Tags Posts tagged with "Disney"


Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker are back in 'Hocus Pocus 2'. Photo from Disney+

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In 1993, Disney released the comedy-fantasy Hocus Pocus. The film starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters — Winifred, Sarah, and Mary. After their execution in Salem in 1693, the trio of witches are accidentally resurrected three centuries later. Directed by Kenny Ortega from a screenplay by Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris, the film received negative reviews, and the studio lost over $16 million. However, Hocus Pocus became a cult favorite, with home viewing a Halloween tradition.

Now Disney offers a direct-to-streaming sequel helmed by a completely new production team. Anne Fletcher directs Jen D’Angelo’s script of Hocus Pocus 2. 

Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy with the Book of Spells. Photo from Disney+

The prologue, set in Salem in 1653, shows the young Sanderson Sisters (played with great humor by Taylor Paige Henderson as teenage Winifred, Nina Kitchen as young Mary, and Juju Journey Brener as the child Sarah) confronted by the puritanical Reverend Traske. The minister wants to marry off Winifred on this, her sixteenth birthday. The girls flee to the woods, where they encounter Mother Witch (a nice cameo by Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham). The mysterious sorceress provides them with the spell book that brings them into a life of the occult.

The action jumps to the present: Halloween, 29 years after the first film’s events. Becca and her best friend, Izzy, celebrate her sixteenth birthday with a ritual in the woods. Having received the infamous black flame candle from Gilbert, the owner of the Olde Salem Magic Shoppe, Becca and Izzy accidentally conjure the witches. The newly restored enchantresses announce their desire for revenge on all of Salem. The ensuing plot rehashes much of the original film: similar situations, clumsy jokes, and mid-range magical effects.

The Sanderson Sisters visit Walgreens in a scene from the film. Photo from Disney+

The sequel’s sole reason is the return of Midler, Parker, and Najimy. The roles have achieved a certain iconography, not-so-subtly parodied. Halloween celebrants and trick-or-treaters traipse through, dressed in identical costumes. The gag builds to a look-a-like contest featuring outrageous drag queens (RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Ginger Minj, Kornbread Jeté, and Kahmora Hall). 

The usual time-travelers-out-of-time setups include a requisite but amusing visit to Walgreens. Here, Becca and Izzy convince the Sanderson Sisters the plethora of beauty products contain children’s souls. The visit ends with Midler flying off on a broom, Parker on a Swiffer, and Najimy balancing on a pair of Roombas. They conspire, bicker, and sing snatches of popular songs with alternate lyrics. Nothing new is on offer, but the drive is nostalgia, not reinvention. They truly are the “Gothic Golden Girls.”

Belissa Escobedo, Whitney Peak and Lilia Buckingham in a scene from the movie. Photo from Disney+

However, what works surprisingly well is the young cast. Whitney Peak is wonderful, making Becca real, resourceful, and appealing. She lands her punchlines without precociousness. Her wryness perfectly complements Belisssa Escobedo’s Izzy. Escobedo’s mild handwringing and edge of perpetual panic make her the ideal foil for the cooler-headed Becca. Rounding out the trio is Lilia Buckingham as Cassie Traske, the girls’ estranged friend. While she is less prominent, when she finally reunites with her best friends, her presence provides the wide-eyed incredulity that helps drive the last act.

Tony Hale doubles as the fanatical seventeenth-century pastor and his descendant, Cassie’s goofy father, who happens to be the mayor and the witches’ prime target. Hale is a gifted comedian who makes the on-the-nose quips fun and even occasionally smart. Sam Richardson charmingly mines the slightly bumbling but well-meaning Gilbert. Returning from the original film, Doug Jones gives the same easy performance as the zombie Billy Butcherson. Froy Gutierrez earns honest laughs as Mike, Cassie’s clueless boyfriend.

In the end, Hocus Pocus 2 covers little new territory. The film is often loud and busy, where it could have been clever. Many jokes are forced and do not necessarily play. 

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker are back in ‘Hocus Pocus 2’. Photo from Disney+

Both films possess an After School Special vibe, but the core issue of the candle lit by a virgin makes for some interesting lunchroom conversation with the elementary school set. But the ending takes a different tone from the original, building to lessons about sharing power and the value of personal connection. The message is very traditional Disney and makes for a sweet resolution. For fans of the original, the film will be a welcome Halloween treat. For the rest, Hocus Pocus 2 is a harmless, if predictable, holiday outing. 

Rated PG, the film is now streaming on Disney+.

Tom Hanks, right, stars in 'Pinocchio,' which uses both live action elements and animation. Pinocchio, left, is voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth. Photo courtesy of Disney +

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Disney continues to revisit its animated classics as source material for live-action films. These include 101 Dalmatians (along with a sequel and a prequel), Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent, with its shifted point-of-view), Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, and Mulan. Most have received mixed reactions, but this has not stemmed the flow. Added to this list is the newly released Pinocchio, now streaming on Disney+.

Cynthia Erivo is the Blue Fairy in ‘Pinocchio’

Pinocchio finds its origins in the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote of a Tuscan woodcarver named Geppetto who creates a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. The name “Pinocchio” is a combination of the Italian words pino (pine) and occhio (eye). The character’s iconography and adventures bridge three centuries: The puppet dreams of being, given spirit guides, and a nose that grows when he lies (occurring only once in the novel). 

Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) deservedly earns the accolade “masterpiece.” Pinocchio, the follow-up to the studio’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), is only equaled by its predecessor. Three years in the making, Pinocchio was a critical hit. Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, the unnamed staff writer described the film in glowing terms: “… the picture is a masterpiece which sets another milestone along the road of screen entertainment …. a new source of joy for which [the creators] deserve and will receive the gratitude of millions who will see it.”

A scene from Disney’s ‘Pinocchio.’

Pinocchio has been seen on both the big and small screens nearly two dozen times. Casts have included the Pinocchio’s of Sandy Duncan, Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman), Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Roberto Benigni. Geppettos include Burl Ives, Danny Kaye, Martin Landau, Carl Reiner, and Drew Carey. In addition, a host of famous actors appeared in supporting roles.

For the newest incarnation, director Robert Zemeckis has co-adapted the screenplay with Chris Weitz, but the entire film feels like a scene-for-scene remake of the original. Where it attempts to find something new, the substitution does nothing to enhance the storytelling. Instead, it is different for its own sake. 

A few new elements are introduced into the plot but add little to the overall effect, with even the best moments falling short. “Clever” touches receive acknowledgment—cuckoo-clocks with Disney images (Snow White, Roger Rabbit, Sleeping Beauty, etc.)—but seem slightly out-of-place. The mix of live actors and CGI results in the “real” people appearing as if traveling through a virtual reality app. 

Tom Hanks is Gepetto îs Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’

The story remains the same. Inventor Geppetto fashions Pinocchio and wishes upon a star. The puppet then finds himself duped into various dangerous scenarios: encountering the fox and the cat who sell him to Stromboli, the wicked puppeteer; the journey to Pleasure Island where the children are turned into donkeys and sold; being swallowed by a sea monster; etc. Pinocchio’s spiritual guides are, of course, Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy. 

Tom Hanks makes a heartfelt Geppetto, a widower in mourning for his wife and son. He infuses the character with a deep kindness interwoven with a fragile and broken soul. He puts a smile on the puppet so he will “always be happy.” The image of his setting out to find Pinocchio, packing his beloved cat, Figaro, and cradling his adored fish, Cleo, is touching. One could wish Hanks’ make-up to be a little less extreme, with bushy hair, mustache, and eyebrows worthy of their own zip code. 

Cynthia Erivo makes a beautiful, fully present Blue Fairy. The voice work is good, with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth’s sweet and never saccharine Pinocchio. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Jiminy Cricket a southern flavor but conveys his concern as the puppet’s conscience. Lorraine Bracco (a friendly seagull) and Keegan-Michael Key, as Honest John, the con-fox, are fine if a bit one note.

The story’s heart remains to be “real” is to be brave, honest, and unselfish. While spelled out clearly, the concept sometimes gets lost in the visual noise. The pacing is uneven and often slow. The comic violence (Stromboli locking Pinocchio in a case) feels jarringly vicious. Jokes referencing Chris Pine, agents, taxes, and educational curriculum do not land so much as thud. The original music is oddly utilized and snuck in, almost as spoken verse and Alan Silvestri’s new songs unfortunately fail to enhance the film. In the end, Pinocchio feels like light-beer-and-water: all the same but less.

Upcoming and in development are live-action versions of The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan (as Peter Pan and Wendy), Snow White, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Bambi, The Aristocats, and Lilo and Stitch along with sequels to The Lion King (Mufasa: The Lion King), Aladdin, The Jungle Book, and Cruella. With the track record of previous adaptations, one must wonder—other than money—what Disney hopes to gain. 

Rated PG, Pinocchio is now streaming on Disney +.

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Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Disney has raided its vault over the last several years, producing live-action remakes of some of its most successful animated features. These have included Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, The Lion King, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Aladdin. There are others that are in various stages of development:  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Pinocchio

Disney’s latest is Mulan, based on the 1998 cartoon, as well as its source, Ballad of Mulan, by Guo Moaqian.

A scene from the film.

The premise has remained the same. To defend the country from invaders, the Emperor of China decrees that one man from each family must service in the Imperial Army. Disguised as a man, Mulan takes the place of her war-wounded father. It is a story of inner-strength, loyalty, and bravery in the face of fear.

As a soldier, Mulan reaches her full potential and saves the country, earning both the respect of her family and the citizens of the grateful nation. Mulan takes her place with some of Disney’s stronger female characters, including Merida (Brave), Anna and Elsa (Frozen), and Tiana (The Princess and the Frog).

The original version of Mulan has the classic Disney take. While it deals with serious issues, it leans towards the humorous, aimed at younger viewers: a talking dragon sidekick (Eddie Murphy, basically doing his Donkey from Shrek), a cute cricket along for good luck, singing and dancing ancestral ghosts, and a hodgepodge of goofy soldiers.  It builds up to the latter group in drag as concubines, a rather false note in an otherwise entertaining outing that still brings home its messages.

The new version eschews almost all lightness, and, instead, is a more demanding and rough-hewn journey. An added prologue shows the child Mulan and her ability to harness her chi. Chi is defined as “vital energy that is held to animate the body internally.” Here, it is also given an additional mystical context, one in this world that is only associated with men, and, in particular, warriors. Mulan is discouraged by her family to show this power, but it is of value when unleashed in her male persona, Hua Jun.

A great deal of the first half of the film is taken up with the training of the soldiers. Just as in the cartoon, they are taught and challenged and Mulan’s skill and power comes to the surface. This is followed by multiple battles before the final confrontation.

A scene from the film.

The invaders are lead by Bori Khan, a Rouran warrior leader, who is bent on avenging his father’s death, a man who was slain by the Emperor. His followers are black clad villains who look like Ninja’s by way of Sons of Anarchy. They are being assisted by Xian Lang, a shapeshifting witch with extraordinary abilities; she serves as a sort of mirror image to Mulan. Unfortunately, the interesting parallel is introduced but never fully developed. Unlike the whimsical supernatural components of the original, here they are powerful and often deadly. It is unfortunate that, along with the parallels between Mulan and the witch, they are all left a bit vague.

Mulan also plays a great emphasis on the importance of family. Both versions show this but it is stronger in the new incarnation.  The fact that the romantic element from the first film has been removed — there is a faint hint of it — focuses Mulan’s desire to honor family above all else, from beginning to end.

The design is bold and colorful (its biggest nod towards its Disney root), and the settings, shot in China and New Zealand, are expansive and beautiful. Whether village, training camp, or the breathtaking Imperial Palace, there is a wealth of detail. Nothing in the film feels CGI and that is a big point in its favor. It all feels very present.

The cast is uniformly strong and all involved are committed to the material and the world in which the story takes place.  The performances come across as honest and, while the dialogue is limited, there is an integrity.

Liu Yifei (center), as Mulan, in a scene from the film.

Liu Yifei is superb as Mulan and strikes just the right quality in her alternate guise; she carries the film with the right mix of struggle and pride. Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung makes the Imperial Army leader human. As the almost-love interest, Chen Honghui, Yoson An is easygoing and earnest, in equal turns. Gong Li makes the most of the underwritten witch. Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan is a villain with a capital V. Jet Li’s Emperor is both regal and compassionate. Tzi Ma and Rosalind Chao do well with their limited screen time as Mulan’s concerned but loving parents. The assorted recruits are played well-enough but are more types than fully-realized individuals.

Both original and remake were written by a team of writers. Here Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin have taken elements of the 1998 but have fashioned a very different product. They have wisely removed the handful of songs and used them as underscoring as the current version would have made a rather peculiar musical. Niki Caro has directed it with a sure and bold hand. The team have brought out the important theme of the equality of women from a modern point-of-view — but that is in the film’s favor.

The biggest question comes down to this:  Who is the audience? It is certainly too dark and too violent for young children. There are many battles with multiple deaths in each one. And while we never see a drop of blood, plenty are shot through with arrows or felled by sword and spear. But adults might find it all too simplistic. There isn’t a great deal of suspense and, with few exceptions, the scenes play to forgone conclusions.

Mulan is sincere and epic and, for the most part, entertaining. Its messages of loyalty and fairness are strong and important. It is stunning to look at and well-acted. But it will remain a film in search of its audience.

Rated  PG-13, Mulan is now streaming on Disney Plus.

‘Dumbo’ is a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic.

By Jeffrey Sanzel

In viewing Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” it is hard not to compare it to Disney’s animated feature that served as source and inspiration. The delicate and wonderful cartoon ran 65 minutes and was both enchanting and heartbreaking. Like all of Disney, there is delicacy about this 1941 film that has made it an enduring classic.

The story in both cases is that of the baby elephant, Jumbo Jr., a pachyderm born with giant ears. It is what makes him different that ultimately proves him special. These giant appendages give Jumbo Jr. — crowned Dumbo — the gift of flight. Ultimately, it is a tale of the “other” — a being ostracized for being different and then finding success, and, more importantly, joy in this distinction.

The original film ends with Dumbo’s rise to fame and his reuniting with his mother. Burton’s version extends the length and the plot to a bloated two hours. The film is stunning to watch with incredible CGI in the creation of the title character. Dumbo is a wholly realized creation with eyes that are mournfully soulful. The film (in 3-D) is visually satisfying but comes up short on character development. 

The story is set just after the end of World War I. Wounded soldier Holt (a brooding but sympathetic Colin Farrell) returns to a failing circus and to his children, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, in nicely understated performances). He has lost his arm to the war and his wife to influenza. The circus is run by a roguish charlatan, Max Medici (Danny DeVito, doing what he does and does well), and is populated by the expected archetypes — the mermaid, the strongman, the snake charmer, etc. Instead of pursing this world and background lives, Burton opts for broad strokes and frenetic action.

It is the children, and, in particular the scientific Milly, who discover Dumbo’s gift. After the reveal of Dumbo’s talent, the film shifts with the arrival of a villainous entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (scenery-chewing Michael Keaton with an impenetrable and unrecognizable accent). Vandevere fools Medici into signing away his company so that he can headline Dumbo in his Dreamland amusement park. Here, the world becomes even bleaker as it segues into a clumsy indictment of corporate greed. What ensues is often tense and dramatic, but there is a desolation that pervades, only lifted by the final images of freedom.

While there are plenty of homages to the original (the lullaby “Baby Mine,” the pink elephants are particularly clever and a mouse in a uniform harkens to the antecedent’s sidekick), the film has a very modern point of view, especially on the issue of caging animals. It is an important message and one that needs to be heard, but rings oddly false in its period setting. 

Finally, the question one must ask is, “Who is this film for?” The answer: It is a children’s film that is perhaps too dark for the children.

Rated PG, “Dumbo” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, takes on his first major film role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ Photo by Jay Maidment/Disney

By Heidi Sutton

Fifty-four years after Disney’s beloved “Mary Poppins” magically dropped out of the sky and into our lives, its long-awaited sequel arrived at local theaters for the holidays.

Titled “Mary Poppins Returns,” the movie is based on the second book in the Mary Poppins series by author P. L. Travers — “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Co-starring Emily Blunt (“Girl on the Train,” “A Quiet Place”) as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) as Jack the lamplighter, it picks up the story 25 years later in 1935.

Recently widowed, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in London at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and longtime housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) lives in a flat across town. Set during the Great Slump, the family home is in danger of being repossessed unless a loan can be paid back in five days.

While Jane and Michael search frantically for their father’s bank shares, the children spend the day in the park and come home with — who else — Mary Poppins! “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!” exclaims Georgie. 

“I’ve come to look after the Banks children” says Mary. However, while Michael’s children go on all kinds of magical adventures, it is Michael and Jane who are ultimately watched over by their old friend.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into the Woods”), with screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” “Life of Pi”), the film features a fresh score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and new dance numbers, animation scenes and cameo appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice (the original Jane), Colin Firth and, at 91 years old, a tap-dancing Dick Van Dyke.

In the title role Blunt is practically perfect in the way she captures Mary Poppins’ mannerisms, and Lin-Manuel Miranda steals every scene in his first major film role. However, it is the many songs (over 25 in all), from the undersea adventure “Can You Imagine That?,” the emotional lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (a companion piece to “Step in Time”), Miranda’s Hamilton-esque rap in “A Cover Is Not the Book” and the finale, “Nowhere to Go But Up” that are the heart of the film.

There are many wonderful aspects to this film — all of the actors are terrific; the singing, dancing and choreography are amazing; and the sets are impressive. That being said, I found it hard to fall in love with this film. Maybe because I kept comparing it to the original, but I found the plot to be thin and rushed somehow — as if it had run over the allotted time and then was edited too much. For a Disney film, it didn’t feel magical enough and failed to capture the charm of its predecessor.

Rated PG, “Mary Poppins Returns” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

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The perfect family movie for the holidays

Meet Disney's newest princess, Moana!

By Erika Riley

Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.

The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.

Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.

The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.

Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.

While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.

The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.

Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.

Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Wendy (Moira Swinford) and Peter Pan (Alexandra Juliano) in a scene from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before children fly from the nest and become adults, their childhoods are a wonderful time for them to discover and cultivate their talents. The young cast of Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.,” which opened this past Saturday at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, prove they are ready for takeoff in the world of theater.

Brianne Boyd skillfully directs over 20 actors 18 years old and younger. Fans of the classic fairy tale will find all their favorite characters as well as many of the beloved songs from the 1953 Disney animated film that was based on the writings of J.M. Barrie.

In addition to the mischievous Peter who refuses to grow up, audiences will find a human-size Tinker Bell as well as the sweet and curious Darling children who follow Peter on a magical adventure to Neverland on the night when Wendy, the oldest, finds it’s her last night in the nursery. In the far-off land, they find the endearing Lost Boys, friendly Indians, mesmerizing mermaids and comical pirates led by Peter’s rival Captain Hook and his bungling first mate Mr. Smee.

The Smithtown production follows the tradition of a female filling Peter Pan’s pointy shoes by casting Alexandra Juliano in the main role. The actress admitted in a recent interview with this paper that before auditions she practiced standing like a male, and it looks like practice has made perfect, as she convincingly portrays the eternal boy. Juliano is a strong lead with solid vocal talents who especially shines during the number “I Won’t Grow Up” in the second act.

Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Tinker Bell (Cassiel Fawcett) in a scene from ‘Peter Pan Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

Cassiel Fawcett is adorable as Tinker Bell whether she wears a scowl when the fairy is upset or charmingly chats to the audience. In the beginning of the first act, she explains that even though the audience sees her as life-sized and can understand her, most humans see her as a tiny being who only speaks the language of the fairies. The actress adeptly handles the light that shines on the stage to represent her flying as well as the shaker that mimics how Peter and friends hear her. She also demonstrates a sweet soprano voice during the number “Fly to Your Heart” as well as the reprise.

Moira Swinford captures the sweetness of Wendy Darling, the young girl on the brink of womanhood, perfectly. Her voice is soft and tender during all her numbers but is particularly lovely during the number “Your Mother and Mine” as she tenderly reminds her brothers they have a mother waiting for them at home. As for Cole Napolitano and Erika Hinson, as Wendy’s brothers John and Michael, they demonstrate talent beyond their years and are a joy to watch.

Zak Ketcham portrays a not so dastardly Captain Hook, which is fitting for a musical geared toward small children, and Andrew McCarty as Smee received a number of giggles with his antics.

In the first act, the Mermaids (Courtney Vigliotti, Alison Kelleher, Nicole Ellner, Georgia Apazidis) deliver a soothing serenade, “Sunbeams and Sea.”

Throughout the musical, the Pirates, Lost Boys and Chief Tiger Bamboo (Sean Kenny) and his tribe deliver fantastic group numbers, and to the delight of the youngsters in the audience, the Lost Boys and the tribe utilize the aisles during the entertaining number “Following the Leader.”

As for the dance routines during those ensemble numbers, Melissa Rapelje has choreographed some fun steps, but it’s when Leah Kelly as Tiger Lily dances her solo, that Rapelje’s choreography beautifully takes center stage.

Set designer Timothy Golebiewski has constructed a charming set to resemble a nursery with windows and beds that resourcefully transform into a ship bow in later scenes. Not to be forgotten are the variety of delightful costumes designed by Ronald Green III that range from the Darlings’ sleepwear to the eclectic garb of the Lost Boys to the colorful Tinker Bell costume. 

Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” is a delightful musical for those who believe in magical lands and those who have forgotten, but just like Mr. Darling at the end of the story, who will believe again.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, will present Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” through June 19. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

Sari Feldman, Amanda Geraci, Aria Saltini and Melanie Acampora star in a scene fron ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

A sweet little fairy tale waltzed into Theatre Three last weekend and quickly stole the hearts of the entire audience. The theater is closing its 2015-16 children’s theater season with the perfect choice: a classic retelling of “Cinderella.”

Many little princesses sat in the audience during Saturday’s opening to see Cinderella find her true love and live happily ever after.

With book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Quattrock, Theatre Three’s version of this rags-to-riches story is full of singing, dancing, magic, quirky characters and lots of laughs. In short, your kids will love it.

From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
From left, Jenna Kavaler and Amanda Geraci star in a scene from ‘Cinderella.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight adult cast members all deliver stellar performances and clearly love the craft they have chosen. In a nod to the 17th century author of the modern Cinderella story, who is commonly referred to as the father of the fairy tale, the show’s narrator is named Charles Perrault. This “squire to the sire,” played by Andrew Gasparini, transports theatergoers to a faraway land ruled by King Utterly Charming (Steven Uihlein), who wants to retire to Boca and pass the crown on to his handsome son, Prince Charming (Hans Paul Hendrickson) — and yes, he is indeed charming. However, the king feels that his son should get married first and invites all eligible maidens to a royal ball.

The squire delivers the invitations to the home of the beautiful Cinderella (Amanda Geraci), who is still being treated badly by her wretched stepsisters (Sari Feldman and Melanie Acampora) and mean stepmother, played by newcomer Aria Saltini.

Left behind while the three meanies go to the ball, Cindy is visited by her fairy godmother, Angelica, wonderfully portrayed by Jenna Kavaler. Speaking with a Southern accent, Angelica quickly cooks up a beautiful gown and sends Cinderella on her way.

During Cinderella’s infamous missing shoe episode, Prince Charming interacts with all the little princesses in attendance, asking them for their shoe sizes as he searches for the glass slipper’s owner — a nice touch.

The songs, with Steve McCoy accompanying on piano, dominate the show. Geraci’s solo, “A Girl Like Me (And a Boy Like You),” is sweet as she dances with a broom and dreams of falling in love, and her duet with Hendrickson, “Here in Your Arms (The Waltz)” is delightful. Special mention should also be made of Gasparini’s solos, “Once Upon a Time” and “Take a Chance.”

The cast of ‘Cinderella’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
The cast of ‘Cinderella’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Teresa Matteson’s costumes are on point, from Cinderella’s beautiful gown to Prince Charming’s crown. Feldman’s choreography ties it all together.

Meet the entire cast in the lobby after the show and stay for a special photo with Cinderella and the Prince.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “Cinderella” through June 11. The new season will begin on the Mainstage with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 8 to Aug. 5 and the premiere of “The Misadventures of Robin Hood” from Aug. 5 to 13. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.