Disney Nerds

Review: The Florida Project

While most of my fiction reviews are directly Disney related, The Florida Project is a little different in that it is a fictional movie set near Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The movie is about Halley, a very young single mom, and her daughter Moonee who live in The Magic Castle, a budget hotel in an area that caters largely to Disney World tourists and low income extended stay guests. The challenging circumstances of the main characters are not caused by Disney World but the setting serves as a backdrop that poignantly contrasts the difficult realities of real life with the shining clean artificial world of the theme park next door. It is easy to try to paint people in one color – they’re either good or bad – but people often present multiple conflicting truths and The Florida Project presents that reality very well. Halley’s conflicting truths are that she really does love her daughter and she really is a train wreck. Mooney is a clean, happy, and delightfully mischievous and Halley provides for her basic needs, albeit in ways that are not always legal, but Mooney is also left unattended in ways that leave any sensible person with a sense of dread. In one scene, Halley goes to a lot of effort to make a birthday special for Moonee’s best friend by taking the girls and hitchhiking to where they can see the Disney World fireworks; it was really sweet but, doggone it, you put yourself and the kids at risk by getting int a car with a stranger, Halley! In another scene, a creepy man takes an inappropriate interest in the children who live in the hotel and is very firmly dealt with by Bobby, the hotel manager who is does a heroic job of treating the extended stay residents with understanding while holding a firm line against their excesses. You’re thankful that Bobby is there but you also realize that he is having to step in and provide the type of protection that should come from better parenting. Moonee is a resourceful and happy child and you can’t help but cheer her on, even when she is behaving like a budding young con artist, but you know that trouble is coming and life won’t always be kind or good to Moonee.

What I loved about the movie

The Florida Project steers away from platitudes and simple answers because life isn’t always simple. When you watch Halley’s parenting, you can’t help but see problems but you also find yourself wondering, “Where is Moonee’s father? Where are the grandparents?” Halley is not a great parent but she is doing it from a place rooted in love and she is doing it alone. Does that make her a bad mom, a good mom or something far more complex? The movie depicts other low income families doing the best the they can in their circumstances and sometimes that results in a touchingly supportive community while it breeds conflict in other cases. There is a scene where Family Services appropriately gets called into the situation and you wrestle with whether Moonee is better off staying with her mess of a mom who genuinely loves her or in the foster care system, which we all know also has its problems. The movie gives us a glimpse into circumstances that play out in communities everywhere and it does so without falling to either hopelessness or simplistic “solutions” that only work in the movies. The movie leads you to questions about what we can or even should do rather than taking you to a specific conclusion.

Another great thing about this movie is that it shows that simple acts of kindness and decency actually can make a difference, especially in the lives of people who are in difficult circumstances. There is a scene where a charitable group brings free bread and you know that an arm load of white bread doesn’t provide a long term solution to anything going on for the people at The Magic Castle but it does meet an immediate need where lack of food is a real and pressing worry. The manager Bobby is a good man; someone who does right by the people around him with a quiet, unassuming strength. If you have a good life, you’ve no doubt been touched by at least one person who lives their life that way. You also see people in difficult circumstances go out of their way to be helpful to one another. When you are struggling to get by on service industry wages, the person who watches your kid for free while you pick up a shift is a lifeline.

The movie is also good in that it doesn’t gloss over or romanticize Halley’s poor choices. There is another single mom in the hotel who holds down a job at a nearby restaurant; Halley doesn’t seem to be able to hold down a legitimate job. Halley is belligerent and foul-mouthed and Moonee has learned those things from her mom. Some of their situation is beyond their control but there is wisdom to not making a hard situation worse.

Viewer Warnings: This is a movie has a lot of heart but it is not a squeaky clean, feel good movie that wrap everything up in an easy moral at the end. Because of the serious themes and prolific profanities, I do not recommend this movie for children or tweens. Because it handles the circumstances and characters so well, I would recommend the movie for thoughtful teens, especially ones with a heart for making the world a better place, but you’ll definitely want to plan on some discussions to help them process the different elements. You’ll also want to be aware that Halley turns to prostitution to earn money but, other than other characters referencing the fact and a man seen leaving Halley’s hotel room, nothing graphic is shown.

The Magic Castle Inn and Suites actually exists and there is a funny scene where the kids are screaming at and flipping off the tourists who on the helicopter tours that take off and land, take off and land, take off and all day long next door to the hotel. If you lived there, you would feel that way too. I took these pictures of those locations when I was recently in the area. Actual gift shops, ice cream shops and other area businesses also show up in the movie.

The Magic Castle Inn and Suites and helicopter tour as seen in The Florida Project.

The Magic Castle Inn and Suites and helicopter tour as seen in The Florida Project.

I watched The Florida Project on AmazonPrime and it is available on DVD. It is not currently available on NetFlix

You might also like: Disney World is alluded to in the way a lot of people think of Heaven, a place where all our troubles just magically disappear. That can be really attractive when life insists on throwing hard and heartbreaking things your way and you really hope that Moonee gets to Disney World someday. If you enjoy The Florida Project and aren’t put off by the language, you might also enjoy the book Our Kingdom of Dust by Leonard Kinsey which also tackles the appropriate role of Disney magic and the dangers of escapism in our hard circumstances.

More reviews:

Planning a Disney vacation? You'll definitely want to subscribe to our free newsletter. You will receive a link to 45 great Disney World Freebies in your welcome note and several helpful “how-to” e-guides over the next week. Unsubscribe at any time.

Email: 

Thursday 3: 3 Special Walt Disney Remembrances at Disneyland

Disneyland - Walt's Park

It is crazy to think that there are kids who are very familiar with the word "Disney" but have no idea that Walt Disney was a real person.  For our first Thursday Three, we're going to take a look at three very special "Walt" remembrances in Disneyland park in California.  Honestly, the park itself should probably be our first item and one of the things that makes Disneyland so special is that it is the only theme park that was built with Walt Disney's involvement at every level, from original inspiration to attraction design to opening day and beyond.  The park was a labor of love right up to the end of Walt's life; in fact, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland was the last theme park attraction that Walt Disney personally oversaw and developed.  Walt passed away in December 15, 1966 and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened to the public in March 18, 1967

#1: Walt's Bench: One of the hidden gems you'll find tucked away in an exhibit near the front of the park is the bench where the first thought of a theme park came to Walt Disney.  He first had the idea as he sat on a park bench watching his daughters ride the merry-go-round at an amusement park and he had the thought that there should be a place where parents and children could enjoy doing things together.   It was an idea that stuck with him and one that took a lot of time to develop but Disneyland opened 15 years later.

DLC-walt's-park-bench.JPG

#2: Walt's Lamp: Did you know that Walt Disney had a small but fully functional apartment built into the second floor of the Disneyland Fire Station?   This apartment isn't open to the public though you can sometimes peek into it in the "Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps Guided Tour" (extra cost).  The story goes that Walt would put a lit lamp in the window of the firehouse window to let people know he was in residence. They now keep a lit lamp in the window to symbolize the idea of Walt's influence or spirit always being present at Disneyland.

DLC-Firehouse-walts-Light.JPG

#3: Disney Brothers Golden Initials: Look for Walt & Roy Disneys' golden initials in the railing above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the New Orleans Square area of Disneyland...really, it is maybe a little closer to the Gumbo stand.

DLC - POC-Walt-and-Roy-initials.JPG

Don't Miss Out On Great Experiences At Disneyland!

You are probably beginning to see how helpful and valuable it would be to have someone who really knows and loves Disneyland help with your trip.   Did you know that our travel agents that specialize in Disneyland add a lot of value to your experience without costing you any extra?    When you book through us, you receive advice and information to help make your trip a wonderful and memorable time as well as a handy guidebook or online subscription (your choice) at no cost to you that will help you stay ahead of crowds and out of long lines.   We book both Disney and non-Disney hotels and we love helping our clients have a great trip.   Contact us today with your questions or to get a free, no-obligation quote.

Let’s start planning a great vacation!

Our “Quote Request” form is the easiest way to start planning your trip. Just fill in as much or as little information as you know at this time and one of our agents will be in touch soon. There’s never any pressure or obligation.

Get A Disneyland Quote

Book Review: Service with Character: The Disney Studio & World War II by David Lesjak

Service with Character: The Disney Studios and World War II by David Lesjak.  Produced by ThemeParkPress. 

Service with Character: The Disney Studios and World War II by David Lesjak.  Produced by ThemeParkPress. 

If you're into military history AND you love Disney, you'll definitely want to read Service with Character: Disney Studio & World War II by David Lesjak.  I was fascinated to learn about Disney's involvement in World War II. 

Did you know that Disney produced a movie called "Victory Through Air Power" that probably contributed to the U.S. Air Force becoming its own branch of the military? 

Did you know that the Disney Studios housed military forces, created over 1200 military insignia, helped sell war bonds and even helped people to think of paying income taxes as their patriotic duty (Taxes to beat the Axis!)?  Click here for more on that. 

Did you know that the studios produced one edition of a magazine for their employees serving in the Armed Forces that even included hand-drawn pin-up girls?  Click here to read more about that. 

As a somewhat religious person, I found the section on propaganda films especially interesting in light of the current political climate.  The book includes a portion of a memo Disney Production Manager Robert Carr sent about WWII propaganda films produced by Disney Studios for South America.  He wrote, "Animation, being a magical medium has profound potentialities for evoking sentiment and awe. 'Ave Maria' in Fantasia was only a beginning. We should make full use of this quality in many of the 'big' subjects suggested, CREATING A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS FEELING, AND ASSOCIATING THIS WITH POLITICAL IDEALS (emphasis mine). We can have beautiful and reverent scenes in which The Christ of the Andes is seen in the background, or a huge cross fills the sky; or more subtly, when the voice, the music and the artist's style of painting suggests a religious atmosphere....as when we see the Spirit of Pan American, or of Victory, standing behind our weapons. This will put over certain ideas impossible to present otherwise." (source: Service with Character: The Disney Studio & World War II, by David Lesjak, pp. 177 & 178). Social media is a relatively new, and very visual, medium that we're all having to learn to navigate. The above memo struck me as a good reminder that we need to be wise when religious themes or imagery are being employed to influence us.

I am not affiliated with the author or publisher in any way.  The men in my family served in different branches of the military and I'm a Disney fan who found this book really interesting and thought you might too.  It would also make a great Christmas gift for the history buff in your family.   This book can be purchased on Amazon. 

More Disney Related Book Reviews: 

About the reviewer: Annette, with her husband Steve, owns BuildABetterMouseTrip.com and is an avid reader; so much so that, as a child, her parents made a rule that she could not read during daylight hours because they were concerned she was developing a pallor best suited for the Haunted Mansion!

How Disney Got People to Pay Their Income Taxes!

How Donald Duck and the Disney Studios convinced Americans that it was their patriot duty to pay their income taxes and pay them on time.   Taxes to beat the Axis!

How Donald Duck and the Disney Studios convinced Americans that it was their patriot duty to pay their income taxes and pay them on time.   Taxes to beat the Axis!

I learned something interesting in Service with Character - The Disney Studio & World War II by David Lesjak.   The expenses of World War II meant that 7-million American workers would need to pay income tax for the first time so the US Treasury Department contracted the Disney Studios to create a cartoon short to convince these people that it was their patriotic duty to pay their taxes and pay them on time.   Disney studios created the short film below, named "The New Spirit" with the slogan: Taxes to Fight the Axis which was distributed freely to theaters throughout the United States and was seen by an estimated 3.5-million people.   Disney Studios produced the film at cost but when the Treasury Department submitted the cost ($80,000) in an appropriations bill, Congress denied the funding saying that the taxpayers would not approve of having their money spent on cartoons when there was a war going on.   It was a very heated, very public debate that was covered widely in the news.  Despite the fact that The New Spirit was produced at a loss and the free distribution of this film was costing the Disney Studios  $50,000 to $60,000 in lost bookings for other cartoon shorts, the Disney Studios received hate mail accusing them of being war profiteers as a result of the negative press.  Congressional never did budge on their veto but the US Treasury Department did finally pay the Disney Studios out of funds on hand. 

A second film called The Spirit of 43 was created a bit later that encouraged people to set aside money to pay their taxes.   It had some new footage and reused a large portion from The New Spirit.   It is notable for being the first appearance of a prototype of the character that would later be named Scrooge McDuck. 

This post is lovingly dedicated to Monica and Laura, two of our hard working travel agents who are feeling the burn of tax day.   Chin up, my friends...your taxes will keep democracy on the march!

Planning a Disney vacation? You'll definitely want to subscribe to our free newsletter. You will receive a link to 45 great Disney World Freebies in your welcome note and several helpful “how-to” e-guides over the next week. Unsubscribe at any time.

Email: 

Don't Miss Out on Great Experiences at Disney World!

We want to help you have the most wonderful, most memorable Disney vacation possible. We know that giving you good, up-to-date information and a few simple tools will make a huge difference in your Disney vacation. Long lines become short lines and you will have great memories of shared experiences instead of missed opportunities.  That's why we're called Build A Better Mouse Trip.

Here’s how we help you have a great vacation:

  1. Your travel agent – You have one agent from start-to-finish who knows your name and your priorities and who wants to do everything possible to help you have a wonderful experience.
  2. “Best Days” Itinerary – We’ll help you build an itinerary that includes your priorities for fireworks, parades, crowds and shows. Then we help with dining & Fastpass+ reservations.
  3. Saving Money – Of course we watch for discounts and promotion and automatically apply the best available offer to your reservation but we also help you avoid up-sells and options you won’t use.
  4. We Are Fee-Free - We book directly through Disney and we never charge a service fee so you never pay any extra to use our services when you book your trip through us.  You can have all the benefits Disney offers PLUS all the services we offer.  You can also purchase planning services through us if you've booked on your own or through another travel agency. 

Let’s start planning a great vacation!

Our “Quote Request” form is the easiest way to start planning your trip. Just fill in as much or as little information as you know at this time and one of our agents will be in touch soon. There’s never any pressure or obligation.

Get A Quote

Disney Trivia: Pin-Ups for Disney Service Men

"Dispatch from Disney's"   was produced in 1943 for Walt Disney Studios employees serving in the Armed Services and it included a page titled  "Pin-Ups For Service Men from Walt Disney Staff"  that featured hand drawn pictures of topless women.

"Dispatch from Disney's" was produced in 1943 for Walt Disney Studios employees serving in the Armed Services and it included a page titled "Pin-Ups For Service Men from Walt Disney Staff" that featured hand drawn pictures of topless women.

On Veterans Day, I started reading Service with Character: The Disney Studio & World War II by David Lesjak and was surprised to learn that one issue of a magazine called "Dispatch from Disney's" was produced in 1943 for Walt Disney Studios employees serving in the Armed Forces and it included a page titled "Pin-Ups For Service Men from Walt Disney Staff" that featured hand drawn pictures of topless women. Now I have the song "A Girl Worth Fighting For" from Disney's Mulan going through my head!

Planning a Disney vacation? You'll definitely want to subscribe to our free newsletter. You will receive a link to 45 great Disney World Freebies in your welcome note and several helpful “how-to” e-guides over the next week. Unsubscribe at any time.

Email: 

Book Review: Murder in the Magic Kingdom

Murder in the Magic Kingdom, by Anne Salisbury and Bob McLain
Amazon price: Paperback: $14.95 / Kindle Edition: $4.99
Reviewed by Annette Johnson

Note: There are two books with the title Murder in the Magic Kingdom listed on Amazon.  This review is for the 2014 book by Anne Salisbury, not the 2008 book by Foreman Heard. 

Murder in the Magic Kingdom: A Novel
$14.95
By Annie Salisbury

Disney World cast member Tommy Boyd’s murdered body is found in the waters of the Jungle Cruise attraction and Josh, another cast member, comes under scrutiny because Tommy was inexplicably wearing one of Josh’s uniforms at the time of his death.  Though Josh isn’t detained, due to lack of evidence, he rightly feels that they’ll stop looking for other suspects unless he finds some compelling evidence to prove his own innocence and to point their attention elsewhere.  I don’t want to give anything away but what follows is a fairly short book (only 154 pages) that moves quickly through the Disney World theme parks to catch the real killer.     

What I like:   A lot of Disney park based fiction has a common theme of the current Disney leadership being motivated solely by profits and the need to find a rightful successor to carry on Walt Disney’s true spirit and vision for the parks.   That is fine - I’ve certainly imagined what I would do if I was at the helm of the Disney corporation – but it can also get monotonous.   Murder in the Magic Kingdom doesn’t go there; it simply places a murder mystery into the current Disney World setting.   The author is a former Cast Member so she weaves both the public and backstage areas of the park into the story in effective ways.  Josh, the lead character in the book, is likeable but refreshingly normal; he isn’t a genius or drop dead gorgeous – he's just a regular guy who was dropped into a bad situation and you can’t help but hope that things work out for him.

What I didn’t like:   The book would’ve benefited from better proofreading; there is a your/you’re mistake which is easy enough to read through.  There are a few places where the wrong word is used and it sort of stops the flow of the story as your brain tries to fill in the right word; for example, there is one place where one cast member “shames” the hand of another instead where it should’ve been “shakes”.   I felt like the book ended rather abruptly with too many loose ends; in particular, the main character was feeling like he was simply treading water in both his career and his relationships and there was nothing to indicate whether this rather dramatic set of circumstances helped him to find clarity or come to any decisions about his life.

Final thoughts:  The author has only published two books and this is her first fiction effort; her first book, which I have not yet read, is an autobiographical account of her experiences as a Disney VIP tour guide. Murder in the Magic Kingdom isn't a bad first work but may have benefited from a little more work and a little better editing. I bought the Kindle Edition and, at $4.99, it was an enjoyable, light read providing a quick fix to satisfy my Disney theme park addiction; I probably would’ve been disappointed if I’d purchased the paperback version for $14.95. 

About the reviewer: Annette has been reading mystery novels since she discovered Nancy Drew in her school library.  She and her husband love the Disney theme parks and launched Build A Better Mouse Trip / Mouse Trip Travel, a Disney-focused travel agency, over ten years ago so that they and their agents can help others experience the wonder and the magic of the Disney theme parks.

More Disney Related Book Reviews: 

Disclosure:  If you click on the Amazon link/book cover in this article and make a purchase, we will receive a small commission from Amazon.  At least that is the theory; it has not happened yet.  If it does, I'll no doubt just spend it on more books. ;-)

Planning a Disney vacation? You'll definitely want to subscribe to our free newsletter. You will receive a link to 45 great Disney World Freebies in your welcome note and several helpful “how-to” e-guides over the next week. Unsubscribe at any time.

Email: