CHIHULY: Glass Flowers Reminiscent of Pandora


While we’re home in Connecticut, my family and I are always on the lookout for nearby locations where the innovative spirit of Disney is at work. Living near New York City, we are fortunate that such locations are in abundance. One such location, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), is enhanced with its current exhibit – CHIHULY. Artist Dale Chihuly constructs fanciful glass structures in a variety of vibrant colors. His pieces have been displayed around the world, including at several botanical gardens. This current exhibit displays pieces made specifically for the Botanical Garden, as well as some of his early works, paper designs, and a few comparatively small pieces for sale (at a hefty price) in the gift shop. The way these pieces marry technology and nature to create immersive art experiences is not only in line with the mission of the Disney parks – it is the sort of creative enterprise that Walt himself would have drawn from.

This experience brought to mind two Disney experiences in particular. EPCOT’s flower and garden show brings Future World to life with a variety of flora and related exhibits that explore innovative growing techniques, enticing visual displays, and creative recipes. This celebration of plant life and its relation to our daily lives is celebrated in a similar manner at NYBG’s CHIHULY exhibit. But even more strikingly, Disney’s new Animal Kingdom land, Pandora, features bioluminescent plants of fantasy interspersed with natural flora. It’d virtually impossible not to spot a strong resemblance to the two – Pandoran plants and Chihuly’s creations twist and undulate in creative ways that suggest life and motion, and both exhibits challenged the line between nature and human creation. Ultimately, I think the exhibits best speak for themselves:



IMG_5405 (1)
















IMG_5377 (2)


IMG_5375 (2)




by Kathryn Blanco

Photo Credit: Kathryn Blanco

Candy Around the World

candy around the world 2

Much as I believe the spirit of Disney is the best souvenir, physical remnants, too, can be helpful, especially when they contribute to an experience. We decided to take the “eat around the world” tradition of EPCOT home by gathering a sampling of unique candy from each country, nation by nation. Fair warning: we may have waited a bit too long after returning home to enjoy these treats, and this combined with the several changes in temperature the candy endured on the journey caused the chocolate-based treats to lose a great deal of texture and flavor. We do intend to carry out this little experiment again (what a sacrifice!), but in the meantime, here you go: our candy-around-the-world-at-home experience!

We started out with China, figuring we’d work our way around to the more familiar desserts. The Choco-Rolls, which I would describe as a cylindrical white-chocolate Kit-Kat, were a huge hit. From Japan, we enjoyed the banana-flavored Hi-Chews (though from past experience I prefer green apple), which are a bit like gum except that they melt in the mouth. The colorful, round sucking candies with little flowers in the middle of them, whose label we couldn’t read, were sweet but had no flavor. One of the drinks, which again we couldn’t identify, was similar – it tasted like a generic sweet soda but had no particular flavor. The matcha love, on the other hand, had plenty of flavor – I described it as string bean water with an aftertaste of green tea, my friend described it as string bean water with an aftertaste of string bean water. I’ll just chalk that one up to our unsophisticated palates, though.

From Morocco we sampled the Turkish Delight, something I’ve always enjoyed eating ever since seeing Disney’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (this is the treat Edmund requests from the White Witch). This box, from the Galil company, came in surprisingly powerful flavors of rose, mint, and lemon. From the UK, we sampled wine gums, which were tasty enough but I can’t attest to how accurate the flavors were, for obvious reasons. The Ripple bar probably would have been delicious, if it hadn’t been flattened, melted, and refrozen in transit. The only unique candy we could find from Canada was a maple lollipop, the taste of which we were all familiar with. We also tried Italian amoretti cookies – light, crunchy, almond-flavored biscuits wrapped in colorful paper. There were tiny chocolates wrapped with the colors of the Italian flag as well, but these chocolates, too, underwent abuse over time that made them inedible. The same went for the Toffifay from Germany, though the caramel and hazelnut layers of these round treats were still tasty. We also tried some classic Werther’s caramel ($0.10 each!) which were, of course, delicious. In Norway we picked up Troika, layers of marshmallow and jam coated in chocolate. It was decent, and a favorite of my dad’s, but not to my taste since I don’t always enjoy fruit-chocolate combos. The Daim, a crunchy bar of caramel coated in chocolate, was a bit squished but still enjoyable. The caramel, salty and crispy, tasted more like toffee to me than caramel.

In France, we were surprised by the sparse selection of candy, since the pavilion focused heavily on baked goods instead. We did taste a honey-nut nougat bar, which was, once again, squished but enjoyable. Finally, in Mexico, we tried out several unique treats. Pulparindo, the spicy, salty tamarind paste, was a bit of a rude awakening, but not necessarily bad. It seemed to be one of those foods that’s an acquired taste. The same goes for the Gloria’s goat milk pecan candies, though these were less jarring. The bar of cinnamon dark chocolate did not, unfortunately, remain fresh or particularly appetizing, so we took a pass on that one, but the coconut roll was uncomplicated and tasty.

There you have it! The Choco-Roll was the best find of this haul, but I’m excited to try the Toffifay and Turkish Delight again – and, of course, to sample some new candies from around the EPCOT world. Though we transported treats from Disney for this particular activity, it’s perfectly possible to collect interesting desserts like these by scouring supermarkets and local ethnic groceries. We might just try compiling our own candy around the world next time, and I encourage you to do the same! Although it’s a simple thing, I feel that getting a taste of day-to-day life in foreign countries is an important part of learning about other cultures, and very much in the spirit of exploration that EPCOT fosters.

A Game of Adventure


My wife and I started playing board games with our children when they were very young.  Almost 18 years later, the games may have changed, but we still enjoy this family pastime.  Playing board games is fun and that’s reward enough, but it also serves other purposes. Board games cultivate social skills. They teach you how to compete, how to accept disappointment with grace, how to concentrate, how to strategize, and even how to count.

Since the early days of Mickey Mouse, the Walt Disney Company has been creating toys and games. When I was a young, I had an abundance of Disney toys and my wife and I made sure to provide plenty for our children. During this time, eBay emerged as an easy platform to shop for a wide variety of items.  It was through eBay that I discovered the world of Disneyanna, a name broadly given to all manners of Disney-themed merchandise.  If I could purchase something made in America, I would.  If I could purchase something of an antique variety that still has a practical use, I would.  So began my hunt for vintage Disney board games and record albums.  No longer confined to tag sales and thrift stores, I had access to Disney memorabilia from all over the country if not the world, and I found a lot of interesting things which I will write about in time.

One day I discovered Disney’s Adventureland Game.  This board game was produced by  the famous Parker Brothers game company.  Created in 1956, it was obviously inspired by The Jungle Cruise attraction in Disneyland.  At the time I discovered the game, we had been to Disney World two or three times and had plenty of free time at home (those days are long gone). We read, we played with toys and we played board games. Playing board games themed to Disney World attractions was an exciting proposition.

The conceit of the game is you are on a boat trip in the rivers of Adventureland, which for all intents and purposes means The Jungle Cruise attraction. While cruising the rivers you are assigned to take three photographs of the animals or landscapes you may encounter.  The first person to successfully take their assigned photos and return to the dock wins. There is no skill involved; it is based purely on luck.  Its appeal lies in your willingness to pretend that you are on a real expedition.  This is very easy for children to do, particularly if the adult sets the example.


I handily won the eBay bid for the board game which cost only a few dollars plus shipping.  There was a good reason why no one but me seemed to be interested in this item.  While the board was in excellent condition, it was missing all the game tokens and some of the cards, and the spinner was broken.  But I didn’t care – I wanted, no, needed, to have this vintage board game.

The missing tokens were tiny boats similar to the ones on the Jungle Cruise.  I looked for those tokens on eBay, as well as anything resembling a tiny boat.  No luck.  I did find a collection of metal Disney character figures for sale from a Disney themed Monopoly game.  For $1 I had tokens and even if I would have preferred the boats, the children were delighted with the Disney characters.  I tried to repair the spinner, but to no avail.  Easy fix, I used a die.


The last challenge was to replace the missing cards.  The game is supposed to include two sets of 12 cards, colored white and pink.  Each card contained an image of animals or landscapes you might encounter on the river.  For every white card there is a corresponding pink card.  The players are dealt three pink cards at the beginning of the game, and the object is to “take a photo” of each assigned image by matching it to the corresponding white card.  You have the opportunity to take a photo when you land on a space with the image of a camera. At the time you would draw a card from the white pile.  It it matches one of your pink cards, it is considered that you have successfully taken on of your assigned photographs.  Unfortunately, the game was missing two pairs of cards.  I suppose we could have played the game anyway, but I got inspired.  That summer, our local supermarket was selling plums from a purveyor called Flavor Safari.  On each plum was a detailed color painting of a wild animal. Well, I bought some plums and some pink and white card stock and made two more sets of pictures.  We were ready to go.

The game was an instant hit.  It was so much fun to pretend you were on an authentic adventure tasked with photographing exotic subjects.  I remember watching the children trying to correctly move their tokens.  The counting was messy, but in a relatively short time, they learned how to accurately move their tokens on the board to the corresponding number on the die.

Two or three years after I purchased the game through eBay, Disney re-released it with several other board games from that era.  I could have purchased a brand new Adventureland game with a working spinner, the authentic boat tokens, and a complete set of cards, but our repaired version with the home made touches had its own charm.  We still have the game and several others from that time.  For many years, it brought us hours of fun. I think after I finish writing this, we’ll play a round or two for old time’s sake.  In the background, we’ll listen to  The Jungle Cruise souvenir record album narrated by the inimitable Thurl Ravenscroft and, for half an hour, it will feel like we are in Disney World. DSCN7491

– by Martin Blanco

Photo credit: Kathryn Blanco

Pete’s Dragon

Pete's DragonPhoto Property of the Disney Company,  

Beginning with the 2015 live-action Cinderella, Disney has started releasing remakes of its oldies-but-goodies. With Pete’s Dragon, Disney departed from the technique they’ve employed so far of adapting animated movies as live action and instead simply replaced the animated dragon in the mostly live action movie with a computer generated creation. Pete’s Dragon was an interesting choice for a remake since it lacks the “classic” status Cinderella and The Jungle Book enjoy. That said, the movie did garner some attention in its day, particularly for its score, and Disney has adapted the plot to incorporate a timely message about caring for the earth and all its living creatures.

Pete’s Dragon (in both versions) follows the story of a boy named Pete and his protective, misunderstood, invisible, flying, fire-breathing dragon-friend, Elliot. Aside from that basic backbone, every other aspect of the film was changed (and, in my opinion, improved). Instead of a musical set in a turn-of-the-century, backwater fishing town, the new version follows the story of nuanced characters in a logging town dealing with an extraordinary situation. With strong acting and surprisingly seamless incorporation of the computer-generated Elliot, the new Pete’s Dragon is a decent film. I can’t say it was groundbreaking in any way, or even that I would go out of my way to see it again, but it was a sweet experience. I would recommend it for families with young kids or for devoted Disney fans, especially those who remember the release of the original. The aspect I found most fascinating was that the creators chose to set the film in the same era the original film was released – that is, the late 70s to early 80s. The nostalgic setting made the movie more appealing even for me – I imagine it would impact fans who grew up in that era even more so. Being able to see a Disney film at our local theater is always a treat, so I’m grateful for the film’s release and for the reminder that caring for the environment is another great way to keep the spirit of Disney alive at home.

Kathryn Blanco

Tarzan, Past and Present

main Tarzan pic.JPG

The majority of Disney movies are based on classic tales. These sanitized, Disney-fied animations have become the ultimate version of many fairy tale stories and, as such, have drawn criticism for erasing the originals from the minds of generations of children. But I feel they cultivate interest in stories which children would otherwise never have access to. Yes, the Disney stories are vastly different than the tales they are based on – to be fair, many of the stories as we know them today had already evolved through oral tradition. Disney, the most modern incarnation, brings its own contributions to the table – innovative art and animation techniques, moving music, and unequivocally happy endings. That’s not to say the old stories should be ignored or their darker components completely forgotten. Both versions serve their purpose, and an interesting way to experience these stories is to see them from both perspectives – so I have embarked on a literary journey. I will read the original stories on which the Disney movies were based.

I’ve started with the Tarzan books. That’s right – books, plural. The story of Tarzan was not the subject of one novel. In fact, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote 24 Tarzan books in total. In the interest of time, I decided to stick to the first two novels, Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan, which, as far as I can tell, form a complete story arc from which Tarzan’s other adventures stem. While Borough’s prose is not exactly artful, he effectively weaves a compelling adventure story that must have been especially dazzling to his early 20th century readers. A modern audience cannot ignore the glaring scientific inaccuracies or racist and sexist commentary. However, the observations Burroughs makes through the lens of a man who grew up outside of society and is more perplexed by the behavior of the “civilized white man” than what those men would call “savages” is somewhat progressive for his time in that it rejects the concept of colonization as an inherent good. With the time period in mind it’s perfectly possible to delight in Tarzan’s many adventures.

Interestingly enough, in the original story, it is Tarzan who teaches himself to read and write using the books his dead parents left behind. He educates himself to some extent about the human world long before Jane and Professor Porter ever set foot on the island. The novel spends much more time on Tarzan’s early life, starting when his parents were marooned before his birth and focusing on his path to respect among his primate family. When he does meet Jane, the complications of a sophisticated American (unlike in the Disney film) woman having a relationship with an orphaned jungle wild man whose origins are a mystery are not glossed over. A love triangle does develop between Tarzan, Jane, and Clayton – who, although an obstacle to Tarzan’s desires, is not in fact a villain – and the unusual circumstances of Tarzan’s very existence complicate this.

The second novel, which details Tarzan’s adventures in the “civilized” world after Jane’s reluctant rejection, covers an even wider range of topics. Our hero duels a jealous husband, has multiple run ins with a pair of Russian spies, goes undercover in the Middle East for the French government, is captured by and rescued from a nomadic Arabian people, joins an African tribe, and infiltrates a golden city run by vicious human-ape hybrids – multiple times. Not to mention several nearly romantic encounters with beautiful women and quite a lot of unarmed lion killing. Meanwhile, Jane’s story is not forgotten and intertwines in complicated, unexpected ways with Tarzan’s adventures.

As with most of their films, Disney took the basic premise of the Tarzan stories and ran with it, simplifying the plot to fit neatly into 88 minutes and an inspiring message of self-discovery. A soundtrack was added, sidekicks developed, and a couple of nasty raw-flesh eating scenes removed. Although these changes fundamentally altered the nature of the story, without them the movie never would have appealed to a modern audience and I never would have thought to explore an early 20th century adventure series that turned out to be surprisingly rewarding.

– by Kathryn Blanco