Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review - From Dreamer to Dreamfinder

If you know your Epcot history, you remember the Dreamfinder. This was an invented character prominent in the first Journey into Imagination ride, and also a walkaround "face" character that met people in the Imagination pavilion, usually seen cradling a puppet of his friend, the purple dragon named Figment. The Dreamfinder isn't much visible in the pavilion today (there are a few nods to his former presence), but the man behind the walkaround character is very much on the scene. Ron Schneider, the performer who was the primary person scheduled to work as Dreamfinder, has a new book out. 

From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag is a thick book (294 pages) offered at a very reasonable price ($15.95 on Amazon, often discounted - it's $10.85 as I write this, but that could change). One thing it's not is a picture book - this is strictly text and a few black and white pictures. But that keeps the price low, I think, so all in all that's a good thing.

Much of the book is a memoir about Ron's life as a performer and his various interactions with the key players in the industry over the decades. Like Forrest Gump, he gets to meet seemingly everyone, but Ron is no Forrest Gump in the mental department. He's sharp, and he adapts to the needs of the jobs. More than that, he reflects, and in this, we all benefit. A majority of workers in Disney parks, even those in important roles and creators of things, often are so busy with life that they seldom take the time to think about what everything means. What's the role of the performer vis-a-vis the guest? What subtle and unwritten rules exist, and why? Over the years, Ron not only came across (or invented) the answers, he ruminates here in the book about why they matter.

Not all of the book is Disney focused, or even theme park focused, for that matter. You'll read about Ron's other exploits, and it can be fairly stated that he calls it as he sees it (translation: he pulls no punches about various creative and cost-cutting decisions he's been witness to). That's refreshing, but more than anything else it helps you feel like you're on the inside for a change, watching theme park (and entertainment) history unfolding on the sidelines.

For a WDW fan, the sections about Epcot and Dreamfinder are gripping, but many readers (including myself) find that the whole book is interesting. Some readers might find the individual sections in the chapters to be disjointed; essentially Ron switches to a new anecdote with only a section division (a whimsical symbol, usually) denoting that we've switched topics. That can interrupt the 'flow' of a chapter, but it also gives the impression that the book is a series of strung-together mini-stories, which it is.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.