by Brady MacDonald | Release Date: May 21, 2016 | Availability: Kindle
Princess Tiana had her wish come true: directing a reality TV series starring the Disney princesses for ABC. But the cruel, catty, conniving princesses may be more than even she can handle, plus her relationship with bed-hopping Indiana Jones has hit the rocks, and Mickey wants ratings.
To salvage the disastrous premiere of her reality TV series, Real Princesses of Disneyland, Tiana decides to hold a bruising, anything goes competition among the princesses for the title of Queen of Disneyland. In cahoots with Mickey and his bitter rival, Sheriff Woody, Tiana stacks the deck and plays her favorites.
But then it all starts to go wrong, as the princesses take turns seducing Indy, the Marvel characters hold an orgy, and the increasingly violent competition puts guests in danger. Tiana has to keep her ratings high—and win back Indy's love—in time for the series finale of Real Princesses of Disneyland.
When the guests go home, all your favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters come alive as their true bawdy, lusty, treacherous selves in a nightly tale of adventure, romance, betrayal, and power politics.
Operation Death Star is the first volume in the Backstage Disneyland series, written by award-winning Los Angeles Time reporter and theme park blogger Brady MacDonald.
Chapter 1: Pilot Episode
Chapter 2: Riverboat Casino
Chapter 3: Jungle Cruise
Chapter 4: Walk of Shame
Chapter 5: Popularity Contest
Chapter 6: House of the Future
Chapter 7: Pixar World
Chapter 8: Obstacle Course
Chapter 9: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
Chapter 10: Dirty Jobs
Chapter 11: Marvel Mixer
Chapter 12: Mad T Party
Chapter 13: Tea for Two
Chapter 14: Debutante Ball
Chapter 15: Blue Bayou
Chapter 16: Tunnel of Love
Chapter 17: Last Dance
Chapter 18: Adventureland Trading Company
Chapter 19: Tiki Bar
Chapter 20: Fantasmic Finale
Chapter 21: Happily Ever After
Book One: Operation Death Star
Brady MacDonald is a senior producer for latimes.com, the website of the Los Angeles Times, working on home page production, special projects, and site design. He writes the Funland theme park blog for the Times’ Travel section, covering the latest trends and newest rides at major parks around the world.
The premiere of Tiana's reality TV series about the Disney princesses is a bomb. Executive producer Mickey Mouse isn't happy. How can Tiana turn her cast of catty princesses into ratings gold?
Princess Tiana quietly fumes at the back of the darkened room amid the blue glow of a giant screen showing the pilot episode of Real Princesses of Disneyland.
After weeks of tirelessly working on the reality TV show, Tiana knows the unflinching and unflattering truth: RPOD is horrendous. Quite possibly the worst show ever produced for television. And her name is at the top of the credits.
The Disneyland princesses will be laughingstocks. The brand permanently tarnished. And it will all be her fault.
Tiana is not alone in her malaise. The assembled princesses in the lavish living room of their basement lounge beneath Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle have been following the real-time reaction on social media. And it’s been ugly. Uglier than the Old Hag.
“Men are always fawning over you,” Aurora says up on the big screen as if reading stiffly from a script.
“You should talk,” says Ariel, in an equally forced fashion. “You’re always on Tinder.”
“I’m sure you have more suitors than I do,” Aurora replies.
“How dare you,” says Ariel, tossing a glass of wine in Aurora’s face.
The only thing remarkable about the unremarkably bad show is the setting. It’s a bit surreal to be screening the pilot of the new ABC reality show in the very room where it was filmed.
The Disney princesses lounge in the royal sitting room is designed in the elaborately ornamental baroque style. Royal blue drapes add warmth and coziness to the stone walls of the windowless subterranean room. A hand-woven tapestry depicting all the princesses in their regal finery hangs above an ostentatious fireplace with a crackling fire.
The pitch to the ABC executives was simple and enticing: a fly-on-the-wall documentary-style show starring the Disney princesses as you’ve never seen them before in their secret backstage world at Disneyland. The idea was to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the “real” Disney princesses after they stepped off stage and out of character at the Anaheim theme park. But the show is guilty of the worst sin in television: it’s boring.
The assembled princesses shift uncomfortably in the darkened room, each dressed casually in her own signature colors. It’s clear from their body language that the show is not working. In every scene of the dreadful show, the princesses desperately try to mimic the manufactured drama and stage-directed problems of celebrity reality shows. All Tiana ever wanted was to show the real women behind the fictional characters. And she failed. Miserably.
Tiana’s favorite scene comes on the screen. The princesses take turns slapping Indiana Jones across the face, punching him in the gut, and kicking him while he’s down. The rakish rogue deserves every blow. He’s slept with almost every princess at Disneyland and left a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Nevertheless, Tiana loves Indy and never wants the scoundrel to change. She leans over and gives Indy a kiss on the cheek, the handsome heartthrob sitting supportively next to her on a chaise lounge at the back of the beautifully appointed room.
From her vantage point, Tiana sees a host of familiar silhouettes against the bright movie screen set up at the front of the sitting room. The retractable glass dome of Buzz Lightyear tilting against the flowing tresses of Ariel. The tricorn hat and dreadlocks of Captain Jack Sparrow whispering in the ear of Aurora. And the perfectly round ears of Mickey Mouse puffing on a cigar with a glowing-red ash.
Up on the big screen, Jasmine jumps on Rapunzel and pulls her hair as they roll around on a royal blue carpeted floor. Naturally, the cat fight involves Indy. It turns out the two princesses dated the archaeologist turned adventurer at the same time, each without the other’s knowledge.
Tiana’s smart phone silently vibrates as a block of commercials roll near the end of the pilot episode. She recognizes the caller and slips into a spiral staircase leading up to the ground floor to avoid disturbing the screening. Sitting on the cold stone steps in the pitch black, she steels herself for the news she’s been dreading for the last hour. It’s even worse than she thought.
The credits roll on the pilot episode of Real Princesses of Disneyland and the lights flicker on to a smattering of polite but unenthusiastic applause. Tiana hangs up on the ABC television executive, pockets her phone, and steps to the front of the room. Dressed casually, she looks radiant in a Disneybounding green blouse with a frog brooch, skin-tight purple jeans, and sparkling gold flats.
Before her, ten Disney princesses sit next to their dates and boyfriends on fainting couches and scrolled-end recamiers. A roomful of angry eyes burn like lasers aimed directly at Tiana.
“Well,” Tiana says. “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news.”
“Please tell us the good news is nobody watched this retched pile of garbage,” Cinderella says. The old school play-by-the-rules kind of girl is always worried about what other people think.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my entire life,” Mulan says. The most proper and prim of the princesses sits on a low divan daybed next to tough-as-nails Pocahontas, who always backs up her BFF. “You made us look like idiots,” Pocahontas says.
Merida, one of the newest and boldest of the princesses, saddles up next to Indy at the back of the room and whispers in his ear. Tiana trusts Indy more than any woman should, although he’s a little too receptive to the obvious flirting.
“The good news is Real Princesses of Disneyland drew the highest ratings ever for a television pilot,” Tiana says.
“They loved us,” says a giddy Rapunzel, her lengthy locks piled so high atop her head that her hair is taller than she is.
“They loved me kicking your butt,” says Jasmine, Daddy’s little girl always ready and looking for a fight.
Merida places Indy’s fedora on her own head and runs her fingers through his hair. Tiana avoids the distraction, confident in Indy’s unconditional love.
“The bad news is the show was a complete flop,” Tiana says.
“We’re getting butchered on social media,” says Belle, scanning her smartphone. “#RPOD is trending and not in a good way.”
“And whose fault is that?” yells an angry and exasperated Aurora.
“We told you this wouldn’t work,” shouts Ariel, brimming with all the saccharine spite of a stuck-up cheerleader.
Merida is now sitting in Indy’s lap, shamelessly throwing herself at Tiana’s man. Indy smiles at Tiana and helplessly shrugs his shoulders. What can he do? Every woman wants him.
“It gets worse,” Tiana says to a chorus of groans. “The network is going to cancel us if we don’t completely change the show.”
The room bursts into a cacophony of bitterness and dissension. All directed at Tiana. As creator and director of RPOD, Tiana ultimately bears responsibility for the success or failure of the show.
“Now hold on,” Snow White hollers above the crowd, bringing the uproarious racket to a noisy din. “We can’t take all our frustrations and disappointments out on Tiana.”
What would Tiana do without Snow? They understand each other so well. Snow often knows what’s best for Tiana even before Tiana does. The first Disney princess is always a font of sage advice on matters of the mind and the heart.
Mickey Mouse rises from his seat, strides to the front of the room with the calmness and confidence of a Mafia boss, and stands next to Tiana. He takes a deep drag on his cigar and exhales. The heavy acidic cloud looming over the crowd quiets the room. Ultimately, as executive producer of Real Princesses, the buck stops with the Mouse.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” says Mickey, in a deep voice the polar opposite of his on-stage squeak. “We’re going to tweak the format a bit and turn it into a competition show with a Disney twist. And the winner will be crowned Queen of Disneyland.”
A collective cheer goes up in the royal sitting room, proving that every princess shares the same desire: to be a queen.
Continued in "Real Princesses of Disneyland"!
The Mark Twain riverboat is rocking as off-the-clock characters gather to drink, dance, and party. But Tiana's mood doesn't match the good times, as her relationship with Indiana Jones is in trouble and Mickey still wants ratings.
Princess Tiana emerges from the castle basement with Snow White into the after-hours bustle of the graveyard shift polishing and buffing Disneyland to a fine sheen.
Electricians on a scissor-lift inspect the sparkling lights adorning the parapet of Sleeping Beauty Castle. A maintenance man in hip waders trudges through the moat unclogging the drains beneath the knee-high water. Gardeners replace the flowers encircling the central hub with new seasonal colors.
“Are you and Indy doing anything tonight?” Snow asks.
“Doesn’t look like it,” says Tiana, tilting her smartphone toward Snow.
The text message from Mickey Mouse makes Tiana think she’ll be working late into the evening: We need to talk. A slot machine emoji indicates where Mickey wants to meet.
Hopefully, Mickey has some ideas about how to turn Real Princesses of Disneyland into a competition. Tiana sure doesn’t. She would hate for the show to be canceled after only one episode.
“Indy and you have been going out for a while now,” Snow says.
“I guess,” says Tiana, her train of thought elsewhere. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”
Snow and Tiana always talk about everything: relationships, crushes, heartbreaks. There are no secrets between them. But Snow is up to something. And whatever it is, there’s no stopping her once she sets her mind to it.
Crossing over the rough-hewn timber bridge, the princesses pass through the log fort gates under the Frontierland arch. Cast members restock the shelves inside the Westward Ho Trading Company souvenir shop. Off in the distance, the steam-powered Mark Twain paddle-wheeler riverboat glows at its berth on the Rivers of America.
Tiana’s mind is racing. What kind of competitions does Mickey want? How is this even going to work? Is her directing career over before it even starts?
“Do you think Indy’s the one?” Snow asks.
“The one for what?” Tiana asks, getting a little perturbed now.
“You know,” says Snow, her casual banter far too forced. “Settle down, start a family.”
“That’s never going to happen,” says Tiana.
“Why not?” asks Snow.
“For starters, Disney would never allow it,” Tiana says. “Besides that, the fans would freak out.”
She’s certainly asking a lot of questions about Indy tonight. Snow never felt that strongly about Indy when she was dating him. Tiana spent many nights convincing Snow that Indy wasn’t cheating on her, despite all the women throwing themselves at him.
Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” blasts from the Golden Horseshoe Saloon. By night, the Horseshoe becomes a burlesque strip club staffed by moonlighting Marvel superheroines. Black Widow, Storm, and Elektra stand atop the balcony over the Horseshoe entrance beckoning passers by to come inside. The Big Bad Wolf and Pinocchio step through the swinging doors to the club followed by Stitch and Quasimodo.
“Disney can’t tell you who you can love,” Snow says.
“Who said anything about love?” Tiana asks.
“You don’t love Indy?”
“Of course I do,” Tiana says.
“Don’t you think he loves you?”
“He says he does, but I’m sure he says that to everyone he’s with.”
“Not everyone,” Snow says.
Tiana and Snow step from the dock onto the Mark Twain, which has been transformed into a bustling riverboat casino. The Genie, C3PO, and Goofy play slots on the lower deck as cast members deliver cocktails to other Disney characters at the one-arm bandits. Prince Philip and Olaf the Snowman sit in a quiet, dark corner sipping appletinis.
Tiana weaves her way through the slot machines, her mind on the show’s logistics. Where are we going to hold the competitions? How are we going to get permission to shoot in the park? Are the princesses ever going to buy into the concept?
“I just think if you love each other, you should be together forever,” says Snow, following Tiana up the flight of stairs.
“I like things the way they are now,” Tiana says over her shoulder. “I don’t want anything to change.”
Casino tables dominate the riverboat’s middle deck with cast members dealing to Disney characters. The Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Alice in Wonderland celebrate Winnie the Pooh’s winning draw at the blackjack table. Over at the roulette wheel, Captain Hook and Dr. Facilier cheer Wreck It Ralph’s decision to let it all ride on red. The Queen of Hearts and the Evil Queen place their bets at the craps table as Elsa prepares to roll the dice.
“Have you seen the mouse?” Tiana asks Grumpy, who is sitting at the poker table with the other dwarfs.
“He’s up in the sports book,” Doc says without taking his eyes off the game.
Up on the top deck, a cluster of Disney characters wave money at a big board bearing the names of the princesses and their odds of winning Real Princesses of Disneyland. Roger Rabbit stands atop a long bar collecting bets as Peter Pan flies about adjusting the ever-changing odds on the big board. Cinderella, Aurora, and Belle lead all the princesses with Merida, Mulan, and Pocahontas dwelling near the bottom.
It’s not hard to find Mickey Mouse. The big ears give him away. That and his towering wing man, Darth Vader.
“Should I be worried or terrified?” Tiana asks.
Mickey throws his arm around Tiana’s shoulders, exhales his cigar, and takes a swig from his whiskey, neat. Tiana can’t imagine a better executive producer of Real Princesses of Disneyland. He’s afraid of nothing and can make anything happen in the park. What Mickey wants, Mickey gets.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” Mickey says.
Captain Jack Sparrow and Aladdin furiously fill out their betting sheets as Gaston shoves his wager into Roger’s yellow-gloved hand. They don’t even know what they’re betting on, but the fever continues to grow as the frenzy intensifies.
“How’s this going to work?” Tiana asks.
“We’ll film the events in the park,” Mickey explains. “And let the fans cheer on their favorite princesses.”
Snow peels away from the conversation, clearly in search of someone or something. The excitement and anticipation of the crowd is infectious, taking some of the weight off Tiana’s shoulders. At the end of the long bar, Esmeralda and the Beast sit together lost in conversation and oblivious to the commotion around them.
“But we’ve already got half the season recorded,” Tiana says. “And the second episode is scheduled to air tomorrow night.”
Mickey snags a cocktail off the serving tray of a passing waitress and hands it to Tiana: “Then you better get started.”
Mickey places his trifecta bet on Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida, and the big board immediately changes. The other Disney characters follow the Big Cheese and jump on the bandwagon. Across the boisterous crowd, Snow White chats with Indiana Jones.
“What are we going to do for competitions?” Tiana asks.
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” Mickey says with a big grin.
Continued in "Real Princesses of Disneyland"!