Thursday, November 19, 2015

"One Little Spark" Marty Sklar Book Review

One Little Spark!: Mickey's Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering by Marty Sklar, 1st ed., 288 pages

Written by: Jeff C. 

This is the second of Marty Sklar's Imagineering books. The first was Dream it! Do it!.

One Little Spark expands upon topics previously mentioned and adds new material.  Specifically, it addresses Mickey's Ten Commandments (the guiding principles of Imagineering) and the Road to Imagineering (guidance for those who wish to be Imagineers).  Marty Sklar is himself a founding Imagineer and a Disney Legend.

Overall, this book is uneven. The first half is focused and the second it is oddly diffused. In the first half, the discussion of Mickey's Ten Commandments focuses well on each enumerated  item and provides distinct good and bad examples. While the awarding of a bad example trophy carries a feeling of mean-spiritedness, it is pointed out that there is value in learning from mistakes. Some of the picks will evoke strong emotional responses from Disney fans. For example, Sklar disagreed with Walt Disney over the clean exterior of the Haunted Mansion. There are far worse examples of inconsistency at Disney parks (America Sings in Disneyland's Tomorrowland springs to mind). In the postscript, Sklar addresses the predicted upset fans. He explains that he had to narrow his choices and sticks by them.

All of the good examples or "Mousecar winners" remain in parks around the planet. Some of the bad examples or "Goof winners" also remain even after corrective efforts. In particular, the winding walkways of Animal Kingdom park may now include better views of what lies ahead, but they are still a pain in the feet. One Goof is for the removal of an attraction, the House of the Future at Disneyland.

Oddly, there is no mention of the loss of the Skyway or the PeopleMover.  Again, he had to limit his selections.

At the center of the book lies a series of photos and diagrams. It is possible that lumping them together was a compromise between the author and the publisher. It provides a counter-example of what Sklar emphasizes about visual literacy. Why not intersperse some photos closer to the text to which they relate? It may have been cheaper than adding color, but earlier in the book, there is a statement from fellow Disney legend Herb Ryman about the true cost of poor design. The layout should have been more self-exemplary.

In the second half, things fall apart. The concept was to appeal to other Imagineers and have them provide input for the Road to Imagineering. What results is an ever-changing voice in the narrative. This is especially strange considering that one of Sklar's Mousecar winners was "it's a small world" which suffered a similar horrendous early design flaw.  The attraction was supposed to have the children singing their respective national anthems resulting in a cacophonous overload. It wasn't until the Sherman brothers (Richard Sherman wrote this book's introduction) unified all of them with one voice that the concept clicked.  Some of the other Imagineers' stories and examples are good and illustrative. Others felt like filler. The author needed to don a second hat (or set of ears) and provide a harmonizing narrative.

While not quite as good as Dream it! Do it!, One Little Spark should probably make its way on to every Imagineer wannabes bookshelf.

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