Master storyteller Ridley Pearson has delivered his latest Kingdom Keeper story with The Return: Disney at Last. The third book in the second series brings us to a conclusion for the five friends who started a magical journey into blending the real and imaginary world of Disney characters and parks.
In this latest book the five Kingdom Keepers, Finn, Charlene, Willa, Philby, and Maybeck are in serious trouble. Having traveled back in time to opening day for Disneyland in July of 1955 the five Keepers are working against time to prevent a mad former employee of Walt Disney, Amery Hollingsworth, from creating the Overtakers. These humanoid versions of Disney villains, like Maleficent, have been trying to destroy the Disney Parks since the first Kingdom Keepers book.
But the Kingdom Keepers are not alone in their fight. Jess and Amanda, friends from the future with telekinetic strength and the ability to dream the future, have traveled back via the carousel in Disneyland Park. Together the seven friends also join forces with Wayne, the younger version of the genius Imagineer who would help create the DHI program sixty years in the future. Wayne brought them together and now sixty years in the past, the young Wayne is right beside them helping them stop Hollingsworth, while developing a way to send the kids back to their time.
What Ridley Pearson has done time after time with his books is make the reader feel like they are there in person witnessing the event as it takes place, and not just reading a book. The extra challenge that Pearson has made with this final book is that while the Kingdom Keepers are battling the evil forces of 1955, we follow Mattie, another friend of the Keepers who is fighting her own battle against the modern day villains in Disneyland. Mattie is a member of the Fairlie group that Jess and Amanda come from, and with the help of the Disney characters, she helps to stop an attack at Disneyland by Amery Hollingsworth Jr. in the present day.
There is a lot going on in this book, and Pearson balances the story well by not cutting from chapter to chapter. He develops the story in both time periods and enables us the reader to feel like we are reading two books in one. Pearson has done such an incredible job breathing life in Mattie the Fairlie who leads our story in present day Disneyland. You root for and cheer Mattie on as she confronts the evil of her present day Hollingsworth villain.
What Pearson has also included into his tale is the real Disney characters. From book one, we have witnessed villains like Maleficent play a pivotal role in the story, and we’ve had some supporting help from characters like Ariel and Minnie Mouse. In this final book, we see Mickey Mouse front and center working with Mattie and the Imagineers to stop the Disneyland attack. The most famous character in the Disney lexicon gets to be a part of the action. How Pearson has portrayed the real versions of the characters is also a testament to his skill as a writer. The traits that viewers have witnessed in the movies are present in this book.
How Pearson chooses to use Mickey is very true to the nature of the character. Mickey is the kind loving character that is eager to help, and when needed comes in to lead the crowds to safety in Disneyland when the attack by Hollingsworth Jr. and his goons begins. Mickey is the lovable fella that I think Pearson encapsulated with his description and the dialogue he gives to the world’s famous mouse. Mickey is not alone.
From Mulan to Kristoff, and even Dash from The Incredibles characters come out of the shadows to help protect the people that visit the theme park that they have called home. To suspend disbelief that these animated characters might really inhabit the Disney Parks is a lot to ask of the reader. Ridley Pearson is the master at set up for big things. In chapter 11, Imagineer Joe Garlington has crossed over as a hologram into Disneyland Park and summons a meeting with all characters at the Fantasyland Theatre. We see through the eyes of Joe as he watches Pixar pals sit down, and Elsa glides in, and even Ewoks take their seat to hear from Joe. Just imagine if you saw these characters as living breathing beings? You don’t have to imagine because Pearson has described it for you.
Back in 1955, we see the Kingdom Keepers working to stop the creation of the Overtakers. Unlike the previous book where we see Walt Disney come into the story and play a supporting role, the kids are helped out by Disney Legend Marty Sklar. A friend of Wayne’s and the editor of The Disneyland News newspaper, Sklar helps the group along and brings the history of the company, and the gravitas of the Disney statesman to this book. Marty Sklar is pure joy, as he shows a wholesomeness in Pearson’s description. Since the book is dedicated to Marty Sklar, I can only imagine the fun Pearson had at interviewing and inserting him into his fantasy world.
The two worlds will eventually merge with battles in 1955 and the present day. By the end of the story all problems have been solved, and it looks like the Kingdom Keepers will be retired from the theme parks. The need to protect against the Overtakers is over. The kids can now move on.
The Kingdom Keepers’ journey is over, the parks are safe, and Ridley Pearson has taken readers on a wild adventure that brought imaginary characters to life, and allowed us readers to step beyond what we know of the Disney Parks. The world is ready for more adventures from our Kingdom Keepers, and without a doubt Ridley Pearson will have new adventures waiting for eager readers.