I was delighted – so much, that I signed up for a 3-year subscription as soon as they became available.

When the initial programming schedule was released, and included the 6-part series “The Imagineering Story,” I was ecstatic – it was among the first programs I watched on the new service.

When the book The Imagineering Story was announced, I was literally stopped what I was doing and pre-ordered the book.

There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting…we call it Imagineering –   the blending of creative imaginational and technical know-how.

Walt Disney

The Imagineering Story continues the behind-the-scenes journeys first revealed in the books Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real (1995) and its sequel Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real (2010).

The book goes deep into the personalities, stories, and adventures of the men and women who brought create magic around the world.

More than just the theme parks (though that would have been awesome enough), every resort hotel, shop and business setting, cruise ship, and entertainment setting exists largely through the men and women of Disney Imagineering.

The Imagineering Story greatly expands the award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks’ narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The entire legacy of Walt Disney Imagineering is covered from day one through future projects with never-before-seen access and insights from people both on the inside and on the outside. So many stories and details were left on the cutting room floor for the series – this book allows an expanded exploration of the magic of Imagineering.

Every one of the 731 pages was filled with stories that brought the Disney Experience alive.

The experience of Disney – primarily in the theme parks, but now expanded to other resorts, retail shops, and cruise ships – can be traced back to Walt Disney. His untimely death in 1966 could have left a void in the creativity of the Disney empire.

But I believe his greatest act of genius had its origins in 1952, as he began to pull together veterans of film and animation work for a special project that came to be known as Disneyland.

That group of versatile animators and art directors was the foundation of a group that came to be called the Imagineers.

Out of this group, Disney historian Tim Hauser reflects, “came the theories, aesthetics, design, and engineering of Disneyland; the advancement of three-dimensional storytelling; the development of robotic techniques in Audio-Animatronics; and the perpetuation of an ‘architecture of reassurance’ as inspired by Walt Disney’s personal sense of optimistic futurism.”

Today Walt Disney Imagineering remains the design, development, and master-planning branch of company, with over 140 disciplines working toward the common goal of great stories and creating great places.

Walt Disney wanted Disneyland to be essentially a movie that allows you to walk in and join in the fun. Imagineers – many whom had worked with Walt Disney since the 1930s – literally brought those movies to life with their multiple disciplines. He knew from his filmmaking experience that story was everything to the audience. Disney knew he must immerse the theme park guest in living storytelling scenarios.

Designing the Guest’s experience is what Walt Disney’s Imagineers came to call “the art of the show,” a term that applies to what the Imagineers did at every level, from the broadest conceptual outlines to the smallest details, encompassing visual storytelling, characters, and the use of color.

Walt Disney realized that a visit to an amusement park could be like a theatrical experience – in a word, a show. Walt saw that the Guests’ sense of progressing through a narrative, of living out a story told visually, could link together the great variety of attractions he envisioned for his new kind of park. While traveling through their stories, Guests would encounter, and even interact with, their favorite Disney characters, and who would be transformed, as if by magic, from their two-dimensional film existence into this special three-dimensional story world.

As designers, the Imagineers create spaces – guided experiences that take place in carefully structured environments, allowing the Guests to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste in new ways. In effect, Imagineers transform a space into a story place.

Ultimately, the Imagineers gave Guests a place to play, something Walt believed that adults needed as much as children. The design of the Imagineers gives power to the Guests’ imagination, to transcend their everyday routine. Walt Disney insisted that Guests should “feel better because of” their experiences in Disney theme parks, thus establishing the art of the show.

For the Imagineers, that meant considering everything within and relating to the parks as design elements. To build effective story environments and assure Guest comfort, the designers realize that they always had to assume the Guests’ position and point of view, and just as Walt did, to take the Guests’ interests to heart and defend them when others didn’t think it mattered.

It is up to the designers to provide Guests with the appropriate sensory information that makes each story environment convincing. This means that design considerations go beyond the attractions themselves to the service and operations staff, transportation, restaurants, shops, rest rooms – even the trash cans.

The secret to Disney magic that the Imagineers bring to life is in the details!

Recently celebrating their 70th anniversary, the Imagineers have delivered – time and time again. To date, the Imagineers have built twelve theme parks; dozens of resort hotels; 5 cruise ships with two more under construction; 2 water parks; and ongoing development in existing parks and Disney properties around the world.

The Imagineers bring the Disney magic alive.

The Imagineering Story brings the Imagineers to life.

I have a hard time ranking the books in my Disney library – but The Imagineering Story is going to be in my all-time Top Ten from now on, and a highly-recommended book for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the creative genius (and occasionally weirdness) of that special and unique blend of artists and engineers who took the dreams of one man, Walt Disney, and brought them to life. 


 Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

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Delivering Disney Magic: Dick Nunis, Walt’s Apprentice

If you read about the origins and development of Disneyland in the early 1950s leading up to its opening in July 1955, the well-know names start with Walt and Roy Disney, followed by a small-but-influential group of Disney studio team members who used their imaginative talents to transfer ideas from the screen to reality.

Of course, that is an important part of the history of Disney – we wouldn’t have the parks without their creative brilliance.

But it’s one thing to create a place like Disneyland, and a whole other thing to run a place like Disneyland.

During the final, frenzied weeks of construction leading to opening day on July 17, 1955, the name Dick Nunis appears in the history of Disneyland – a new college graduate, hired to be a “gofer” for Van Arsdale France, who created the first orientation and training program for employees.

Nunis had met Walt Disney several years before (Walt’s daughter Diane was a classmate of Nunis, and was dating her husband-to-be Ron Miller, a teammate of Nunis’ at USC). That memorable first encounter included a ride on “The Carolwood Pacific Railroad” – a miniature train with over 1/2 mile of track circling Walt Disney’s home (one of the four foundational origin stories of Disneyland, but that’s for another day).

That train ride with Walt Disney foreshadowed the future of Dick Nunis, as he progressed from a gofer to chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, a forty-four year career at Disney on the operations side of the parks. 

Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive is the memoir of Disney Legend Dick Nunis. It is a warm personal reminiscence of learning directly from Walt Disney for 12 years, followed by more than 30 years devoted to championing his vision and standards as the Disney empire grew.

The story covers Disney’s highlights, including the 1960 Winter Olympics, 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, and the development and opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. 

Unlike other Disney books, this story is told from the perspective of operations rather than Imagineering. It touches on decisions that defined the guest experience and Disney’s reputation for quality in areas ranging from capacity and people-moving, training, delivering a consistent “good show,” food service, and more.

This first-person narrative is presented as a series of wide-ranging vignettes. Some vignettes focus on personal, character-shaping events, such as the injury that ended his collegiate football career. Other stories touch on national events, such as Nikita Khrushchev’s derailed visit to Disneyland, the decision to close the park following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan’s assistance in expediting the visa process for cast members staffing the Epcot World Showcase. Few people have enjoyed a life so immersed in Disney magic.

These stories share that magic through the memories of one of the original doers and dreamers.

In my personal research and study of the history of the Disney company, I had long noticed the name of Dick Nunis and the many contributions he made at each stage of his Disney career.

When I learned that the long-rumored book from Nunis was being published, it went to the top of my list.

It did not disappoint!

As one of a very few individuals still alive who worked closely with Walt Disney, Walt’s Apprentice chronicles how Nunis learned directly from Walt Disney for a dozen years, then spent the next thirty years devoted to championing Walt’s vision and standards as Disney grow into a worldwide enterprise, “creating happiness” for young and old alike.

If you want to read a first-person narrative on Disney with a focus on the operational side, Walt’s Apprentice is a must.


Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

How Environmental Immersion Leads to Creative Inspiration

One can be inspired by research as well as immersed in it for inspiration.  Rhonda Counts, Show Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Florida

How you do research is dependent upon where you are in the process. Disney’s Imagineers value the story’s intent and the importance of being surrounded with or immersed in the story’s environment.

With a nod to today’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” celebrated annually on September 19, here’s an example of creative immersion from one of my projects:

As you can see, there’s a definite pirate’s theme going on in part of my office. It’s both from previous work and work in process. I’ve used the theme of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” storyline – both the attraction and the movies – to develop training resources and presentations in the area of Guest Experiences.

Specifically, I created a tool – the Guest Experience Compass. And how better to demonstrate it, than using Jack Sparrow’s compass? I also created the Guest Experience Code – and based it on the storyline of the Pirates Code. Of course, both of these tools had to be introduced and used by a pirate – the Navigator – in a fully immersive learning environment. The result?

As a result of my pirate “adventure,” I created a series of Guest Experience learning activities lasting from a half day to two days.

And it doesn’t stop with pirates.

There’s the fact that my office is, in fact, a Disney museum (a title given by my granddaughter).

rva-office-db-3

It’s continually changing as I acquire new books and other “resources” that help my inspiration.

DisneyVerticalTowers091922

It’s no secret that I am a Disney fanatic of the first degree! I had an early start in the 60s, both from watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and benefiting from my father, who as a Gulf gasoline dealer received many promotional tie-ins from Disney movies.

Anchored by a Disney library of over 450 books (and growing!), I am literally immersed in all things Disney. As I research and work on various projects – especially Guest Experiences – I find great inspiration through the many resources at hand. My immersion is not limited to the visual and tactile – at any given time, the soundtrack of a Disney movie, or the background music from one of Disney’s theme parks is playing in the background.

Here’s how Disney Imagineers recommend immersion into an environment:

Select a project that you want to immerse yourself in. Make a list of all the elements of the project and find samples (the larger the better) that represent these elements. Find a place in your surroundings to display the samples so you can immerse yourself in them.

For example, if you wanted to fix up a vintage car, surround yourself with large detailed pictures of its original interior and exterior, very large color samples for its seat cushions, dashboard, etc., and exterior paint job, pictures of various locations you would drive to, and of course, spray the space with new car scent.

Research leads to inspiration.


part of a series of ideas to help shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

written by The Disney Imagineers

Disney’s Missed Opportunity at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World

My recent trip to Walt Disney World for the kickoff of its 50th Anniversary celebration was a special time all the way round. My wife and I were joined by my daughter and son-in-law for 5 days and four nights of non-stop fun, food, and memories.

With a solid passion for Disney history, I was certainly an outlier of the tens of thousands who began lining up at the gates as early as 4 a.m. on October 1. (Note: I didn’t line up that early – my wife and I walked over from the Contemporary Resort at a much more respectable 7:30 a.m.).

Unlike the majority of Guests there, I wasn’t driven to acquire the large assortment of special anniversary merchandise (more to come on this in a future post).

I was there to celebrate an extraordinary achievement of the vision of Walt Disney, culminating in the efforts of thousands of team members for over six years: the creation of Walt Disney World.


The realtime thoughts and images of the 50th Anniversary kickoff were documented on my Instagram account.

I will continue to unpack that day here as well as on Guest Experience Design.

Even with all the good memories, I did have one major disappointment. I even knew it was coming, but was hoping for a last-minute big surprise.

Alas, it didn’t materialize.

Most of the crowd present at Magic Kingdom didn’t even miss it, which is sad.

Because without this one attraction, Disney parks as we know them wouldn’t exist.

And in my opinion, this “miss” for me was indicative of a bigger miss throughout the day.

I want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train.

Walt Disney

The creation story of Disneyland, the first “theme” park in the world and the model for all Disney parks to follow, is somewhat clouded.

Depending on who is telling it, or even when it is told, the origins of Disneyland can start with a park bench, model making, boredom, or a boyhood fascination with trains.

There is a measure of truth to all of them. It is certain is that all of these influences in the life of Walt Disney contributed to the resulting creation.

Personally, I lean toward Walt’s love of trains as the primary inspiration for Disneyland.

His small-scale fascination led to a full-scale kingdom.

Michael Broggie, Walt Disney’s Railroad Story

As a bona fide Disney fan, focusing on the history of the man and the company that bears his name (especially from the late 1920s to the mid-1960s), I can trace “railroad” stories from Walt (and about Walt) that reinforce this.

Those railroad stories could (and do) fill several books – the best of which is Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, by Michael Broggie.

It’s a fascinating book, and when the author knew of Walt Disney as “Uncle Walt,” and had the enviable role as a teenager to assist Walt in the operation of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad (Disney’s personal, rideable miniature railroad in the backyard of his home), you know the stories are going to be memorable, filled with detail, and a fascinating read.

You see, Michael Broggie’s father Roger E. Broggie, was a precision machinist who joined the Disney Studios in 1939. Broggie’s accomplishments at the studio were wide-ranging, but in the early 1950s he was promoted to the head of the Disney Studios’ Machine Shop, where he became a transportation specialist. 

And where did he fine-tune the skills needed to create all the unique transportation vehicles found at Disneyland and later at Walt Disney World?

In building Walt Disney’s backyard railroad.

On the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad (CPRR) was a 7 1/4-inch gauge ridable miniature railroad run by Walt Disney in the backyard of his home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. 

It featured the Lilly Belle, a 1:8-scale live steam locomotive named after Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney, and built by the Walt Disney Studios’ machine shop. The locomotive made its first test run on December 24, 1949. It pulled a set of freight cars, as well as a caboose that was almost entirely built by Disney himself. 

It was Disney’s lifelong fascination with trains, as well as his interest in miniature models, that led to the creation of the CPRR. The railroad, which became operational in 1950, was a half-mile long and encircled his house. The backyard railroad attracted visitors to Disney’s home; he invited them to ride and occasionally drive his miniature train.

With the creation of a personal railroad, Disney’s next step could only be designing and building the real thing.

Research into the earliest development of Disney’s “park” reveals a constant: the presence of a railroad with a steam engine pulling cars that people could ride in.

So, any visit to a Disney theme park for me must include a ride on the Disney Railroad.

Unfortunately, at Walt Disney World, the railroad has been out of commission since 2018 for the pandemic-delayed construction of the TRON Lightcycle Run, a new attraction coming to the Magic Kingdom in 2022. The train tracks have been rerouted, through the Lightcycle attraction inside a tunnel, according to information released by Disney in concept art.

I knew that any surprise announcement that the train would be running on October 1 was unlikely, but it wasn’t until I rode the People Mover early that morning and saw the view of the dismantled train tracks, plainly visible where they would run through the future Lightcycle attraction, that the disappointment set in.

In the meantime, the train is available as the perfect backdrop for a memorable photo at different places in the park.

For me, “the perfect backdrop” of a static display is a far cry from the swaying motion of the train as it circles the park.

The way Walt Disney dreamed about it from the time he was a young boy…

…until he made it happen.


This (somewhat) detailed explanation of a personal miss for me highlights a bigger missed opportunity for Disney during the opening days of their 18-month long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World –

Disney seems to be forgetting where it came from, and therefore, is struggling to determine where it is going.

Happy 80th Birthday, Fantasia!

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions on November 13, 1940. It is the third Disney animated feature film, and consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film’s emcee, providing a live-action introduction to each animated segment.

Disney settled on the film’s concept in 1938 as work neared completion on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an elaborate Silly Symphonies short designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could earn, Disney decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound reproduction system that made Fantasia the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.

Of course, I have several books about the movie, published in 1940.

This is THE book of Fantasia – Walt Disney’s new full-length feature production. Just as the movie Fantasia represents an entirely new departure in the art of the motion picture, this book is a unique publishing venture. It is the first Disney book designed for adults, the first comprehensive record of Walt Disney’s revolutionary contribution to contemporary art – painting in motion.

Fantasia is a sort of symphony between book covers – a new and exhilarating form of entertainment for the printed page – conceived by Walt Disney and worked out by him in collaboration with a distinguished company of writers, artists, and musicians.

In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound, and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.  At last, we have found a way to use in our medium the great music of all times and the flood of new ideas which it inspires.      

Walt Disney

Here are the other 1940 books about Fantasia: the movie premier booklet, and several books about individual pieces within the movie.

My favorite part of Fantasia, though, is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As noted above, it was originally intended to be a Silly Symphony animation short to revive interest in Mickey Mouse. Instead, it became the centerpiece of Fantasia, and the Mickey Mouse character most-recognized of all time.

A 1940 book released with the film

Every time I visit a Walt Disney property where Sorcerer Mickey “lives,” I stop by for a quick visit.

My last visit in early February 2020

Sorcerer Mickey has been very visible around the world over the years: character appearances (as above), park attractions (Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Fantasmic, Mickey and the Magical Map, Starlight Dreams, the World of Color), and video games. His most recent feature film appearance was a cameo in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

My personal favorite appearance of Sorcerer Mickey was in the logo of Walt Disney Imagineering from 1986 – 2019.

With the launch of Disney+ and a greatly-increased interest in Imagineering through the series, The Imagineering Story, Sorcerer Mickey was dropped from the logo design.

Tonight I’ll be watching Fantasia to celebrate its 80th birthday – and of course, who do they choose to illustrate the movie?

Leading Forward by Looking Back: The Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Walt Disney – and the company he founded in 1923 – was no stranger to adversity and even failure.

The setbacks, tough times, and even failures of Walt Disney are well-documented. In every case, he led the company bearing his name to greater success in spite of adversity.

Today is a sobering, disconcerting time to be a Cast Member of any Disney organization. In the last week I have had several conversations with both current and former Cast Members, and to a person, there has been one trait that stands out.

Optimism.

Even when it is hard to see in the increasing numbers of Cast Members laid off, the curtailment of operations, the postponement of work in progress, and the likely cancellation of future planning, optimism is the underlying strength of the Walt Disney Company.

So where did that come from?

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow through the years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present. Over the past three years alone, I have spent over 70 days on Disney properties from coast to coast – and on the oceans. My Disney library numbers over 400 volumes – the oldest released in 1939; the newest coming hot off the press next week.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

Of course, when Korkis wrote the book, he could not have anticipated the  uncertainty caused by the disruption to the Disney “kingdoms” around the world by the pandemic.

Disney will emerge a greatly-changed organization – and future generations of families – and leaders – will benefit from it. After all, Walt Disney himself went through countless setbacks, and even failures, before the launch of the Walt Disney Company in 1923…

…and look what that has brought to the world in the almost-100 years since!

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club

Mulan – Reimagined

When Disney’s animated musical action adventure film Mulan came out in 1998, our daughter Amy was 10 years old. I’m not sure what exactly it was in the movie that captivated her, but Mulan became (and remains) her favorite Disney character. I’m pretty sure we wore out at least one VHS tape, and various pieces of artwork and figurines that she has collected over the years can be found all over her house.

So it was no surprise that when Disney announced in 2015 that a live-action version of Mulan was in the works, Amy was both excited – and a little skeptical. After all, since Disney began producing live-action remakes of their animated classics in 1994, it’s been a pretty hit-or-miss proposition. Some have been pretty good, some have been so-so.

And the 2020 version of Mulan?

ABSOLUTELY. STUNNING.

 

Wait a minute – it’s not coming out till Friday, September 4 on Disney+ Premier Access, you say.

You’re right – but I saw Mulan in a theater on March 11!

I can say that because Amy and I are among the few hundred people who have actually seen Mulan – before it’s scheduled premier on March 27 – and subsequent reschedulings – were all derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s how it happened…

On March 11, I took a quick trip to Raleigh, NC, where I met Amy for an afternoon movie – the first public showing of Mulan, a preview for Gold members of D23, Disney’s fan club. It was shown following the annual meeting of the Walt Disney Company’s stockholders.

I had been looking forward to the movie’s release on March 27 (I already had tickets), and had intentionally not read or watched a lot about it online. So, my expectations were neutral, reserving judgment until I had a chance to see it in person.

When the VP of D23 introduced the movie, I think it was his words that set the tone and pretty much sum up the approach that made this so successful.

“We’re so excited to unveil Walt Disney’s reimagining of the animated classic.”

Not a remake.

The following comments may contain slight spoilers, so read at your own risk.

  • If you really liked the musical aspect of the 1994 version, you won’t find any of the songs that garnered significant praise and won several industry awards in the new movie.
  • If you liked Mushu, the ancestor’s guardian wonderfully voiced by Eddie Murphy, you won’t find  the character anywhere in the new movie.
  • If you liked the character of Li Shang and the developing romance and implied marriage with Mulan, you won’t find it happening in the new movie.

There’s more, but I think you get the point.

The 2020 version of Mulan is not a remake of the 1998 version of Mulan – and that’s what makes it a marvelous movie; in Disney terms, a reimagining.

  • There’s no songs, but there are musical themes from those songs, along with dialog references.
  • There’s no Mushu, but there is a delightful surprise “guardian” introduced early on who makes regular, timely appearances.
  • There’s no Li Shang, but a couple of different characters more than make up for his absence.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m not a critic (thank goodness), but I know a good movie when I see one.

One that has a vibrant story, identifiable characters you want to root for (and against), emotional twists, action-packed choreography, and amazing production design.

The soon-to-be-released live action Mulan is all that, and more.

 

 

I pre-ordered a multi-year subscription for Disney+ when it was first announced last year. I have added the Premier Access to Mulan, and will be watching it with my wife on Friday September 4.

Yeah, it will be coming to Disney+ in December as a part of the regular programming.

Doesn’t matter.

The reimagining of Mulan is worth it.

Dreamers Live Beyond Themselves in Order to Make Dreams Come True

Even for those of you that don’t follow the Walt Disney Company regularly, the news coming out of Anaheim, CA from the biannual gathering of Disney fans called D23 has been nonstop since last Friday. Even though the event ended Sunday night, recaps, opinions, and second-guessing continues today – and probably will throughout this week and beyond.

With intellectual properties like Disney Studios, theme parks and resorts, and the studios of Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and now most of Fox, the entertainment giant is continuing to grow beyond expectations.

D23 was three days of seemingly nonstop announcements about the upcoming movies from all the studios mentioned above, new attractions at theme parks world-wide, new partnerships, and the unveiling of Disney+, the streaming service that will launch November 12. Artists, actors, and people normally behind-the-scenes were onstage everywhere at the Anaheim Convention Center, each presentation seeming to outshine the previous one.

I’m not even going to attempt to unpack everything that happened at D23 – there are much better sources for that.

Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of images – courtesy of Disney – and a quote by Walt Disney:

If you don’t know what these represent:

  • The top image is a representation of four “neighborhoods” coming to Epcot – a transformation of the park in every sense of the word.
  • The image on the lower right is a new statue of Walt Disney what will occupy “Dreamer’s Point,” a transition from Spaceship earth to the rest of the reimagined Epcot.
  • The quote in the lower left is from Walt Disney, part of a longer statement about Epcot he made in October 1966 – only two months before his death.

Think about that.

While Walt Disney was totally immersed in the building of Disneyland in California, and led in the acquisition of the thousands of acres that would become Walt Disney World in Florida, he never saw the first shovel of dirt turned, much less the completion of any part of Walt Disney World.

The EPCOT he dreamed of was not the Epcot Center that opened in 1982; all of the work done in major upgrades since then – and including this projected “transformation” – are not going to make that happen.

But the dream did not die with the dreamer.

His vision of ‘a new Disney world’ outside of Orlando, Florida, especially his concept of Epcot, was so strongly a personal, life-summing statement that many believed the dream might die with Walt. Not so. For in addition to the fantasy empire Walt had created, he had also built a unique organization.

– Richard Beard, Walt Disney’s EPCOT

Led by Walt’s older brother Roy, who postponed his retirement, the talents of the entire Disney organization went ahead with the Florida project.

Because that’s what dreamers do…

…they dream, and make sure there is a team who understands and lives the dream, and will keep it going.

So that’s what Epcot is: an experimental prototype community that will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future…

– Walt Disney

 

Will your dream live beyond you?

 

The Story of Disney’s Magical Connection to the Christmas Season

Disney magic is alway special, but at Christmas time, it seems to soar to even greater heights.

A new book by Jim Korkis, Disney Historian and an internationally acknowledged authority on Walt Disney, delivers over 30 stories about Disney’s connection to Christmas over the years. Each meticulously gives the background details and sources that bring the story to life.

The Vault of Walt: Christmas Edition is divided into four sections:

  • Walt Disney Stories
  • Animation and Television Stories
  • Disney Park Stories
  • Mouse-ce-llaneous Stories

Here is one paragraph of one story that perfectly captures the delightful depth and breadth of the book:

“It was that Christmas gift of a pair of boots that gave the world the Walt Disney we know today. It was that gift that helped a thirteen-year-old focus on what his future would be as a cartoonist and to work to make that dream come true. The right Christmas gift can transform a young person’s future as it did Walt Disney’s life.”

This absolutely fascinating teaser is just one example from an excellent book. If you are looking for the perfect gift for the Disney fan in your life, look no further than The Vault of Walt Christmas Edition by Jim Korkis.

Exploring the Continuing Leadership Influence of Walt Disney

J. Jeff Kober’s latest book, “Disney, Leadership, and You” is an excellent work that more than delivers on its title.

Drawing from an inquisitive mind and keen insight, Kober has nearly five decades experience with Walt Disney – from both within and without the company – which provide a very readable, practical, and thoroughly enjoyable leadership book that you will find yourself returning to time and again for just the right nugget to use.

I have “known” Jeff for years through his writing, and earlier this year was grateful to meet him and engage his services for an immersive park experience with a group I was leading. The warmth, wit, and sheer knowledge of Disney, coupled with his ability to instantly link it to practical applications of my group, was one of the highlights of our experience. That same experience has been translated into this book.

If you are a leader in any size or type of organization, the stories Jeff Kober has captured in “Disney, Leadership, and You” should be a valuable addition to your library, a source of personal encouragement, and a wealth of practical training for both you and your team.

The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Defining Leadership
  2. Leaders Attain Results
  3. Leaders Build Relationships
  4. Putting It All Together

In those four sections you will find 18 themed chapters, each chock full of leadership principles illustrated with stories of Disney leaders from all ranks. The principles are solid in themselves, but what makes them memorable is the stories of the Cast Members.

The stories and principles perfectly describe how Disney Cast Members create magic each day through their hard work and respect for Walt Disney’s original vision.

You organization is not Disney, but you can learn from their excellence. “Disney, Leadership, and You” is an extraordinary source of lessons and learning to help you make a dramatic impact on why you do, what you do, and how you do it.