The Kingdom Keepers
by Ridley Pearson
I love Disneyland. Love it. When I was a kid I wanted to live in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle…and now that I’m an adult I still think that’s a really great idea. When I heard that Ridley Pearson had written a children’s series set in Disney World, I knew I had to read it, because running around the Disney parks after they’ve closed is right up there with walking on the moon and visiting Wonka’s factory on my list of Greatest Childhood Fantasies.
When thirteen-year-old Finn Whitman goes to sleep, he finds himself transported to Disney World, where an old man named Wayne tells him he must protect the world from evil. You see, Finn is part of Disney’s Interactive Host program, a revolutionary new technology that allowed Disney engineers to record several teens’ and create holograms of them, which help guide visitors around the park. The money Finn earns from lending his likeness to the park will pay for his college and gives his family free park passes for life…it all seemed like a sweet deal until the nocturnal visits began. Wayne instructs Finn to find the four other DHI hosts and team up with them to defeat the Overtakers, a villainous group who seek to destroy all Walt Disney held dear.
My biggest problem with this book hinges on its premise. Why would Disney want thirteen year olds for their hologram hosts? I guess since they’re holograms you ignore labor laws regarding underage workers, but if the problem is fighting off evil bad guys wouldn’t it be better to get some high school students? Older teens would be smarter, stronger, and able to do much more outside the park to fight the threat. I’m sure Pearson went with younger protagonists because his readers are young, and this would sail right over my head if I were ten or twelve. But as an adult reader the whole concept of the underage DHI really bothered me.
Pearson also makes a point of mentioning several times that Finn and his other DHIs have become celebrities because of their host roles. Really? I tend to doubt that a hologram host would really be that different from any other cast member, and does anyone remember the name of the guy who operated the Jungle Cruise last time they rode it? Again, I think my old age is showing.
There are some good bits in the book. I especially liked Pearson’s description of “Escher’s Keep”, a maze-like attraction based on the illustrations of M. C. Escher. Disney World, you should seriously consider making this into a real feature of the park. It’d be awesome. There were also some interesting scenes where various animatronic robots come to life and roam the park. Plus, Maleficent is the main villain, and she’s only the Greatest Disney Villain Ever.
But it was disappointing, too. Maleficent isn’t nearly as nasty as she should be – I mean, this is the woman who claimed to command all the powers of Hell! Again, I get that it’s toned down for kids, but she was one scary lady when I was six years old.
The book is also 100% propaganda for Walt Disney, Disney Studios and the theme parks. I mean, that’s pretty obvious going into the book – it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to read the book – but it could have been written in a way that was a little less blatant.
So if you want to read a Disney-themed book, I’d say skip this one unless you’re under the age of ten. For an adult reader, a really great science fiction book set in the Magic Kingdom is Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It’s totally five stars…I’d review it, but it’s been a good four or five years since I read it, so I wouldn’t do a good job of it.