I think a lot of Disney fans pick up Cast Member Confidential by Chris Mitchell, hoping to get an inside look at what it’s like working for The Mouse. Unfortunately, none of what Michell writes about is new or even particularly shocking to those of us who follow Disney–gosh, you mean there are tunnels under the Magic Kingdom? Cast members like to get a little crazy after work? I’m sure most of us don’t need to read through a couple hundred pages to realize that–knock me over with a feather–20-somethings are going to do some crazy things!
The premise of the book is this: An edgy (this is important, you’ll find) man in his late 20s, part of the action sports scene in Los Angeles, chucks his responsibilities and runs off to Orlando for a year to work as a cast member at Walt Disney World. A good start, I think. That’s where it ends.
I thought the first couple of chapters were insightful and well-written and I think as an essay in a magazine, it would have made for an interesting read. Unfortunately, as a book, you expect something more, whether it be personal growth or some ephipany–you want something concrete and you don’t really get it here. Instead it’s impossible not to feel that the author is being incredibly self-indulgent, at your expense. Mitchell never goes beyond the initial hint that there’s something more to the story. Instead, the reader is treated to the same scenarios and is endlessly beaten over the head over just how cool the author is. I found myself wanting to throw the book up against the wall and scream “I get it. You’re edgy and cool.” Normally, I would have stopped reading but I kept hoping for some sort of redemption, some point other than “I tried to escape my fears but even here, in the happiest place on earth, I discovered there is a sordid underbelly. Oh, by the way, I’m edgy. You can tell because I’m wearing a skating shirt I bought at the mall.” Sorry. I can’t help myself.
There were some gems in this book. I particularly liked the part where he talks about his childhood and how he felt about Disneyland; it was really solid and Mitchell easily conveyed that feeling that so many of us have for the parks. Overall however, the book felt contrived. I know that writing dialogue that seems genuine is difficult, but every conversation felt unnatural. In fact, most of the scenarios in the book felt that way as well. Cast member breakrooms seem more like prison yards. I expected Goofy to pull out a homemade shank any minute. His girlfriend, a wanna-be vegan Ariel, gets cast as Cruella de Vil and starts eating red meat at every meal and speaking with a British accent. Your average cast member leads a double life, like the coked-up Maleficent in Fantasmic. And apparently all college cast members do is sleep with their bosses. And trust me, this isn’t as interesting to read about as you might think! Did he ever just have a normal day? Did he ever meet a cast member who went home at night and fed the cats, had dinner and watched TV? Because every single “character” in Mitchell’s book seems to have a devious underbelly that they magically turned off when it was “show time.” Makes you wonder how they did it, day after day in the hot sun.
Reading this, you might think I disliked the book because I’m a huge Disney fan and it sheds a bad light on the company. That’s not it at all. My problem with the book is that it’s tiresome and quite often, boring. I had to force myself to finish it. Further, I’m not so sure I buy Mitchell’s premise, that he just up and moved to escape his responsibilities. More likely, he had an idea for a book before he worked at Disney. I just wish he’d done something with it other than this. This book could have been so much better than it is.
If you’re looking for a good Disney read, check out Realityland by David Koenig. It tells the story of the company, warts and all, and while it may be a little less “edgy,” it’s certainly not going to leave you wanting to throw the book against the wall halfway through.