Monday, April 25, 2011

Review - Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark

Kingdom Keepers: Disney After DarkWhen I first heard about this book, I was totally stoked and knew I must eventually read it. I've been a Disney fan for as long as I can remember and I absolutely LOVE the Disney parks. The idea of an adventure book set in Walt Disney World with some crazy technological/sci-fi style elements…I was hooked.

The high level concept of the story is this. Disney has partnered with a "Holographic Imaging" company to create perfect holographic representations of Disney Hosts to show guests around the Magic Kingdom. To add to the appeal of these virtual hosts, Disney selected 5 kids (~tweens/early teens) to be the first Disney Hosts. Well…it turns out there was an ulterior motive for the selection and development of these Hosts.

It seems there is a dark secret brewing in the Magic Kingdom. The various "evil" characters created over the years (Maleficent, Pirates, etc) are in fact living beings. Generally speaking, they exist in a sort of limbo world and can't interact with our world. However, they've been growing stronger and now Disney Imagineers (specifically one Imagineer) needs help to stop them. The 5 hosts were specifically chosen as most likely to be able to stop the evil forces. And so, a side effect was added to the Holographic technology which allows the hosts to "Cross Over" from their physical identity into their holographic identity but only while their physical self is sleeping. Thus we have the story…at nighttime, these five kids (in holographic form, but able to touch and interact with physical elements) are sent into the Magic Kingdom to unravel a riddle left by Walt Disney himself and figure out how to stop the Overtakers led by Maleficent. In some regards this book has interesting similarities to the recently released video game Epic Mickey...except in that game you play the role of Mickey running through the parks trying to fix up things that the bad imagination is breaking down. Still, it's an interesting parallel.

This is definitely a kid's book (or at least a "middle reader") so many of the plot elements and character interactions are less developed than I would have liked. Still, the story itself is intriguing and there is fun to be had. Some of the descriptions, especially of the technology, science and other things, I suspect may go over the heads of younger readers and bog them down, but generally I'm sure this would be very accessible to readers in their 'pre-tweens'. I'm hoping my 9 year old and 12 year old will read it and let me know what they think.

From a high level, I really enjoyed the book. The concept was intriguing and the way the mystery-adventure played out was interesting. The story was fun and had a good balance of action and investigation and character interaction. And I loved that we were racing along through the Magic Kingdom. :)

One of my complaints is with the nature of adults. Now, in children's lit and even YA, adults are often portrayed as non-elements…ignorant, brash, non-helpful, etc. In this book, the same is true but it's made worse by the things that the "off screen" adults fail to do. It's one thing to accept that Finn's parents are oblivious to what's going on. It's another thing to have these holographic kids wandering around Magic Kingdom trying to avoid security cameras and other elements…but then have huge disastrous things happen that are SURELY to be noticed by security and have the Hosts on camera. Couple that with the ease in which the kids sneak into areas of Disney while they are in their physical/daylight forms and it becomes even more ludicrous. I'll acknowledge that a confident attitude and a good plan can help you get past many security elements into places you shouldn't be…but there are a few situations where I was left wondering just how inept Disney security is supposed to be.

My bigger complaints, however, are for those areas where plot elements were ambiguous, confusing or left undeveloped or underdeveloped. I hope to see some of these things play out more and be better developed in subsequent books.

For example, early on in the first couple of "crossing over" segments, Wayne (the Imagineer) is talking with Finn (the main Host) and Finn explains how he's seeing a number of the "good" characters (Chip and Dale, Goofy, etc). Wayne is VERY excited about this. However, as we continue into the adventure, the good characters never make a reappearance and are totally forgotten. It seems to me this is a huge lost opportunity to take those characters and turn them into allies.

Another element (which is problematic in many adventure books) was Maleficent's power. It's always a struggle to create a powerful enough enemy to be scary but weak enough to realistically be dealt with by an underdog hero. Maleficent should have been able to walk all over these Hosts…but she didn't. Even aided by armies of evil animatronics. Furthermore, her very nature and powers seemed to change over the course of the book. It wasn't just a matter of the Hosts suddenly understanding her abilities…it felt to me like her nature actually changed as the book figured out what she should be like. She just felt very transitory as a character.

I also foresee some troubles for the book as he tied some elements to some Disney elements that have already gone away...for example the Virtual Magic Kingdom online community. The Hosts use that community to interact with each other...which is great, except that the community was closed down a couple of years ago. I played on the site when it was up and it was quirky fun. But that's a risk in tying closely to marketing elements...they don't stick around. With that regard, I'm also worried at the potential for aspects of this book to turn into marketing for Disney. I'm fine with being marketed to, but if it's done in something like a book or a movie or whatever, I just hope the marketing takes a backseat to the story and the fun. Whatever the case here, I'm worried that some of the elements in the book may break down before the author finishes the series (which I've heard is supposed to take 7 books...but book 4 was only recently released).

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I have to look at it as a kid's book and realize that as a children's book it will be less intricate and potentially less "tight" than an adult novel. That said, I've recently read a number of very well constructed children's and YA novels that were light enough to be read and enjoyed by children but also had very intricate and well constructed plots. I just felt like this one needed a bit of tightening up. As a Disney fan, I rate this a little higher than I normally would and I have a lot of optimistic hope that the plot/writing tightens up in the rest of the series….because I do plan to continue reading the series. :)

If you're a Disney fan or if this kid's adventure sounds fun for you, check it out. I'd be interested to hear if I'm off-base on my complaints. I'm also eager to hear thoughts from a kid's perspective…I'm off to get my kids to read this. :)

3 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

eh, intriguing concept to this book, sounds like there are some fairly big holes to fill if they continue it...

Unknown said...

Sounds beautiful. My mother and grandmother took me to Disneyland when I was four or five. Haven't been back since, but I cherish fond memories of it as a magical kingdom of lights.

Phoenix said...

Interesting idea for a book. I wonder if younger kids would really get a kick of out 'em, since most of your (very valid) complaints aren't necessarily stuff that kids might notice.

Would be an awesome book to give to kids if they were traveling to visit Disneyland or Disneyworld, for sure!