Disney at the Movies – Day 10

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Wise Little Hen and Donald’s Cousin Gus
  2. Main Feature      Melody Time
  3. Live Action          The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin         

Melody Time (1948) owes much to Make Mine Music and the Silly Symphony series.  It is a collection of vignettes, each with a distinctive visual and musical style.  Disney engaged some of the most popular music artists of the time to perform the music and narration, most notably for me, The Andrew Sisters.  After the general release, the vignettes were frequently broadcast as individual shorts on television or repackaged with other material for home video.  The subjects are grounded in American folklore, contemporary and historic, but one segment, Blame it on the Samba, is more culturally diverse. This features our friend from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, Jose Carioca, teaching Donald Duck how to Samba.  While this isn’t the most groundbreaking Disney film, and admittedly the format is getting tired, the stories are gems that should have broad appeal for children and adults with a penchant for nostalgia.

Since Donald Duck is the biggest Disney star in the main feature, I thought it would be fun to infuse our cartoons with a heavy dose of “The Donald.” Donald Duck made his debut in a supporting role in The Wise Little Hen (1934).  This charming fable tells of a hen and her chicks who must plant corn.  It’s a big job so she entreats her neighbors Peter Pig and Donald Duck, self-proclaimed members of the Idle Hour Club, to assist. Peter and Donald feign belly aches to avoid work.  The wise Hen and her chicks are not daunted by their neighbors’ sloth and get to work planting and ultimately harvesting the corn.  The animators do an excellent job creating the plausible engineering process and tools used by the chicks to plant the crop. What a bountiful harvest it is, and the wise Hen wastes no time preparing corn on the cob, corn chowder and corn bread so vivid that you can almost taste it yourself.  The family enjoys the feast and exacts an appropriate revenge on Peter and Donald.  This is a delightful piece in its own right, but it will be forever remembered because it launched the career of Donald Duck, who rapidly moved from bit player to headline star. 

The next short will be Donald’s Cousin Gus (1939).  As Donald sits down to an impressive dinner, he is visited by his cousin Gus Goose who appears to be Harpo Marx in goose form. Gus presents a letter of introduction from Donald’s Aunt Fanny with an ironically prophetic postscript: “He don’t eat much.”  News flash:  he does.  With atypical graciousness, Donald welcomes Gus, who in the most delightfully passive aggressive way, proceeds to literally eat Donald out of house and home.  Note: this is not currently streaming on Disney+, but we’ve enjoyed it for years from The Chronological Donald Volume 1 1934-1941 dvd collection (which also contains The Wise Little Hen).

Both of these were cartoons of the Great Depression and give us a window into life during that time.  In the context of a global pandemic, they may very well resonate with more immediacy then in recent times.

Our live action feature today is The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967).  My first viewing of this gem was courtesy of Disney +, and I am most grateful to the new streaming service.  At the time of the California Gold Rush, young Jack Flagg flees to San Francisco to save his Boston Brahmin family that has fallen on hard economic times.  Griffin, the loyal family butler, catches up to Jack at Boston harbor to bring him home, but in the first of a series of delightful misadventures, Griffin and Jack inadvertently stowaway to the west coast.  Griffin (played to perfection by Roddy McDowall) is a butler extraordinaire, much in the tradition of P. G. Wodehouse’s marvelous Jeeves.  Griffin meets every obstacle with elegance, dignity, and a preternatural abundance of excellence that will eventually earn the nickname “Bullwhip,” true love, fame, and fortune.  There’s much to like in this film, a good story, fine acting, effective music, but I think what I like best is the care and affection rendered by the artists. George Bruns provides an excellent score and some quality songs written with the Sherman Brothers.  The theme song provides the framework and recurs from time to time to bring the audience along this picaresque adventure. The song is accompanied by outstanding graphics by Disney legend Ward Kimball. Kimball’s sequences firmly place us in the period and are suffused with charm and humor.  Together, song and sequence guide us through the film, like placards at a vaudeville show, or title cards at a silent movie.  Terry Gilliam of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame, would take this to the next level with his animations that connected the eclectic sketches in each episode.  I have no way of knowing if Gilliam is familiar with Bullwhip Griffin, but I’d like to think he enjoyed Ward Kimball’s work as much as I did.

I’ll share an observation for film nerds.  Early in the story, there is a scene where a portrait of the late patriarch of the Flagg family hovers, stern in judgement, over the family at the reading of his will.  His demeanor in the portrait changes during the scene, suggesting he was such a domineering figure in life, that his essence continues to be felt, even in death.  It’s an amusing conceit that establishes the whimsy of the film early on, but it also reminded me of the Coen brothers’ remake of The Lady Killers.  In that film, there is also a portrait of a stern patriarchal figure that looms over the characters, and throughout the film, his demeanor changes to suit the enfolding action.  As I am a film enthusiast and not a film scholar, I can’t say if this technique was used often or elsewhere, but I will say its application in The Lady Killers is astonishingly similar to Bullwhip Griffin and I’d like to think  a young Joel and Ethan Coen enjoyed this film as much as I did.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 10 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #meolodytime #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #thewiselittlehen #gusgoose #theadventuresofbullwhipgriffin #terrygilliam #thecoenbrothers


Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home September 29,2020

“One Hundred and One Dalmatians” – The Novel

IMG_7971dalmatians61 (2)photo: Martin Blanco


I first saw Disney’s 101 Dalmatians almost 29 years ago during my honeymoon and it has remained a sentimental favorite ever since. Followers of this blog (and you both know who you are) know I enjoy reading the original stories that inspired so many of the Disney movies that we love.  A few years ago, I came across the novel 101 Dalmatians on a give-away table at my local library. I snatched that “puppy” right up and read it during week four of sheltering at home. It is an endearing read that should delight any fan of the movie and most pre-middle school children.

The novel was written by Dodie Smith and originally published as a serial titled “The Great Dog Robbery” in Woman’s Day in 1956.  Smith was born in England in 1896 and died nearly one hundred years later in 1990.  She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but her career as an actor was as short-lived as it was undistinguished (much like mine).  She worked at a furniture story for a while, but then enjoyed a fair amount of success as a playwright.  During the Second World War, she and her husband lived in the United States and traveled cross country on several occasions with their dalmatians.

Both the original novel and the Disney film were successful.  The novel subsequently adopted the name 101 Dalmatians and was published by Camelot, a division of Avon, in 1967 with a second printing in 1969. This is the edition I have.  The Camelot/Avon edition comes with many delightful pen and ink drawings by Janet and Anne Grahme-Johnstone.  These drawings are an excellent enhancement.

The 1961 Disney film is faithful to the original story in both plot and tone, but there are some noteworthy variations.  Disney’s songwriter Roger was originally a “wizard of finance” named Mr. Dearly.  Dearly is credited with solving the national debt crisis and is rewarded by a grateful country with income tax abatement for life.  In the novel, Cruella de Vil is married.  Her wimpy husband is, not surprisingly, a furrier. The book has a few intriguing episodes that do not appear in the movie.  One is a little bit of a ghost story and another involves the joyful celebration of Christmas.

The lead character is the dalmatian Pongo, but he is married to Missis, not Perdita.  Rest assured there is a Perdita in the story who joins the family as a wet nurse to help feed Mississ’ litter of fifteen puppies. The name “Perdita” refers to a character from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Smith makes no bones about the reference.  In the novel, Mrs. Dearly explains to the nannies that the name Perdita is derived from the Latin word for lost.  Smith’s Perdita is sort of a rescue dog who experienced loss and her journey with the Dearlys is symbolically like that of Shakespeare’s Perdita.

The Baddun brothers, Cruella’s henchmen hired to kidnap and eventually murder the puppies, are named Horace and Saul (not Jasper).  As in the film, they are exceedingly dim and love television.   They are almost hoping to get caught so they can appear on the popular reality show of the day, What’s My Crime. Dodie Smith is nothing if not attuned to post-war pop culture.

And speaking of the war, the overriding spirit of the piece celebrates the tenacity, courage and patriotism exhibited by England during the war, particularly with respect to the evacuation of Dunkirk and the nightly endurance of the air raids during the Battle of Britain.  The Twilight Bark, the animal military regiments and the discipline (even that of the 97 puppies) are metaphor for the national virtues that secured Britain’s triumph over fascism.  Given our current circumstances, there is much we can learn from these splendid dogs, especially that love coupled with determination can triumph over evil.

101 Dalmatians comprises familiar elements that fill the pages of British novels from Austen to Tolkien.  The fields and pastures are lovely.  Homes are named and take on life of their own.  Dogs and humans alike cherish the simple blessings of a good fire, ample food, and hot tea. Essentially, the novel is comfort food for the entire family.

c. Martin Blanco and DISNEY AT HOME April 16, 2020


all drawings by Janet and Anne Grahme-Johnstone/photos by Martin Blanco

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The Kingdom Keepers

The Kingdom Keepers Series

            I love reading and Disney, and a great way to combine the two is reading the Kingdom Keepers series. This series is a fun way to keep the Magic of Disney alive at home. These books follow the story of five teens tasked with protecting the Disney magic from the notorious Overtakers who aim to take over the parks.











The Kingdom Keepers is a series of novels written by Ridley Pearson. The stories follow a group of five teens, Finn, Charlene, Philby, Maybeck, and Willa, in their quest to protect the Disney parks from the group of evil Disney villains known as the Overtakers. The Overtakers are determined on taking control of the Disney parks and ruining the magic for everyone. It all starts when these five teens are chosen to be interactive hologram hosts in the parks called DHI’s. But one night when Finn drifts off to sleep he appears In the middle of the Magic Kingdom at night. There he learns from an old imagineer and Disney legend named Wayne Kresky, that he and the other four hosts have been tasked with protecting the Disney parks form the overtakers.  At first he doesn’t believe that this is real, but soon learns that the he and the other four kids can cross over into the Disney parks at night in their hologram forms.

The others are at first reluctant but eventually realize that it is up to them to save the parks. Their adventures take them all around the Walt Disney World resort and even in Disneyland, and who knows what’s to come in the upcoming books. You can follow your favorite characters having many adventures in some of your favorite places all over Disney World and Disneyland.

These books are a great way to keep the Disney magic alive at home, and I would recommend reading them if you are looking for a good book.


Written by Matthew Blanco



Pick up and Read: Peter Pan

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Walt Disney released his animated film Peter Pan in 1953.  Already a beloved story with a variety of adaptations in print, on stage, and even on film, Disney’s take on this relatively young classic quickly earned a prominent place in the canon of Peter Pan lore.  Two years later, the movie was the inspiration for the Peter Pan’s Flight ride at Disneyland which was one of the few attractions that were operational on opening day. Sixty plus years later, the Disney film and theme park attraction remain as popular as ever.  We all know that on any given day, people will wait close to two hours in Fantasyland to take a ship ride in the midnight sky from London to Neverland.

There are new stories about Peter Pan being written. New movies and plays as well as revivals of old favorites are being produced.   There is a bus company that bears the name Peter Pan as well as a popular brand of peanut butter who’s marketing campaign equates our “belief” in peanut butter with the “belief” in Peter Pan.  We are culturally awash in Peter Pan, but how many of us have actually read it?  If you haven’t, put it on your list of family books to read.  I’m not suggesting you read any of  the editions adapted from the Disney film although that can be fun too.  Rather, I am suggesting that you read J.M. Barrie’s original, unabridged  story.

If you don’t already own a copy, your local library will have one or you can purchase one on a kindle device for less than five dollars.  Of particular interest to me is The Annotated Peter Pan – The Centennial Edition edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar and published by W. W. Norton and Company.  Any good annotated edition will have an abundance of notes which define antiquated terms, explain customs and allusions that would be unknown to us today, and discuss themes, style, and imagery.  This edition also has biographical information, a detailed history of the literary development of Peter Pan and beautiful illustrations from varied sources including all the pen and ink drawings rendered by F. D. Bedford for the original 1911 publication.  It retails for about $40, but I found three copies on sale at an independent bookstore for $10.  I purchased all three , gave one to my son, and gifted the others to friends who love Peter Pan.  You can probably find copies online for less than retail, but had I paid $39.95 for it, I would not have felt ill-used.

At the time of publication in 2011, editor Maria Tatar was teaching courses on literature and folklore at Harvard University where she had served as dean for the humanities.  In addition to the text and illustrations, Tatar meticulously chronicles Barrie’s development of Peter Pan from secondary character in a novel to lead player in his own story.  She notes that the character Peter Pan debuted in Barrie’s novel of 1902 The Little White Bird.  In this novel, Peter Pan is a seven day old boy who has a number of adventures in Kensington Gardens.  Those adventures were subsequently published separately in 1906 under the title Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

In between these offerings, Barrie wrote a play which premiered in 1904 called Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.  While the play enjoyed popular productions for years, it was not published until 1928.  Tatar notes that during that time, the script underwent many revisions by Barrie.  Happily, Peter Pan’s development did not end on the stage.  In 1911 Barrie published Peter and Wendy, which in time would be renamed Peter Pan. Ms. Tatar writes that many of his early scripts “are preserved in the J. M. Barrie archive at [Yale University’s] Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut where the bulk of Barrie’s papers are stored.”

After reading The Centennial Edition. . ., I had a little adventure of my own, which brought me very close, literally, to J. M. Barrie’s masterpiece. There is another part of the Peter Pan legacy that resides at Yale.  Before Barrie wrote any of the Peter Pan stories, he published a scrapbook of sorts chronicling the adventures he had one summer with Arthur Llewelyn Davies and his three sons.  In 1901, the Davies family was vacationing close to where Barrie and his wife were also on holiday.  Barrie was taking a break after toiling on a play called Quality Street, which was being produced in America by the great (if not infamous) theatre owner and producer Charles Frohman.

Barrie and the Llewelyn boys had numerous pretend “adventures” that summer which Barrie lovingly photographed.  These included a shipwreck, wicked pirates and tiger hunts.  These boyish frolics would eventually manifest in Barrie’s Neverland.  Meanwhile, Barrie’s scrapbook included a number of captioned photographs of their adventures.  He went on to publish two copies, crediting Llewelyn Davies’ son Peter with authorship, and himself only as a publisher.  Maria Tatar includes a reproduction of this book in  The Centennial Edition and writes that this work “offers us the first real glimpse of Peter Pan. With its lost boys and savage pirate captain, its protective dog watching over sleeping children, and its mysterious boy described as ‘the sly one, the chief figure, who draws farther and farther into the wood as we advance upon him’ it is the . . .book that gave birth to the boy who would not grow up.”

The full title of this book is The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, being a record of the terrible adventures of the brothers Davies in the Summer of 1901, faithfully set forth by Peter Llewelyn Davies.  One copy was given to Arthur Llewelyn Davies.  He claims to have lost it on a train.  The sole remaining copy resides in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

I live in Connecticut, not terribly far from New Haven.  About a year ago, I found myself in New Haven with a couple of hours to kill so I visited the Beinecke and asked if I could see The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island.  Anyone can view materials at the Beinecke. You need to have two forms of photo identification and you must leave coats, bags, folders, writing instruments and any object that might plausibly be used for theft or destruction, in a locker. Had I planned my visit, I could have registered online, but the librarians helped me do that onsite. Within ten minutes of my request, they brought me The Boy Castaways. . . .

The book is stored in an archival quality box. I was given the box, the book and three pieces of foam on which to rest the book. I was then invited to enter the Reading Room where I spent a half hour with this literary treasure.

The cover was a handsome deep maroon color.  One of the front papers had a note signed by J. M. Barrie himself: “There was one other copy of this book only and it was lost in a railway train in 1901. J M B 1933.”  The photos were in excellent condition and conveyed the sense of whimsical adventure of the Davies brothers that summer.  It was terribly exciting for me to hold and peruse this extraordinary relic from the world of Peter Pan.  It seemed so new even though it was fashioned five years before my grandmother was born. For a few brief minutes, I felt like I was part of the legacy of Peter Pan.

If you might be inclined to examine The Boy Castaways. . ., assorted ephemera related to Peter Pan or any of J. M. Barrie’s papers, the Beinecke Library will welcome you.  I should warn you though, that the Beinecke Library is closed for renovations until fall 2016.  Meanwhile, before you leave for your next trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, go read Peter Pan.

The Boy Castaways. . .

The Boy Castaways. . .

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notice the signature: J M B

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The Boy Castaways. . .at rest at the Beinecki Library at Yale University

The Boy Castaways. . .at rest at the Beinecke Library at Yale University

story and photos by Martin Blanco

September 2015

Reading the Disney Stories

One way we manage to keep the spirit of Disney World with us at home, is by reading the original stories that inspired the classic films, both animated and live action. Reading together remains a part of our regular family activities, and reading the original stories of beloved Disney films has been most rewarding. Reading these books has kept the joy of our vacations going strong at home, and has introduced the children to many classics of Western Literature at a tender age.
I studied  English and theatre with an emphasis on western dramatic literature (western as in European and American, not cowboys and cattle). From time to time I would encounter professors who were critical of the work of the Walt Disney Studios. Their chief complaint was that when Walt Disney adapts a story he fundamentally sacrifices literature for populist appeal. While I understand their point, I don’t embrace it. Animated film is not literature and a Disney film is not obliged to be a slave to its primary source. Walt Disney took great liberties with stories for populist appeal, but he also transformed them into distinctive works of art frequently with more lasting value than their source. By the way, William Shakespeare did the same thing; it is the nature of creative arts.
When people think of Snow White today, their first thought is of the Disney film. Snow White was first published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 in their famous book of fairy tales, and this anthology was itself a compendium of folk tales derived from the oral tradition. There is something about Snow White that has historically captured our imagination and before Disney made his landmark film, there were two silent films adapted from Grimms’ Snow White, one released in 1902 and another, which was beloved by Walt Disney himself, in 1916. There was also a sound version in 1933 featuring the cartoon character Betty Boop as Snow White. In 1912 there was a theatrical version produced on Broadway. This production marks the first time the dwarfs were given names: Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee.

The Disney film was a pioneering technical achievement for animated motion pictures. It is suffused with much artistry and has endured for more than 80 years as the definitive version. So if Walt Disney took liberties with the original story, the extensive artistry of the animation, the brilliant ingenuity in the process, and the compelling storytelling, more than compensates for the dilution of the literature.
There is another important consideration that some scholars and the general public ignore and one that has inspired me to write this post. After you see and presumably enjoy a Disney animated film, that experience is the gateway to further literary exploration. After seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs one is curious about the tale as told by the Brothers Grimm. After seeing Disney’s adaptation of The Jungle Book, one might be inspired to read Kipling’s The Jungle Book. After reading the original story, one might be inspired to read more of Kipling. This holds true for many of the classic Disney films and I invite you and your family to explore these works more deeply. I believe the journey will be rewarding.

-Martin Blanco

An old print from a Brothers Grimm edition of Snow White reprinted in The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar.

An old print from a Brothers Grimm edition of Snow White reprinted in The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar.

the Brothers Grim cover website photo

c. 2015