Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Do You Say "I've Got An Excuse" in Japanese?

Due to a series of very fortunate circumstances, I'm off to Tokyo (and of course, to the Tokyo Disney Resort). I was hoping to have at least one more review to tide everyone over until I get back, but I had so much going on this last week that it didn't happen - sorry, folks! I should have another review up by the first week of February - until then, sayonara and take care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Getting An Education From The Mouse

Mousecatraz: The Walt Disney World College Program, by Wesley Jones. E.J. Communications/lulu.com, 2006, 153 pp.

The next time you visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, take a minute to look at the nametag of the cast member who's assisting you. Chances are that underneath his or her name on the tag, you'll see a college name listed instead of that cast member's home town; that means that he or she is part of the Disney College Program, an internship program where Disney brings in college students from all over the country to "live, learn, and earn" for a semester as they work for the Mouse. Few people are aware of the program and fewer still have had the chance to be a part of it, so even some devoted Disney fans may not be aware of what it's like to be a college student working at the Disney theme parks. The book we're eviewing this time gives us a peek behind the curtain at the Disney College Program and its participants.

Mousecatraz is the nickname given to the Disney College Program by some of the interns based on the conditions they've experienced while working in it, and it's also the name of a book that shares information and anecdotes about the Disney College Program experience. The book takes us through the various phases of the College Program, from the recruiting seminars held on college campuses to the final goodbyes, and many of the things - good, bad, or odd - that can happen in between. Former College Program cast members share their experiences and stories of the things they witnessed while they were part of the program; they talk about their jobs at the Disney parks (and some of the things they did and were done to them while working at them), their experiences living with a large group of people their own ages from all over and the joy and the terror that can result, the educational experiences they received, and the things they did to break free from the monotony and frustration that sometimes goes with working in a theme park. While the young adults that participate in the College Program may look like stereotypical clean-cut All-American kids, they're subject to the same quirks, desires, urges, and foibles of any college student anywhere, and the things that have happened to them while they worked for Disney makes for some interesting stories - not all of them for small ears.

Wesley Jones, a former Disney College Program intern, mainly lets his fellow participants in the program tell readers what being a College Program cast member is like; Wesley provides some general information about various facets of the program, general information about the Walt Disney World Resort, and sets up some of the anecdotes, helping to tie the whole narrative together. I think things work out better for the book in this format, since if Wesley had just told the stories he'd heard, some folks might not be inclined to believe what they had read! Although it's pretty obvious that Wesley enjoyed and appreciated his time in the College Program (particularly when you read Wesley's own story in the final chapter), he doesn't appear to pull any punches; the book is more than happy to point out the mistakes and dumb actions of cast members, guests, and Disney managers alike. Wesley isn't salacious when he shares some of the more adult stories about being in the College Program; overall, he maintains his role as a more-or-less neutral observer throughout the book and lets the readers come to their own conclusions about the College Program.

I didn't have any major problems with Mousecatraz, but I can imagine there's going to be some readers that will. As I've mentioned above, some of the content of the book is definitely not suitable for kids (it's not that any of the stories are particularly graphic, it's just that some parents may not want their children reading about some of this stuff). If you're one of those folks that don't want the magic spoiled for them by finding out what happens behind the scenes, this isn't the book for you - Wesley doesn't give away too many secrets that most Disney fans don't already know, but any illusions readers harbor about the perfection of cast members and the well-olied machine that keeps the theme parks running may definitely be called into question after reading this book. If you're looking for some really graphic or bawdy stories, you're probably not going to be to happy with Mousecatraz, in spite of what the book jacket might have you believe; you're also probably not going to be thrilled with this book if you feel that Disney can do no wrong, because the Company does come in for some criticism in a few places in the book. If you can handle a few adult situations and a sometimes less-than-magical view of the Disney parks, this book's worth a read.

Mousecatraz is an interesting and (so far, at least) unique look into the Disney College Program and the true-life adventures experienced by its participants. The book's not really appropriate for pre-teenage children because of some adult themes, but if you have a college-age or nearly college age child who's contemplating signing up for Disney's internship program (or who might do so sometime soon), this book will give them and their parents a little better idea of what to expect than they'll get from a presentation or a glossy brochure. Although the book's a couple of years old, it's still readily available through Amazon.com and lulu.com.