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“Disneyland Detective” unravels many of the Magic Kingdom’s mysteries in a most entertaining fashion

Anxious to learn everything you can about “The Happiest Place on Earth”? Then Jim Hill suggests that you pick up a copy of Kendra Trahan’s new book, which reveals many of the Anaheim theme park’s secrets.



Okay. I know. Chances are — if you regularly visit — you’re already a hardcore Disney dweeb. You think that you already know everything that there is to know about Disneyland. All of the great anecdotes about the park. Where all its hidden treasures are … well … hidden.

Well, that’s how I thought BEFORE I picked up a copy of Kendra Trahan’s “Disneyland Detective: An Independent Guide to Discovering Disney’s Legend, Lore, and Magic” (Permagrin Publishing, April 2004). But — after reading through just 10 pages of this entertaining and informative paperback — I realized that there was a hell of a lot that I DIDN’T know about “The Happiest Place on Earth.” But I was about to find out …

Ms. Trahan … I don’t know exactly how she did it (though — judging by “Disneyland Detective”‘s bibliography [which runs 9 pages] — Kendra appears to have read every book, article, story and pamphlet that was ever written about the park). But she’s assembled all of these great yarns about the Anaheim theme park, then distilled them down into “Reader’s Digest” form.

So the end result is this concise but still very entertaining volume. Which features wonderful portraits of Disneyland pioneers draw by Brian McKim as well as great photographs of the theme park taken by Dave Hawkins.

But the stories!

If you’re a Disney info junkie like me, you’re going to love “Disneyland Detective.” There are just page after page filled with these great, seldom heard stories about the park. Little gems like:

Why Tinker Bell is the character that’s so strongly associated with Disneyland. (And the answer is … Because Disney executives wouldn’t allow Walt to have access to Mickey Mouse. Their fear was what might happen to the Mouse if he were too closely associated with the Anaheim theme park and Disneyland was a failure. So — playing it safe — Walt decided to go with a secondary character instead. Choosing the shapely sprite from Walt Disney Productions’ 1953 release, “Peter Pan.”)

Many of you already know that Disneyland’s “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” attraction was actually the inspiration for the runaway mine car sequence in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” But how many of you know that Steven Spielberg was such a stickler for getting things right on this 1984 Paramount Pictures release that he insisted that the sound guys from Skywalker Ranch fly down to Anaheim and record the sound that this Frontierland roller coaster makes as it roars along the track … and then dub that sound in as the noise that the mine cars in “Temple of Doom” make as they zoom Indy and friends toward freedom.

How tall is Disneyland’s Matterhorn? So tall that — on a clear day — you can see all the way to Catalina. And — if you look in the other direction — sometimes you can see the Hollywood sign.

All this … plus there’s a special section in the book that’s dedicated to the windows along Main Street U.S.A. Which identifies who each of the people who are being honored are, and what exactly their contribution to Disney Company history was. That section alone makes “Disneyland Detective” a handy reference guide for any serious Disneyphile.

Not done yet, because there’s even fun bits of trivia like:

Which knight of the Round Table the shields that decorate the canopy of King Arthur’s Carousel belong to.

It’s this sort of stuff that made Kendra Trahan’s “Disneyland Detective” a fun and informative read for me. Which is why I suggest — if you want to keep your Disney reference library current — you pick up a copy of this entertaining paperback today.

If you’re planning on picking up a copy of Kendra Trahan’s “Disneyland

Detective: An Independent Guide to Discovering Disney’s Legend, Lore and

Magic” you can help support by ordering your copy

from by clicking the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though

is currently offering it for 30% off!) But if you go to that site

through JHM, you help support because we get a tiny cut

of whatever it is you spend. So — if you’d like to help keep Jim Hill

behind a computer where he belongs — order your copy of “Disneyland

Detective” through the link on the right.

Shop at

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Film & Movies

Craig McCracken talks about the labor intensive story process behind Disney XD’s “Wander Over Yonder”



How long does it take a group of grown-ups to come up with a
workable storyline for an 11 minute-long cartoon? Would you believe two days?

So says Craig McCracken, the talent behind those Emmy-Award
winning Cartoon Network series, “The Powerpuff Girls” and
“Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” Though — more recently —
Craig has been riding herd on Disney XD‘s acclaimed animated adventure,
“Wander Over Yonder.”

Mind you, this character-driven sci-fi comedy is probably a
lot harder than most animated series to pull off. If only because “Wander
Over Yonder” is built around an overly-optimistic intergalactic traveler
and his loyal Zbornak steed, Sylvia. Who then spend each episode traveling from
planet to planet helping people to learn how to live free and have fun.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“And because Wander and Sylvia never visit the same
place twice … Well, that means — for each episode — we have to come up with
a new world and the people who live on that world. More importantly, we have to
invent the problem that these people have which Wander & Sylvia will then
try and solve,” McCracken explained during a recent phone call. “And
since we like it when — over the course of an episode — we can then give you
a different insight about Wander or Sylvia … Well, that’s we spend a full two
days breaking ‘Wander Over Yonder’ stories. I mean, you can’t really tell a
deep, rich story with lots of humor if you haven’t first figured out what the
overall tone of that episode should be. What the stakes really are. Which
character has the most to learn from this particular storyline.”

Which — I know — sounds like an awful lot of behind-the-scenes
prep work, especially for an 11 minute-long cartoon. But as any fan of
“The Powerpuff Girls,” “Foster’s Home for Imaginary
Friends” or “Wander Over Yonder” will tell you, Craig has a true
gift for creating dimensional characters. Take — for example — Lord Hater,
the galactic conqueror wannabe who’s Wander & Sylvia’s chief nemesis on
this Disney XD show.

“You know, I couldn’t bring this up to Disney when I
was originally pitching ‘Wander’ to them. But I’ve always felt that it’s
Hater’s show,” Craig said. “I mean, Wander’s the star of the show.
But Hater’s the protagonist. He’s the character that has the most to learn over
the course of this show and is the one who most needs to grow. And so Hater’s
the character that you sympathize with the most because he’s the most flawed.
Whereas Wander … He’s the guy who’s kind of got it figured out, who’s got his
stuff together. I mean, Wander has some flaws. 
But he’s really the guy who’s guiding Hater to his future or wherever
he’s going to end up.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which I know sounds kind of subversive. But here’s the
thing: McCracken likes playing with people’s expectations when it comes to
“Wander Over Yonder.” With the perfect example of this being
“The Helper,” the episode which debuts tonight on Disney XD at 8 p.m. ET / PT.

“The concept this time around was what if we sent
Wander to a planet where no one needed his help,” stated Aaron Springer, who
not only wrote & storyboarded “The Helper” but also directed this
“Wander Over Yonder” episode. “Just like with all the other
episodes of  ‘Wander,’ the writing
sessions for this show were a group effort. And we spent those first few days
talking about the many ways we could possibly frustrate Wander. And in the end,
the story idea that seemed to have the most potential was that he’s just unable
to actually complete the acting of helping. Once that became the thru-line for
this episode, we could then come up with all the gags and character-driven
moments that we needed for this show.”

“And what’s great about Aaron is that — when he draws
— his storyboards have this very Moebius-meets-Gary-Larson quality,”
Craig enthused. “Which is kind of outside ‘Wander’ ‘s usual show style.
But we liked so much of what Aaron had drawn, the characters that he created
for this particular planet that we decided that we didn’t want to change that.
So rather than lose the aesthetic quality of what Aaron designed, we kind of
modified ‘Wander’ ‘s show design style so that it would then fit better with
what Aaron had done with his boards.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which — again — maybe isn’t what you’d expect to hear
about a TV show that’s being produced by The Walt Disney Company. But the people at Disney Television Animation just love Craig McCracken.
They’re thrilled that — after spending 15 years at Cartoon Network — he’s now
decamped to Disney. Which is why DTA is willing to give Craig lots of creative
freedom when it comes to “Wander Over Yonder.”

Of course, the downside of doing that is McCracken & Co.
sometimes come up with ideas that prove difficult for Mercury Filmworks (i.e.,
the overseas studio that actually animates “Wander Over Yonder”) to
produce. Take — for example — “The Void,” the recent episode where
Wander & Sylvia find a door just floating in space. Once these two step
through this door, they find themselves exploring a white feature-less

“Given that we’ve been forcing our art directors to
come up with all of these new worlds and the creatures who then live on these weird
planets … Well, we thought that ‘The Void’ might be a nice break for
them,” Craig recalled. “But from a production standpoint, what we
didn’t realize is that — when you’re producing animation digitally — a scene
can only be so long before a computer can’t then render it anymore. And since
what we had just sent the folks at Mercury Filmworks was all of these really
long scenes with characters acting on a white background … Well, we wound up
making it extremely hard for them to render this particular episode. And we
were like ‘Oh, we had no idea that this would an issue.’ So the one thing that
we didn’t think would be hard actually turned out to be pretty difficult.”

Craig McCracken (top row in blue plaid shirt) and the “Wander Over Yonder”
production team at Disney Television Animation. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You should expect to see other innovative “Wander Over
Yonder” episodes to pop up on Disney XD in the coming weeks. In addition
to the two that are bowing tonight (i.e., “The Big Job” &
“The Helper”), there’ll be three new episodes on this cable channel
in the coming weeks. “The Funk” & “The Enemies” on
November 25th and “The Rider” on November 28th. Not to mention a
special holiday-themed episode which will drop next month sometime that will
then revisit an earlier, especially popular “Wander Over Yonder”
episode, “The Gift 2: The Giftening.”

“And the best part about working on a show like ‘Wonder
Over Yonder’ is that — because Wander & Sylvia are always on the move,
always going someplace new — from a creative standpoint, you’re never locked
in. You never find yourself in the situation that people who work on other
animated series often find themselves in. Where they basically have to make the
same episode over & over & over again. So they then struggle to find
different ways to tell the same story,” McCracken concluded. “Whereas
on ‘Wander Over Wonder,’ we never tread the same water. We always kind of do
brand-new things.”

Except — of course — for that two day-long process when
Craig and his team follow in order to break the story of every new “Wander
Over Yonder” episode.

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post’s Entertainment page on Friday, November 14, 2014

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