lessons from the kingdom keepers

What if Disney wrote its own fan-fiction? I think it might look a little something like The Kingdom Keepers.

[HERE’S THE VIDEO VERSION ALSO!!!]

Okay, so, here we go. Thus far, all of the books in this series have been old favorites and their reviews have been altogether positive and full of praise.

This one will not be quite like that. Oh yes, we’re in for a bit of a rant.

First, a bit of history. The Kingdom Keepers was published in 2005 (which seems so long ago!!!), following the success of Peter and the Starcatchers, which I actually read in junior high school. And I enjoyed it a lot! It was a really interesting take on Peter Pan’s origin story. But even though it was printed in association with Disney, it’s not supposed to be Disney canon. Just a reimagining.

Which brings up another point: The Kingdom Keepers is Disney Press. It may not seem like a surprise now, but I remember how shocked I was back then to learn that Disney had its own printing press. (Though it’s probably had one for a long time.) Jeez, what’s that like? What’s it like writing for Disney?

I think I have an idea.

So, I read The Kingdom Keepers back in middle school, maybe 5th grade, and at the time I liked it. But the only reason I own it is because one time I got a Barnes & Noble gift card and found an autographed copy of it just sitting on the shelf. So of course I had to get it!

And then it sat there. For years and years.

Until now.

Here’s a basic run-down of the plot: five teens are chose to become “DHIs” for Disney World, which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging (for reasons that aren’t really important to the plot at all).

But then, they start waking up in the park at night as their holographic selves and seeing characters walking around the park. First, they think they’re just vivid dreams. Nope!

As it turns out, a la Rise of the Guardians or something, people’s belief in the Disney characters have brought them to life in the park. Which also means the Disney villains, who are referred to as the Overtakers. As you may have surmised, their goal is to overtake the park… and possible the world? Not 100% clear in this book, but one can imagine.

Speaking of imagining, Walt Disney–yes, the Walt Disney–and the Imagineers knew this would happen and came up with this plan to stop the Overtakers. Conveniently, the 21st-century provided them with the solution: by turning these five hapless teens into holograms, they’d basically turned them into half-fake “characters” like the ones that had come to life. That meant they could then see… and fight?… the Overtakers. But in order to defeat them, they have to solve this riddle from Walt Disney to find an “in case my cartoon characters come to life, please use this” MacGuffin.

And that, my friends, is the plot of The Kingdom Keepers.

So was it as good as I remember? Well, to be frank, no, it wasn’t. It had a lot of issues that I just couldn’t reconcile with the fact that it’s middle grade fiction. No matter what audience you’re writing for, the plot has to make sense, right? And I found that a lot of the magic system really didn’t, when you thought about it.

But it’s Disney logic, right? You’re not supposed to think about it.

Aside from that, though, I found the pacing to be weird, the dialogue awkward and unnatural (even for a bunch of adolescents), and a lot of the story beats to be comprised of convenience or happenstance.

Plus–probably one of my biggest pet peeves with the whole thing–the guy who’s supposed to be the kids’ mentor never gives them straight answers and only speaks in platitudes. It is aggravating. I think it was supposed to be like a “work as a team and figure it out on your own” kind of dynamic, but by the end, the mentor is in on the action. He’s instrumental to the climactic battle. So why, oh why, did he decide to be useless until the last possible second? Aghhhh.

Oh, plus, the ending makes almost no sense. I think it’s supposed to be setting up the other books (by the way, this is a seven-book series at the least), but as someone who has no intention of reading the rest of the series, I didn’t feel like the ending really gelled. Also not sure what I was supposed to take away from the story, either. Villains are bad, Disney is awesome? Felt very Ready Player One-ish to me, but you can draw your own conclusions.

But were there things I liked? Of course! I’m not heartless. Here is a nice bulleted list of some of the positives:

  • The first chapter has a great hook.
  • The concept is really cool.
  • There are some really clever moments (the “It’s a Small World” scene is a personal favorite).
  • The villains coming to life and wanting revenge for getting the short end of the stick? Awesome.
  • It’s a page-turner.
  • It makes you wanna go to Disney World–which may be the purpose of the whole thing! Nice try, Disney–I see right through your subliminal Mickeys!

One last thing: I don’t mean to knock the series or Ridley Pearson; I’m just being a snarky booktuber trying to evaluate the book on its own merits. Also, everyone loves a good rant. Right?

Have you read this book? Have you read this SERIES? If you have, I’m kinda curious to know what the other books are like, so comment below!

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