Love him or hate him, Leonard Kinsey has made his mark in the Disney fan community for good. His best-selling book, “The Dark Side of Disney,” has sold over 40,000 copies. Controversy continues to surround Leonard with the new “Dark Side of Disney” documentary, which is currently in production, making him one of the most interesting people to talk to in the Disney community.
Today, in the latest in my Unofficial Disney series, I got a chance to chat with Leonard about the reaction to the “Dark Side of Disney.” We discuss fan reactions, what he has heard from the Disney Company, his fanfiction novels and more. Enjoy!
Prior to writing and publishing “non-traditional” Disney books, what is your background?
I was born and raised near Tampa, FL, and went to WDW on average once a month for the first 18 years of my life. So I really felt like it was a second home. After college, I dabbled in a few different creative enterprises in my free time, but nothing ever really “hit” until I returned to my roots and wrote “The Dark Side of Disney.”
What made you decide to write “The Dark Side of Disney?”
I grew increasingly frustrated by the fact that there were no Disney travel guides out there that had any relevance to the type of vacation I wanted to take. I don’t have kids, I like to drink, I’m not rich and I despise character meals and meet and greets. So, I’d read a travel guide and maybe get one or two good tips out of it. The rest of the stuff in there would either bore me to tears or would piss me off because I knew the authors were holding back important (to me) information.
So, I started compiling my own WDW tip sheet, which I’d give to friends or family before they went on Disney trips. They’d come back with really
positive comments about it and would sometimes tell me stories about something fun or crazy that they’d seen or done on their trip. Eventually the tip sheet grew longer and longer and I’d also mentally stockpiled a bunch of these great stories, so before I knew it, I had enough material
for a book!
Before “The Dark Side of Disney” was released, did you consult with a lawyer to make sure this was legal? What was their advice?
Well, I initially submitted the book to a bunch of publishers and agents and found out pretty quickly that they were all scared of publishing anything that might portray Disney in a negative light. Their lawyers all said that I’d be protected by Fair Use laws, but that Disney could still try to block publication via expensive and protracted legal wranglings. They weren’t willing to take that risk, so I got a lot of rejection letters.
As a result, I decided to self-publish. There were already other books out there, like “Mouse Tales” and “Cast Member Confidential” that were
semi-scandalous non-fiction looks at the parks and Disney hadn’t taken any legal action against them. According to my research, it created a legal precedent, meaning that Disney couldn’t just pick on my book while ignoring those others.
And, of course, I put in a big disclaimer in the front of the book although I’m not sure if that holds much water from a legal perspective.
Bottom line: I was confident it was fully legal, but I was still scared that Disney would file a frivolous lawsuit and try to bankrupt me. Luckily, I think they realized that doing so would just give the book a ton of unwanted attention and notoriety.
Considering “The Dark Side of Disney” has sold over 40,000 copies, it clearly has its own cult following. What are some of the positive comments you have heard in reaction to the book?
One thing that I’ve heard from a lot of people is that they never, ever wanted to go to WDW before they read the book. They thought it was just for kids. But after reading the book, they got really excited about going there!
I’ve also heard from a few people who said they’d never read a whole book from cover to cover until they picked up a copy of DSoD. So, apparently
I’ve encouraged literacy by writing this book, which is both awesome and hilarious!
The other funny thing I’ve heard is that some managers at WDW have actually bought multiple copies of the book and handed them out to their
staff. They’re using it as a training manual of sorts, to teach the Cast Members how to better spot scams and troublemakers!
Clearly there are Disney purists who hate the very idea that this kind of book even exists. What has been some of the negative reactions you have received towards the DSoD?
I’ve had people threaten me with physical violence. I’ve had people call me The Antichrist of Disney, and not in a joking way (even though I thought it was pretty funny). I’ve received 36 one-star reviews on Amazon, most of which are absolutely hilarious. I’ll occasionally post the best/worst of them on Facebook or on my blog because they’re so entertaining. But yeah, most of the negative reactions I’ve received have been completely illogical tirades, where I picture the person getting all red in the face, foaming at the mouth and screaming at the computer monitor. Those are really hard to take seriously. That said, there are times when I’m very happy that I decided to use a pseudonym, because some of these people don’t seem quite right in the head and the thought of them showing up at my doorstep is a bit scary!
Have you ever heard anything from Disney officially about the book?
Nope. Not a word.
Unofficially? Yeah, a bunch. I’ve had a ton of former and current Cast Members tell me how much they love the book. I’ve also heard not so positive remarks from certain Imagineers, high-ranking D23 execs and Disney Security staff.
One YouTube video you posted, in particular, did get a reaction from the mouse. Care to talk about what happened and the reaction you got from Disney and also fellow Disney fans as well?
Yeah, that was a video I posted of my big retirement event at EPCOT’s 30th. I’d decided to stop my backstage exploring, but wanted to go out with a bang, so I gave an unofficial backstage tour to about 30 friends/fans, filmed it and posted it on YouTube. I didn’t think it was any worse than the other backstage videos that had been up on my YouTube channel for years, but it got over 600 views within minutes and the amount of negative feedback on it was a lot more overwhelming than I’d expected. So, I took the video down after a few hours and it will likely never see the light of day again!
Considering how your life has changed since “The Dark Side of Disney’s” release, if you had the chance to go back, would you have done anything differently in terms of content of the book or even the YouTube videos?
I definitely wouldn’t change a thing in the book. I think it’s pretty perfect. It’s not a literary masterpiece or anything, but you can’t argue with its popularity or with the extreme reactions it provokes, both positive and negative.
As far as the videos go, yeah, I’ve actually taken a few down. After examining them from a post-9/11 perspective, I decided that there was a possibility, however slim, that some of the backstage infrastructure that could be seen in those vids could theoretically be used to harm the parks and that’s the last thing I’d want to happen. There are also a few others, like my two EPCOT 30th backstage tour vids, that I’ll keep locked down forever because apparently they’re just too incendiary, and might also get people in trouble.
Since “The Dark Side of Disney,” your company, Bamboo Forest Publishing, has released two books about former Disney cast members: Ron Schneider and Rolly Crump. How do you think the books would have been different if they were published by an official Disney publisher, like Hyperion Books?
They would have been whitewashed to death. All of the best stuff in those books, such as Ron’s criticism of the management of the company, or
Rolly’s warts-and-all portrayal of Walt, would never have made it past the Disney censors. They have a very strict and completely ludicrous historical narrative that they’re trying to propagate. They paint Walt as a saint instead of a real person and would have you believe that the Disney Company has never made a false move or bad decision. And if your book doesn’t completely adhere to that narrative, you’re not getting any support from them. We’ve seen this happen numerous times in recent years: Michael Barrier was refused access to the Disney Archives, Floyd Norman was forced to cut out a chapter about ageism from his book and the publication of Amid Amidi’s Ward Kimball biography was blocked altogether.
Moving forward, what’s next for you and Bamboo Forest?
Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive! People really seem to love the fiction books and they don’t get nearly as much hate as “The Dark
Side of Disney.” They also don’t sell as well, but that’s okay. I think they’re extremely entertaining. They also offer a creative and interesting outlet for the criticism of both the Disney Company and Disney fans in a way that wouldn’t really be possible to achieve with non-fiction.