This book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Disney Parks have always had massive popular appeal. They draw people from all walks of life, and have amassed something of a cult following (if you ever want to head down the rabbit hole, go to the Disneyland subreddit). With such fantastic production and a seemingly perfect facade, people clamor at the chance to glimpse of the machine behind the magic. This fascination has created an entire subculture of blogs, YouTube deep-dive videos, and tell-all books written to give an insider take. As a Disney fan myself, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to read this book and to learn a bit more about the daily life of one of the thousands of cast members at Disney World.
Of Mouse and Men follows the author as he trains, and subsequently performs, as a masked character in Walt Disney World. His journey begins when he is offered a sweet new gig – character performer in Walt Disney World. It’s any Disney fanatic’s dream job – he gets to be paid to spend time in Disney World as one of his favorite characters. Right off the bat, training is a grueling ordeal – hours in a heavy, cumbersome costume in Florida heat. It’s this part of the book that I found I enjoyed the most. I really enjoyed how honest Nicklaus was about his early missteps. He made mistakes, he learned, grew as a performer, and never seems to lose his optimism and passion for his job.
While the training section was interesting and entertaining, the rest of the book was pretty repetitive. Almost every story was a combination of an uncomfortable costume, bad guests, and complaints about his coworkers. The narrative was inconsistent in this part of the book: he goes from the starry eyed newbie (as he was in initial training) to an overconfident employee in the bat of an eye. One particular instance example of his lack of professionalism was when Nicklaus was attacked by a kid in the park. Instead of reporting it, he egged the child on to punch his hard costume which resulted with the kid crying and hurt. It’s lots of small moments like this that really just did not sit well with me.
While many people dream of working in a Disney Park, most forget that at the end of the day, it’s just a job. While it is a pretty extraordinary work environment, it’s still a 9-5 for thousands of people. There were times in this book where it felt that the author was looking down his nose at his coworkers for just trying to get through their shift (or not being as flamboyant or excited about the job as he was). And given the recent complaints and protests about lack of livable wages, I find it pretty understandable that some people would be pretty disillusioned to the gimmick of the place. While it’s frustrating to work with disenchanted coworkers, reading him complain about nearly everyone he worked with got stale quickly. Also, the comments about how every dude at Disney is gay felt a little out of touch.
While this book might appeal to the Disney fanatic who has already pored over the multitudes of backstage Disney content online, I don’t think it will do much for other audiences. The repetitive nature of the story and the off putting generalizations and judgement of coworkers was enough to move this from a fun workplace book to a niche read meant for only the most die-hard fans.