Book Review - Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig
Being a Disney fan, it was a given that I would get a copy of Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig from the library. Koenig has written a number of other books that go behind-the-scenes and show the difference between the managed image and the true reality of the Disney empire. In Realityland, he focuses on the Florida version of Disney's dream, Walt Disney World. Koenig does an excellent job digging into the trials involved in getting The Magic Kingdom built and running, as well as the struggle to define "EPCOT".
Waltopia - Mr. Disney's last and greatest dream
Project X - The undercover expansion
Planning the Invasion - Preparing for the ground attack
Trouble Building - The fight to finish on time
A Grand Opening - Through the gates of the Magic Kingdom
Room Change - Turmoil and turnover at the hotels
Power Plays - The energy crisis, Reedy Creek and rocky community relations
Crash Mountain - Space Mountain and the never-ending quest for safety
Showcase for Sale - Sponsoring a piece of the kingdom
Constructing the Future - The hardships and headaches of breaking new ground
Starring in the Show - Making little money and lots of magic for a living
EPTPOT - Experimental Prototype Theme Park of Tomorrow
Upheaval - A coup at the kingdom
Reel Competition - Disney vs. Universal - and everyone else
It's a Jungle in Here - Survival of the shrewdest
The Polite Force - Security with a smile
Backwards to the Beginning - The Homogenized Mouse
30+ years after the start of it all, it's easy to allow Walt's philosophy and vision to filter what actually happened. Disney has become synonymous with attention to detail and outstanding customer service. But Walt never lived long enough to see Walt Disney World become a reality. Those left in charge were burdened with the phrase "what would Walt do?" when it came to making any sort of decision on what WDW would become. And just as Disneyland had its share of problems and teething pains, so did WDW. Labor relations with the construction companies were less than harmonious. Cutting-edge experiments and partnerships (such as the building and ownership of the Contemporary) broke down under the strain of deadlines and constant changes by Disney. And while getting the Magic Kingdom built had some sort of pattern in Disneyland, it was EPCOT that continually haunted the leadership. Walt had envisioned an entire city built to e
utopian standards, and everyone wanted to know when Disney would start building it. But the reality was that there was no way that something of that size and scale could be successfully created while still making a profit. It was all they could do to spin the creation of Future World and World Showcase as a place where EPCOT "concepts" could be tried and advanced. Even that twist was hard to pull off, as Disney wanted to have companies and countries pay to build and operate the attractions and pavilions. But things change, attractions need to be updated, and sponsorships come to an end. Even to this day, EPCOT is still a pale shadow of what Walt had imagined and dreamed. At best, it's another theme park that attempts to teach as well as entertain.
Having been written within the last year, Koenig also goes into the decision to build Animal Kingdom and how management had to struggle to make the concept work. On the outside, it was meant to be something where people would learn about the environment and creatures that inhabit different areas on earth. But when you mix animals and environmentalists together, you start to get friction on a massive scale. And due to a lack of attractions when it first opened, people had a hard time thinking of it as something more than a Disney-fied version of a zoo. Throw in the massive ego of Michael Eisner during this time, and it's amazing that anything got done and that Disney was able to come out with its carefully crafted image intact.
For those who buy into the whole Walt Disney image as presented to the public, this book will either be an eye-opening read or something bordering on a traumatic event. Sort of like learning there's no Santa Claus. For those who know and understand that there's a difference between image and reality, the book will simply add more color and humanity to the Disney empire. As a person who loves to go to DisneyWorld, I found the book fascinating. I'll still enjoy the rides and the atmosphere, and will still be amazed by the "Disney Mystique". But I'll also be a bit more appreciative and understanding of what pain it took to get it all to work.