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

Welcome to the Blanco family! The four of us are Disney people through and through, but, living in Connecticut, we unfortunately can’t be at the parks all the time. When we find ourselves driving back north after a magical Disney World vacation, we renew our commitment to keeping the spirit of Disney World alive at home. This can be done through obvious touches, like preparing favorite Disney dishes or watching classic Disney movies, but the most important component is more abstract. This goes beyond the Disney characters and parks themselves – the secret to Disney world is a balance of science, business, and art that creates immersive entertainment. Walt Disney, with the help of his more pragmatic brother, Roy, and a number of talented animators and Imagineers, brought his dream world to life. He created a place where music is always playing, flowers are always blooming, and people celebrate every day. At home, we apply the inspiration and adventurous spirit that we find in the Disney parks to the “real world,” add beauty to everyday things, and remember to always, always, keep dreaming and doing. Join us on our mission to continue to keep those values alive outside of the parks!

My name is Martin and I started this project with my children Kathryn and Matt as an extension of our annual trips to the Walt Disney World Resort. My wife is a physician which has afforded me the privilege of being a full time stay at home parent for 17 years.  Prior to that, I worked in the performing arts.  I will soon be returning to full time work as a high school English and Theatre teacher.  We have been privileged to enjoy at least one Disney trip a year during this time. We love going and hate leaving, but we try to bring the joy of these trips back home to sustain us between visits.  This blog is an outgrowth of this aspiration.

Hello! My name is Kathryn, I’m seventeen years old, and I have been to Disney World too many times to count. At home I loves to read, write, and attempt to draw. To me, the most wonderful part of a Disney vacation is the joy that simply being there, even without riding a single ride, brings. My favorite way to combine Disney life and home life is remembering to be excited about the world, whether it’s science, music, history, or foreign culture.

My name is Matthew. I love drawing and cooking. I play soccer and baseball for my school. My favorite place to be is in Disney enjoying a nice vacation with my family. I love everything about the parks and they are like a second home to me. I hate leaving but when I come home I try to preserve the Disney aura as best I can. And I want to share ways to do this for other people as well.

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

Finding Dory…and Maybe a New Favorite


It’s here! It’s here! It’s…what’s here again? Finding Dory, of course, after nearly 13 years of anticipation, finally hit the theaters! It’s become an early summer tradition for my family and some of our closest Disney-loving friends to go out to the new Pixar movie at our local theater the night before the posted release date, so we bought ourselves some (perhaps too much) popcorn and settled into the cushy movie theater seats to watch Disney’s newest release. This ritual offers an opportunity to connect with friends and bounce our thoughts off of one another in regards to the new film. This year, the bar had been set incredibly high by the beloved Finding Nemo, and I was bracing myself for disappointment. My biggest fear was that this movie would be pleasant, but nothing more than a continuation of Finding Nemo, or a reiteration of the same scenes the other way around. Pixar managed to avoid this problem by giving this story a different message. Marlin did have to learn all over again about the benefits of loosening up, but the story focused on Dory and her very real struggle to cope with an affliction. In order for this to happen, Dory had to move beyond her original role as a source of comic relief. Pixar developed her character by building a touching backstory and putting Dory in situations where she was forced to rely on her own resourcefulness. The new cast of characters she encounters along the way are engaging as well. They emphasize both the importance of a strong support network in times of difficulty and the value of the kindness of strangers. And since an especially attractive part of Finding Nemo was the gorgeous representation of the ocean life, I was glad that Pixar maintained this high quality animation style throughout their new story.

But if it seemed a daunting feat for two clownfish to be reunited in the wide waters off Australia in Finding Nemo, the sequel pushes the limits of the imagination. The fish travel farther than before, but the bulk of the distance is covered by only minute or two in the film. Once they arrive at the main setting, the Marine Biology Institute of California, a whole lot of land-jumping and suspiciously effective camouflage effects allow for the story to take place largely out of the ocean. Meanwhile, the challenges facing our fine fish friends become so insurmountable that they are forced to drastic measures, only to face an even bigger challenge, resulting in numerous false endings. One truck scene in particular – you’ll know it when you see it – destroys any plausibility the story might have had. And yet, more than anything, the animators seemed to be having fun with the story, and that kind of silly joy is infectious. I had a tremendous amount of fun watching it, as did the rest of the audience, as evidenced by the enthusiastic round of applause unleashed when the credits started to roll. I’m more than satisfied with this most recent Pixar adventure, and can’t wait until the next one hits the theaters.

Fantasia at the New York Philharmonic

1145_NYP_FANTASIA_2520x936 (2)Technical difficulties and busy lives kept us from posting for awhile.  We are back just in time for a special Disney event.  Tonight we’re off to Lincoln Center to watch scenes from Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 accompanied by a live performance of the music by the New York Philharmonic.    We’ll write a “review” or at least our thoughts on the overall experience when we return.

Two years ago we attended a similar event.  The NY Philharmonic featured highlights from PIXAR films accompanied by live music performed  by the Orchestra.  Of course we enjoyed the clips, but listening to the music performed live was a great treat, particularly since the live orchestra infused the music with a richness that you don’t get from a recording.   It didn’t hurt having the music performed by an elite ensemble either.

Fans of PIXAR know how distinctive each of their films are.  The different styles of the films naturally required  music that reflected these differences.  If memory serves correctly, they showed the opening sequence from Up which functions beautifully as a complete silent movie unto itself.  The music told the story with affecting grace.  Contrast this with the wild,  modern big band jazz sound of The Incredibles.   In Ratatouille, we heard the sounds of Paris in the jazz age, and Toy Story gave us the music of an American childhood.

These events are a great way to introduce children to concert music while experiencing favorite films in a new way.

More to come later.


c. May 20, 2016

THE GOOD DINOSAUR . . .Something to be Thankful for

The Good Dinosaur coming to a theatre near you.

The Good Dinosaur has arrived

Disney Pixar’s newest release, The Good Dinosaur, debuts today! I was lucky enough to attend an advance screening in my home town with my brother and some of our friends on November 24th, an incredibly exciting experience for a Disney fan like myself. Keeping up with the latest Disney films is just one way my family and I maintain the spirit of the Disney parks alive at home. A theater near us always has a showing the night before the official release date we like to attend with some equally Disney-oriented friends. Sharing these new stories reminds us of the magic and creativity of Disney. For all those who ran out to see the film today or are looking forward to seeing it soon, here’s a quick, spoiler free review.

I have to admit, a lot of Pixar films leave me feeling unsure about what I think of them. On one hand, being Pixar, they’re automatically of some quality. Yet the incredible thing about Pixar is each story they tell is so very different. This makes it difficult to compare films, especially from different time periods in Pixar’s development. With that in mind, The Good Dinosaur was not my favorite Pixar film, but still a great movie. The plot seemed somewhere between the (somewhat) more traditional story lines of older movies, like Monsters Inc., and the more experimental ones, like Up. Some scenes were more reminiscent of a survival story than a traditional Disney tale. One scene, featuring the triceratops, Forrest Woodbush, seemed completely out of place. Overall, the story follows Arlo the dinosaur’s adventure as a charming friendship blossoms between him and a young human. With no central villain, the film focuses more on Arlo’s goal of proving himself to his family and his growing connection with his human friend.

Hands down the best aspect of the film was the animation. In fact, it seemed as if the story was being used to display the animation rather than the other way around. There was a lot of opportunity to play with the wonders of nature and Pixar did so beautifully. Everything from the fluid movement of the T-Rex to the texture of a dripping leaf captures the imagination. A few shots almost looked like live action! And the cast of characters, an array of interesting creatures, was delightful.

Of course, it’s crucial not to forget the pre-movie short!  Sanjay’s Super Team, the cartoon in question, follows the story of a young Hindu boy resisting and then reconciling the divide between his modern western life and the culture of his parents, represented by his father’s religious shrine and his parallel shrine to morning cartoons. The story is compelling and the art work that brings Hindu gods to life as superheroes enchanting. Based on the childhood of its director, Sanjay Patel, the short’s representation of the struggle to combine your own passions with your family’s past is one that will resonate with many viewers.


Wherever and whenever you get a chance to see The Good Dinosaur, enjoy!


c. 2015 Kathryn Blanco

Walt Disney Records are Alive and Well


a good read p. Martin Blanco

I’ve enjoyed recorded music for as long as I can remember.  I have vivid memories of my parents playing records on their stereo especially on Saturdays when I was subjected to an eclectic mix of Puccini opera, Broadway musicals, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick and Judy Garland.  I even liked some of it.  Anyway, imitating my parents’ habits, I wanted recorded music of my own damn it!

My prized possession was a portable record player which included an AM radio so I could listen to Yankee baseball games (with an earphone if I was in the car).  My tastes were distinct from my parents.  Sure I had some typical kids fare such as a third rate adaptation of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn complete with cloying, inane music (hey, I was six or seven).  I remember a particularly dreadful adaptation of Pinocchio, decidedly not Disney’s, where the authors never missed an opportunity to rhyme Pinocchio with Tokyo (even as a child I could sense the absurdity of the anachronism for the sake of rhyme).  Still, it was not without its child-like charms and by virtue of owning it, I had a certain attachment to it.  I even owned a recording of James Mason, with his wife and daughter, telling stories from the Old Testament.  I assumed that God sounded like James Mason until I was about 17 years old.

But I had some truly great music too.  When I was in kindergarten I expressed an interest in The Beatles.  One night, my father came home from work with a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for me.  I can fairly say that was the day music came to life for me.  I must have played that album a thousand times and while listening to the music, I would study every inch of the album cover, the interior photo of the Beatles festooned in exaggerated Edwardian garb, and the lyrics set forth on the back.  I acquired many more Beatles singles on 45rpm discs and decades later I still own and play them.

Naturally, I also  acquired an extensive collection of recordings put out by the Walt Disney Company.  Some of these were soundtracks from the movies.  Typically, a soundtrack album would include some of the dialogue and most of the songs from a movie as well as a booklet featuring an abridgement of the story and illustrations.  My childhood predates home video, so these albums enabled the listener to experience  Disney movies after they left the theatres.  As I grew older, I gave many of these away, which ironically I ended up repurchasing from eBay when my children were young.  I also eBay purchased a number of albums that reflected theme park attractions such as The Haunted Mansion or The Jungle Cruise albums.  Just as I did, my children grew up listening to The Beatles and Walt Disney Records, both of which provided a happy soundtrack to their childhood, while the Disney recordings also kept the memories of the theme parks vivid inbetween visits.

Mouse Tracks, the Story of Walt Disney Records written by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar is an excellent chronicle of the Disney recording studios.  The book gives a comprehensive history of this enterprise and illustrates how the growth of Walt Disney Records parallels the growth of the overall company.  It should come as no surprise to the Disney enthusiast that Walt Disney was a pioneer in the recording industry.

Disney was able to generate a great deal of revenue by licensing music from his popular films for others to record.  In 1933, Disney released the short film The Three Little Pigs as part of his Silly Symphony series.  Not only was the cartoon a success, but it also produced a hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.”  Disney licensed and recorded the song and it became an anthem of America’s courage in the face of the Great Depression.

In the early days of cinema, it was easier to rerecord music from a film then to use selections from the actual soundtrack.  Walt Disney was about to change all that.  The authors write “From Edison’s time until World War II, it was more technically feasible to recreate songs from the films and shows in a separate studio either with or without original cast members.  Instead of replicating the style of the original work, the arrangements were often reinterpreted for dancing and radio play.”  This changed with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  They continue, “Victor’s [records] 1938 three disc set of songs from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) became the first soundtrack album from a feature film, followed by the soundtracks of Pinocchio (1940) and Dumbo (1941).”  Walt Disney ostensibly invented the soundtrack recording industry.

The book details how The Ballad of Davy Crockett became a megahit and how it was a game changer not only for Disney, but for just about every artist involved.  Similarly, we’ll learn how the Record division helped brand the Mickey Mouse Club long before a single episode ever aired and how the Mickey Mouse Club subsequently became an ongoing resource to generate more recordings.  The book also examines how the company had to change with technology.  What began as a venture selling discs, had to adapt to cassettes, comapact discs and now digital media.  Through it all one thing is clear:  Disney’s success in the cinema and television extended to the recording industry, creating an additional stream of revenue, additional means to reinforce the Disney brand, and the opportunity to keep the joy of the movies, television shows and ultimately the theme parks with you at home.

The book also highlights the talent that created these marvelous recordings.  You’ll meet composers, producers, illustrators and the actors whose vocal talents shaped the sound of the Disney brand.  Many of these actors are still heard in the Disney Parks today.  You may not know who Thurl Ravenscroft, Paul Frees, Dal McKennon and Janet Waldo are for example, but you know their voices. Now you’ll know their stories.

The book used to be sold in the theme parks, but if it is no longer available there you can surely acquire a copy online.  In the coming weeks, I will provide highlights of some of the vocal talent featured in the book.  If you grew up enjoying records and cartoons, this book will be a nostalgic trip.  If you are a Disney enthusiast, the book chronicles a heretofore neglected aspect of the Disney company and celebrates the numerous artists whose talents have shaped the Disney brand.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the authors.  “The story of Disney’s in-house recording company is rich in successes and failures, great ideas and misfires.  More than anything else, it is the story of hardworking, talented people. . .Our goal is to heighten interest in these recordings and especially the artists who created them.”

-Martin Blanco c.2015

Mouse Tracks  The Story of Walt Disney Records

By Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar

c. 2006

University Press of Mississippi

Disneyworld and the View-Master

Some Disney themed View-Master reels with a projector and two viewing devices

Some Disney themed View-Master reels with a projector and two viewing devices

I never went to Disneyland or the Walt Disney World Resort as a child. In fact, I was not able to go until I was 28 years old, on my honeymoon.  Nevertheless, my mother instilled and then nurtured in me a desire to visit Disneyland.  As a boy she would tell me about Disneyland, take me to Disney movies and adorned my section of the apartment with items of interest that reflected a Disney experience.  Among these items was my collection of View-Master reels.  In the days before home video, you could only see a Disney movie when it was in general release in the theatres or on television if an edited version was featured on The Wonderful World of Disney.  Your other option was to indirectly experience the films through record albums with companion books, comic books, coloring books, and View-Master reels for example. I had all of that stuff and then some, but today I want to focus my attention on the View-Master experience.

View-Master was a modern upgrade of the stereoscopic viewer, a popular form of parlor entertainment dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.  This nifty device was essentially a bulky set of goggles attached to a handle that enabled the viewer to hold the lenses up to their eyes.  Jutting out perpendicular to the lenses was a plane that holds a card baring two identical images.  You view the images through the lenses, which at the right distance created the illusion of an image in three dimensions. The cards would feature a wide variety of subjects  from the pastoral to the urban, the historic to the modern and the innocent to the salacious

A poorly cropped photo of a stereoscopic viewer with a stereo photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background.

A poorly cropped photo of a stereoscopic viewer with a stereo photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Many decades later, View-Master expanded on that concept by creating the familiar rotating discs that would hold seven different color images, and the iconic companion viewing device. A package typically included three reels comprising seven distinct 3-D images for a total of 21 images.  The viewing device had a window displaying a brief description of the corresponding image in the viewer.  Each package also contained a booklet that described the images in greater detail.  That was it; 21 images and a few descriptive words.  Not much, but in a world without home video, they kept the memories of a good movie vivid, moreover, they could connect you with the world and instill a positive sense of longing and anticipation.

I owned many reels inspired from Disney’s classic animated features and cartoon shorts.  For awhile, the manufacturers of View-Master did something interesting with animated films.  Rather than take stills from the actual films, they used the artistic style of the films to craft three dimensional figures and scenery.  These marvelous recreations became the subjects of the photographs used for the reels.  The reasoning behind this approach remains a mystery to me, but the novelty enhanced my enjoyment. I was impressed how detailed the sculptures were, how good the color was, how faithfully they told the story and how well they created the illusion of motion with these images.

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“Slave in the Magic Mirror, who is the fairest?”

“Heigh Ho! ” It’s off to work they go.

One day her prince did come and they all lived happily ever after.

One day her prince did come and they all lived happily ever after.

When I was older, say six or seven, I received a View-Master projector for Christmas.  Now I could project the images onto a wall and turn my apartment into a movie theatre.  On summer nights, I would have public showings of the View-Master versions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan and Donald Duck cartoons, while reading aloud the narrative provided in the booklet.  I may have even charged a penny for my efforts, but I provided refreshments.

Peter Pan bests Captain Hook. . .again.

Peter Pan bests Captain Hook again.

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King Louie is “monkeying around” with Mowgli

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When The Walt Disney World Resort opened in 1971, already a View-Master enthusiast,  I was given a special set comprising five reels, each reel dedicated to one of the themed lands in the Magic Kingdom. I also received another set that had pictures of Disneyland and The Haunted Mansion. All of these reels were my gateway to the Magic Kingdom.  I didn’t casually view these images; I studied them.  They sustained me until I finally got to go some twenty years later. When I arrived at the Magic Kingdom for the first time, it actually felt like I was returning home.  Even though the Magic Kingdom has changed a great deal since it opened.  If I ever want to go back to a time when the cable cars carried you over Fantasyland to Tomorrowland, or take a deep sea voyage on the Nautilus, I need only take out my View-Master reels and the adventure begins.

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The View-Master reels were one of a handful of toys that I saved from my childhood.  When I had children of my own, I rediscovered them and purchased new ones that reflected the movies of the day.  We added Harry Potter, Sesame Street, and Pixar as well as new issues of Disney classic animated films to our collection. On summer nights, just as when I was young, I would use the projector to put on a little show on the wall.

Today’s children can watch professionally created souvenir DVDs that are sold in the parks. They can watch their own high definition home movies. They can also watch You Tube for quality recordings.  They can watch them on a television, or a tablet or a phone with greater resolution than ever before.  These are good things, but in a world of gifs, Instagram posts and ephemeral Snapchat images, there’s something satisfying and calming, especially for young children, in observing a simple image.  The stillness permits, no beckons, one to be drawn into the moment, study a particular image, and savor the beauty.  It may seem counter-intuitive to engage today’s children with such a low tech activity,  but young ones will naturally take to it.  Older children might even try this out of a sense of nostalgia if they experienced View-Masters when they were young.

If you saved your View-Master reels, it’s time to unearth them from wherever they are buried. One evening treat yourself and your family to a slow-paced virtual trip to the Disney theme parks.  If you do, write to us and tell us about your experience.

-Martin Blanco

October, 2015

Upcoming Disney Movies

The Good Dinosaur coming to a theatre near you.

The Good Dinosaur coming to a theatre near you.

You know what’s fun in between visits to Walt Disney World?  Going to see Disney movies.  When possible, we like to go on opening night or sometimes on secret early screenings just before opening night.  For the last several years, we’ve been going with friends to the secret early openings for the summer Pixar film.  These openings usually occur around the last day of school so it’s a fun way to kick of summer vacation. This year with Inside Out, we were able to see a special behind the scenes tour of Pixar Studios and a live interview with Amy Poehler at the end of the film.  They also gave away a poster and lanyard.

Here are release dates for the next year or so.  Good news:  the dates are set for all 3 new Star Wars films and for the highly anticipated Toy Story 4.

Upcoming Disney Movie release dates.

These could change and we’ll try to update them.

Finding Dory (Pixar)   Release Date: June 17, 2016

The BFG (Walt Disney Pictures)   Release Date: July 1, 2016

Pete’s Dragon (Walt Disney Pictures)   Release Date: August 12, 2016

Doctor Strange (Marvel)   Release Date: November 4, 2016

Moana (Walt Disney Animation Studios)   Release Date: November 23, 2016

Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One (Lucasfilm)   Release Date: December 16, 2016

Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney Pictures)   Release Date: March 17, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (Marvel)   Release Date: May 5, 2017

Star Wars: Episode VIII (Lucasfilm)   Release Date: May 26, 2017

Toy Story 4 (Pixar)   Release Date: June 15, 2018

Coco (Pixar)   Release Date: November 22, 2017

Cars 3 (Pixar)   Release Date: June 16, 2017

Incredibles 2   Release Date: June 21, 2019

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Walt Disney Pictures)   Release Date: July 17, 2017


Here is a link to the trailer for The Good Dinosaur


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