Friday, August 11, 2023

Mousey Movies - Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansin movie poster showing the cast hovering over a crystal ball which contains a haunted house inside.

As Disney parks fans we have waited for years for a new Haunted Mansion movie. Many fans have mixed thoughts on 2003’s The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy. Personally, I don’t like scary things so a more comical version was more than fine with me. We need to remember this is an attraction that creators debated scary versus funny. That debate led to a story that was a mix of both and we loved it. But it has seemed to me that the movie reboot debate has been let’s get something really different from Murphy’s take and make it scary, and that’s a no-thank you situation for me. Much like the first time I entered the Haunted Mansion, I was afraid to attend the 2023 movie on opening day…because I don’t do scary! And I heard this was scary,

For comic book fans, my summary is; Night Nurse shares a house with Mobius and the Joker won’t let them sleep!

Gabbie, a doctor, and her son Travis relocate near New Orleans to a dark and dusty Mansion. The two discover quickly that the house is haunted by ghosts they cannot escape. In trying to escape their fate, Gabbie gathers ups a rag-tag crew of a priest, an astrophysicist, a historian, and a medium who all get pulled into Gabbie and Travis’ fate. The group discovers that one spirit has more devious plans than haunting a family, and they must avoid becoming the last ghostly inhabitant of the mansion so he cannot gain his full dark power. Along with the horror comedy of the mansion, the group, such as astrophysicist Ben, struggle with their own grief and what the existence of ghosts could mean.

We came for the movie but stayed for the ride. Haunted Mansion attraction fans won’t be disappointed. The big bad is the Hatbox Ghost. And we mean bad, real bad. He’s not fun at all. There are stretching paintings, busts, and ghosts that all bring us into the ride. They pulled some much of the attraction in that I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it all and will still miss things when I rewatch on Disney+.

Is it scary? We have gotten a lot of questions from friends about can my ten-year-old, and my twelve-year-old watch the movie? You likely know your child’s horror tolerance. The Hatbox Ghost is scary and dark. The ghosts are definitely not always nice. There are a few jump scares. I hate scary, but this movie is well within my scare tolerance. It’s dark and forbidding, but no over-the-top gore and images that kept me from sleeping at night. If anything the Eddie Murphy crypt scene may be scarier than anything seen here in 2023.

Speaking of The Haunted Mansion. Personally, I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. And I currently just see it as a separate thing in a different universe. There has been so much added over the decades to the attraction, I really don’t see any story as canon. To me, neither The Haunted Mansion or Haunted Mansion are the true and only story of the mansion. And I enjoy them both for what they are without either taking from the other.

We have to give a special call out to Danny Devito as Professor Bruce Davis. The man is a national treasure and must be protected at all costs. He delivers the best one-liners in the film. And while he doesn’t get to play a beloved classic character like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Madame Leota, he is a new fresh, and fun one that gave a lot to the film, especially when a laugh was needed. A member of my group did not enjoy the film as much as the rest but made sure to let us know that Devito was the actor she kept following throughout the film.

Sigh, did I mention Disney+? The box office for this release under performed, by so so much. There are clearly two reasons for this. First, Barbie and her friend Oppenheimer are dominating the box office at release. Having seen Barbie, it definitely felt more fresh and new and it also has a lot of nostalgia. While there are a lot of Haunted Mansion fans, Barbie definitely has more. Second, do you want to see a Halloween-themed movie in July? Disney originally was going to release The Marvels in this slot but switched movies. The July release seems questionable. But, it also allows Disney to add it to Disney+ before the fall holiday. Maybe Disney is playing chess here, accepting that the movie release window would mean less at the theater but maybe have more of an impact when it hits streaming! I enjoyed watching the movie in a theater, mine was actually packed on opening day with that energy, but I would have liked it better in the fall.

I really enjoyed Haunted Mansion. But the question I am getting is do I need to see it in the theater? If you are a Disney Parks fan, Haunted Mansion fan, or even a Halloween holiday fan, I think you really should see it big. But I think of my friend who is a genre fan but not really a Disney fan at all. He likely can wait for it to arrive on Disney+ mainly because the material likely means a little less to him than to me, the guy who showed up in the Hitchhiking Ghost baseball jersey to see the movie. He’s really going to be entertained and enjoy Haunted Mansion, but he’s likely to enjoy his living room seat just as much as a theater seat.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Between Books - Who Was Walt Disney?

Book cover showing Walt Disney in an Hawaiian shirt standing in front of a castle.

When I was a kid I remember falling in love with history. One of the important moments I remember is a kid’s Albert Einstein biography that I borrowed from the library. I am not huge into Einstein's history today, but I remember the feeling of being fascinated by a true life story of obstacles and triumph. And I hope that kids can still use the pages of books to reclaim that feeling.

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is a Walt Disney biography for kids ages 7 and up. Along with Stewart’s text are illustrations from Nancy Harrison. The book is a from-birth-to-death biography of Disney. It glances over all the big moments but does not go deep into many topics. With around 100 pages there is only limited space to discuss in depth a full life. This is especially true when many of the illustrations are full or nearly full-page spreads with a medium-sized font.

For a child in the 7 to 10 age range, I think this is a fine biography to introduce a child to Walt Disney or help grow Disney excitement in a young fan. As a biography there are a few moments where I was like, no that’s not right. And I mean a few handfuls of moments. As I looked back at them, it was really items that were actually true, but being the person who can be asked a question and then answer for 30 minutes, items of omission. There is simply just not enough room in 100 pages for a comprehensive take on Disney. But hey, we have really long Disney biographies for those adult fans. Even with it being brief, Stewart does introduce kids to the major themes of Disney’s life. For example, Stewart captures Disney’s emotional change as the studio grew and the animator’s strike in the 1940s showed him that his company was no longer a tight family.

Some of the illustrations don’t feel to be fully on model. But this is also an unauthorized biography. The publisher does need to be cautious in the handling of Disney images. And how many 8-year-olds are really going to be worried about if Roy O. Disney looks just like his photos?

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is an accurate introduction to Walt Disney’s life and legacy. Hopefully, kids can find excitement in triumphs in the face of obstacles in the book. And maybe it will help foster the next generation of history nerds, if it be here or another of the volumes in this very successful series. 

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Between Books - Disney Presents The Haunted Mansion

Book cover for Disney Presents the Haunted Mansion with an illustration of the hitchiking ghosts in front of the mansion.

The first time I rode the Haunted Mansion, I was afraid. I hate scary things. I also was a grown adult. So if I was scared, I think kids would likely be also.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion with music by Buddy Baker, lyrics by Xavier Atencio, and illustrations by James Gilleard presents a kid-friendly version of the mansion. The printed lines come directly from Atencio’s lyrics, with a verse or two on each page. The illustrations are all new with fun child approachable images. The lyrics and illustrations provide a walkthrough of the attraction, with scenes that those who have enjoyed the attraction will find very familiar. Along with the book, included in the packaging is a CD of the beloved song.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion is really cute. I can see how for some young readers they could come to enjoy this packaging and begin to fall in love with the Haunted Mansion. It may even take away some anxiety in enjoying the Mansion. It may even bolster the courage of some before seeing a potentially scary live-action adaption.

The enclosed CD does make me chuckle a little bit. My copy is still sealed in the envelope not because I’m refusing to open the package for collecting, but because it is actually harder to listen to a CD than it was 5 to 7 years ago when all the music I listen to is digital. I did listen to a copy of the song with the book. It led to some really fast page-turning as the lyrics played. And then as the song went into reprises, a lot of playing without turning. I honestly liked it better without the tune.

The Haunted Mansion is beloved by young and old. Disney Presents The Haunted Mansion is a fun part of that program to create young fans. It is definitely one path to helping young fans enter fandom. It is cute, but perhaps a little misleading for those preparing for a live-action fright!

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Monday, June 12, 2023

Between Books - All of the Marvels


As my brother-in-law and I strolled through Disney Springs he found All of the Marvels and tossed it to me to thumb through. He knows I love comics and thought I may need a impulse buy...I did not. A few days later I was able to borrow a library copy and found something that was not Star Wars The High Republic (am I in a rut) and allowed me to review some of the history of another Disney universe.

Douglas Wolk for All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever took on a challenge that I still struggle with. I mean, I know how big this task is, and in fact, I mentally think of it as semi-impossible. Wolk read 27,000 plus comics. Now I have read most of Marvel’s run for a few years in trades from the library. But the idea of decades and decades of reading is flabbergasting to me. Yes, he does call out the restrictions he gave himself so he could focus on the Marvel throughline. But honestly, it’s more comics than I can comprehend.

The journey of the history of Marvel comics is really broken into two essay sets. The long essays deal with major Marvel characters or themes. These essays include topics like the X-Men, Thor, and Black Panther. There are also shorter essays or interludes that cover more obscure topics like presidents in Marvel, music, and Linda Carter also known as Night Nurse. Wolk uses specific comics as milestones in his essays. He lists the title and date and then summarizes it. Then he jumps to another title, usually with a gap between issues, and explains how they all together make one large story. Sometimes, he even goes backward.

The good news for me as a reader is I am highly familiar with almost all of these titles. So the essays have a structure that I know, understand, and sometimes add my own commentary. But, the essays are also really recaps too of the stories. So I would suggest one not look for a deep-dive literary essay in every summary. What Wolk does is show how “it’s all connected” as a Marvel fan would say. But it does not deeply go into every major turn with full literary dissection. If one really does not want to read recaps, this may not be the book for you.

For me, one of the best points that Wolk makes about the Marvel story is that the main theme is a romance comic. And that is why Linda Carter is really so important to this tale. Before superheroes, Marvel (under any of its former names) printed all kinds of genres. They could be Western or monsters before superheroes. One of the most important in this history is romance. And this is why Linda Carter, who was a romance title lead and eventually found herself pulled into the chaos of superheroes is so important. Wolk does an excellent job of showing how romance titles evolved into the Marvel universe we enjoy today. Peter and Mary Jane…Reed and Sue…there are so many romances among our superheroes and it is a theme that’s been in place since the beginning.  

All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever by Douglas Wolk is a Herculean effort, and I’m not talking about the superhero version. It is just so many comics to read in a reasonable amount of time, says a guy who reads a lot of comics. I applaud the effort and am glad that I read it. I just wonder if it may be too recapping or too inside the panel for comics novices. 


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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X


Tessa Gratton continues the tween reading program for Star Wars: The High Republic with a follow-up to Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for the Hidden City. I hoped this time, new author, new setting, and mostly the same teen heroes would create a less gloomy situation.

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton tosses a Jedi Padawan and a young hyperspace prospector from the earlier book into the Hyperspace Chase, a race to find new hyperspace lanes. The duo joins a third youngster, a member of a powerful prospecting family member with an agenda of their own. They make their target Planet X, a world of great promises for all three of them. But their agendas and the Path of the Open Hand may stop the trio from obtaining their prize.

Gratton’s offering fits what is wanted for a tween book. There is action. There is adventure. There are crossovers to adult books from the High Republic. If anything, that is a little frustrating to me as here in the non-adult book we get part of the origin of the Leveler. And I’m even more frustrated as Yoda in other books makes the Leveler’s existence a Jedi secret, yet here we have a Padawan who fully knows of its presence, origin, and even name.

Where Gratton excels over some of the other authors in this round of stories is making members of the Path of the Open Hand more rational and intelligent than we have typically seen. They are not all brainwashed. They are often nice people. But they have gotten themselves caught in something bad by sincerely believing. Sadly, that’s more common than we might think in this world.

If anything I at times find myself asking, who is letting these children run wild through the galaxy? It’s dangerous out there for heaven’s sake. The funny thing is of the three young people, it’s really only the Jedi who don’t seem concerned that a youngster is unsupervised. Does this mean the Force is an acceptable emergency contact?

Star Wars: The High Republic Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton does what it’s asked. It provides growing readers with some fun and adventure from their viewpoint. I think I just wish it did not rely so heavily on the books in the series that may be a stretch for some readers who enjoyed this offering. Do those readers have somewhere to go next? It definitely was not as gloomy as the last quest book.

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Friday, May 26, 2023

Between Books - Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1


Sometimes I think it’s fashionable to question the writing skill of Stan Lee. Many want to credit him for his marketing and promotional skills, but not his writing. We all know that The Fantastic Four changed the comics industry. But often the credit goes to Lee’s co-creators and not Lee. But for me, I have often argued that Lee was someone who was creative and artistic and partnered with other fantastic creatives to make great things.

Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1 collects the first thirteen issues of the 1960s comic written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. The stories depict the fictional United States Army Commando Nick Fury and his band of seven Howling Commandos. They are sent on secret missions in the European Theater of Operations, once to the Pacific. The missions are generally the same, something fantastical for non-superheroes to complete. And generally, Fury and his Howlers win the day (okay there are more volumes) through teamwork and fierce dedication to duty.

The stories are as good as any military action movie not based on a true story. Lee deals head-on with issues of class and race which were prevalent in the discourse of the 1960s. He does not hide from it but instead gives a very traditional conservative military landscape for these issues to be played out. And in the heat of battle, as one would expect, right often wins out. And while Kirby may have framed the action, we cannot forget that these messages were scripted with words given by Lee and are very consistent with his other writings on social issues.

There is a reality to this writing. This is a war story, not a superhero one. And yes, Captain America and Bucky do make a co-starring appearance. Yes, Baron Strucker is a villain, but he is one on par with Sargent Fury, not Captain America or future Agent Nick Fury. This volume reminds us that while Marvel is known for superheroes, we cannot forget comics including multiple genres including military, horror, and romance, formats that Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all familiar with. A constant complaint about comic stories is that they often lack weight. If you are not Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, you can be killed and return again. But here, characters are killed, and we know they have passed. As a reader, you can feel the grief. Lee and his artists crafted tales they felt were real.

I have an unpopular opinion. Jack Kirby draws really ugly people. Often in comic books, this doesn’t work for me because superheroes are well pretty. Kirby’s art works perfectly here. This Fury is ugly. He is a dogface, unpretty, and not yet Marvel’s super spy. Dino Manelli, the pretty boy in the group and former actor, looks very different from the gruff squad leader. And of course fan favorite Dum Dum Dugan looks differently than both of them. Kirby’s art works perfectly for me, and Ayers when he picks it up matches pencil to pencil. They created a group of separate models that differ and do not merge.

I’d say don’t sleep on Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1. I found a kindle version for less than a dollar. Kindle Marvel collections often are put on deep discounts. Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all veterans of World War II and clearly were passionate about telling the story of Fury and his men, giving it more realism than one expects from a Marvel title. The collection also reminds us why Lee and Kirby really were the masters of their industry, especially when collaborating together.

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha



That’s how it started. I opened up the Kindle edition of Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha and saw it was a script, not a book and I could not do it. I returned the book immediately and requested the audiobook immediately! This was a good choice.

Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann provides us with a narrative of a moment from the High Republic that other books have hinted at. The battle was a moment where the Path of the Open Hand challenged the Jedi’s ability to make peace in the Forever War, many Jedi were lost, and the Order was at a low point. The audiobook provides a dramatic account of the incident, complete with total audio production. The story covers a few days on Jedha as the Republic attempts to sign a major peace agreement, and the Path of the Open Hand attempts to strike silently at the prestige of the Jedi. The manipulations of the Path create a full-out battle on the world that we best know from Rogue One. There is a lot of action and fighting to keep the listener entertained.

No Yodas appear in this adventure.

I grew up loving audio shows. I had a volunteer experience where I could listen freely to old-time audio shows like The Shadow. And while I had read a script version of a Star Wars book/audio presentation in the past, I simply could not do it again. I needed the version as it was intended to be, an audio presentation with all its narration, acting, audio cues, and sound effects. And I was happy that I went to the story as it was meant to be. It was entertaining. It did its job, even being a tale from the High Republic which I am not in love with.

I do grumble a little bit about the Forever War…it’s lasted all of five years! That oddly does not feel like forever. Even in our world, the Forever War seems to have lasted a natural amount of time. I would have preferred a name like the War of Water and Sand! I just think the name was a little misplaced especially in a galaxy where the creators could have made it last 100 years or more.

This story also shows the Jedi to not be all the powerful and beloved space wizards we may expect. At Jedha, the Jedi are just one of many brands of Force users. Not everyone trusts the Jedi. This makes the manipulations of the Path even more believable. This is likely my favorite story point as we see Jedi vulnerable to galactic opinion.

I am a fan of audio productions. And Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann is produced well with a professional cast and plenty of sound effects to keep a listener engaged. The voice actors help you care about these Jedi who you know nothing about due to voice inflection and acting. I support not reading this book and listening instead as the actors and production allow you to hear the script notes versus reading them and imagining what it should like instead. This entry is likely my favorite of the early High Republic stories, due to the well-executed production of the sound team to support Mann’s writing.

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