Monday, April 29, 2013

The Best Of Both Worlds

Published:  August 29th, 2005
Disney After Dark (The Kingdom Keepers # 1)
By: Ridley Pearson
Disney Press
ISBN-13:  9780786854448

In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.

     Finn Whitman was really excited to be part of an experimental program run at Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park.  He and four other kids his age are to be the basis for holographic hosts, to give tours to all the park's guests.  But what he and the others don't know is that they are secretly being used as an experiment and will have new abilities that Disney hopes will save the park - from its own characters.  With villains from various Disney tales banding together and calling themselves 'the Overtakers', they won't quit until they've busted loose from the park and started taking over the world.  It's up to Finn, with help from Willa, Philby, Maybeck and Charlene to put a stop to the overtakers.  But with the truly evil Maleficent leading them, will good lose this time?  Like other people, I went into this expecting a lot more recognizable Disney character cameos.  But I had read reviews beforehand from disappointed readers, and so I braced myself.  But it reminded me a lot of the old video game, Kingdom Hearts, for Playstation.   It has a Disney feeling to it with hints of the old, but original characters are the focus of the story.  Finn was not a very in-depth character, yet it didn't bother as much as something like that normally would.  Probably because the holographic host situation and the kids waking up in the park at night reminded me a lot of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books.  It felt like a book you could put yourself in and therefore the characters should be a little bit vague!  And they weren't even necessarily vague, they just ready pretty young and naïve to me.  The whole relationship with Wayne, the old guard of Disney's Imagineers, was funny but also mysterious and I'm interested to see the interactions later on in the series between him and the kids.  The 'battle' scenes with the dolls from It's a Small World, the pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the dinosaur from Thunder Mountain were something from the best part of being a kid - the kind that make you laugh and hang on to the edge of your seat, like watching your first action movie.  I have seen complaints about the characterization of Maleficent, but I thought she came across just as creepy and chilling as she does in the Disney film.  I was willing to suspend my disbelief and be terrified right along with Finn and his friends.  The revelation about seemingly evil new girl at school Jezebel and Finn's friend, Amanda, is not particularly surprising but does set up for future books quite nicely.  The majority of the plot was spent trying to solve Walt Disney's secret fable 'The Stonecutter's Quill' and use the answer to stop the Overtakers.  It was an interesting and original idea lacking depth of execution, but just as fun as deciding whether to turn to page 4 or 81 to find out who lives and dies.  Overall, a fun adventure read and one I would recommend for reluctant readers and middle school aged kids especially.  Only one noted, beware:  If you're looking for a character filled romp this is NOT IT.  This book is more behind the scenes, technology based.  One of the reasons I liked it a lot, but definitely not for everyone! :)
VERDICT:  3.75/5  Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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