Artist: Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Michigan Renaissance Festival 2016: Meeting Fairies

( The MRF Faeries, L-R: Sandshell, Zephyr, Sweetheart, Wyvern, Icelia, Cobweb, Sunburst, and Foxtail)
 Copyright, Kenneth R. Shepherd

Each year for seven weeks, during the ‘tween time betwixt summer and autumn, the enchanted English Renaissance village of Hollygrove appears in a fairy wood in Holly, Michigan. It is a place out of space and time, where modern humans can meet fairy folk, Renaissance villagers, royalty, and all manner of colorful characters. This annual event is called the Michigan Renaissance Festival.

How this mysterious thing came about is anyone’s guess, but I’ve always compared Hollygrove to Brigadoon. A magic spell must have been cast when the world was split into the realm of Faerie, and the mundane world of the humans. There may have been some human folk who couldn’t bear to be parted from their fairy friends, so the fairies cast a spell to allow the humans and fairies to stay together, yet still allow some contact with the outside world. Now, even the human residents of Hollygrove are charmed. Hollygrove appears each year, but only on Saturdays and Sundays from August 20 through Oct. 2 from 10 A.M. to 7 P.M., plus Labor Day Monday (Sept. 5), and Festival Friday (Sept. 30). During this special time, humans may visit Hollygrove to meet the fairies and the charmed villagers.

There are all manner of fairy folk to see and meet in Hollygrove. The Michigan Renaissance Festival Faeries can be found in the Children’s Realm. This fairy troupe provides pleasant diversions for children throughout the day. There’s a Fairy Tea in the afternoons around 3:30, arts and crafts in the Arts & Crafts Pavilion, a children’s parade, and a pie eating contest. The fairy troupe includes Cobweb the Dream Faerie (the head fairy), Zephyr the Wind Fae, Sunburst the Art Faerie, Foxtail the Animal Faerie, Dewdrop the Bubble Faerie, and Icelia the Frost Faerie. There are three new fairies this year: Sandshell the Shore Faerie, Sweetheart the Charm Faerie, and Wyvern the Dragon Fae.

It was lovely catching up with fairy friends and meeting the delightful new fairies. When asked if he likes interacting with humans Zephyr said, “Aye, fascinating creatures they are.” Wyvern said, “I eat humans. I am a dragon, after all.” Cobweb went on a quest to rescue some fairies during a great storm. Upon her return, she said her journey was “Treacherous, it reminded me of the time I went up a water spout. As a result, I now suffer from IBSS – Itsy Bitsy Spider Syndrome!”

Cobweb was so kind to introduce us to some fairy folk who are new to the Michigan Renaissance Festival as of last year: the elves. The elves wander about the village, interacting with guests, and mingling with villagers and fellow fairy folk. Members of the elf troupe include Canis, Shay, Dijuri, Ambrielle, and Jynx. Like the fairies, the elves are mysterious, magical, kind, and whimsical.
The Michigan Renaissance Festival Elves (L-R: Dijuri, Jynx, Shay, Ambrielle, and Canis)
 Copyright Kenneth R. Shepherd

Fairy folk, Renaissance royalty, pirates, and villagers graciously greet visitors and invite children to play. Everyone in this enchanted village is hospitable and welcoming.  Guests are encouraged to dress in Renaissance attire or in fairy costumes if they like. Renaissance costumes may be purchased or rented from shops in the village. There is even a rental shop just outside the festival entrance. The village offers lots of shopping opportunities for unique wares by talented artisans and artists. There are many diversions and spectacles to enjoy about the village, plus performances on seventeen different stages throughout the day.
(L-R: Hollygrove villager and friend Page Turner, Foxtail the animal faerie, and Sunburst the art Faerie)
Copyright Kenneth R. Shepherd 

The Michigan Renaissance Festival is at 12600 Dixie Highway in Holly Michigan, off I-75.  One day admission at the gate is $22.95 for adults, $13.95 for children ages 5-12, $20.95 for seniors and for students with a valid college ID. Tickets purchased online in advance from the festival website are discounted, but you must present a printed ticket to enter (so print those tickets at home before you leave).

Discount tickets are also available at southeast Michigan Kroger stores. Check the festival website for more discount ticket opportunities. Season passes are also available, as well as Royal passes. All other information is available at the Michigan Renaissance Festival website. Follow the festival on Facebook and Instagram.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

'Kubo and the Two Strings": An instant classic

Copyright: Laika Entertainment
“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” ~Kubo
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is the new stop-motion animated fairy tale set in ancient Japan from Laika Entertainment. Laika is the studio that brought us such wonderful magical animated features as “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” and “The Box Trolls.” Laika has certainly created a masterpiece with this tale of mystery and wonder.

Kubo is a one-eyed boy whose background and tragic beginnings are a mystery to him. He has a lot of responsibility for a young boy, as he is the sole support for himself and his disabled mother. He makes his living as a story teller in his little village, where people young and old drop everything to hear his serial epic. He spins the yarn of the warrior Hanzo and his battles with the wicked Moon King, while playing his enchanted shamisen. As he plays and tells the tale, origami characters form from paper and act out the wondrous saga.

Kubo never gets to finish the story because he must rush home to his mother each day before dark, as she has made him promise to do. His mother, who is slipping away from the world due to memory loss, also tells Kubo to wear his father’s robe, and to keep his wooden monkey charm with him at all times. She warns him to beware of her evil sisters and father, who took Kubo’s eye. One day Kubo fails to get in before nightfall, and the consequences are dire.  The young boy must set out on a quest, accompanied by a cursed beetle and a talking snow monkey to find his father’s armor in order to save himself from his mother’s magical, but dangerous family.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” takes the audience on a suspense-filled adventure that’s full of beautiful animated characters, landscapes, and visuals created by director Travis Knight, cinematographer Frank Passingham, visual effects supervisor Steve Emerson, the animation department lead by Malcolm Lamont, and character designer Shannon Tindle. Laika’s team of artists who craft the models are to be commended for the stunning and expressive characters they create. That team includes Toby Froud, son of legendary fairy artists Brian and Wendy Froud, who is best known for playing the baby in the classic fairytale movie “Labyrinth.” The film features a sweeping musical score by Dario Marianelli. The unique and compelling story is by Marc Haimes and Shannon Tindle, with a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler.

The voice actors give outstanding performances. The witch sisters, both played by Rooney Mara are quite chilling. The much beloved George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original “Star Trek”), and veteran actress Brenda Vaccaro give lovely performances as Kubo’s elderly neighbors. The great Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King is a frightening, powerful, yet nuanced villain. Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are in top form as Kubo’s companions/protectors on his journey, and their characters are deep and broad. Young Art Parkinson is engaging as Kubo. He is vulnerable, funny, clever, strong, and heartbreaking.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a layered and multifaceted fairy story. It features themes of mystery, magic, love, and family. It truly offers something for everyone, but there are a couple of scenes that could be a bit scary for very small children. It has tragedy, action, adventure, tender family moments, heartache, comedy, and more. The resolution of the story is satisfying, yet unique and poignant.

Verdict:  Fairytastic! 5 out of 5 stars, please see this movie. Laika gives us beautiful stop-motion animation that takes lots of talent, time, and expense to create. Their films feature unusual stories that are like nothing else out there. They are long overdue for an Oscar.  


Friday, August 12, 2016

‘Pete’s Dragon’: Review of Disney’s reboot

Copyright Walt Disney Motion Pictures

Go north, go north with wings on your feet
North with the wind where the three rivers meet
Look all around you and see
Deep in the forest, there dragons will be
~ David Lowy and Toby Halbrooks

David Lowry’s reboot of Disney’s 1977 fairy story “Pete’s Dragon” is not so much a remake as it is a complete reimagining of the story of a boy named Pete, and his best friend and protector Elliot the dragon. The live action/CGI movie stars Oakes Fegley as Pete, Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace, and Robert Redford as Grace’s father Meacham. The screenplay was written by David Lowry and Toby Halbrooks.

Following a tragic accident, a tiny orphan named Pete is rescued by a dragon. Pete and the gentle dragon, whom he names Elliot, live happily together deep in a forest in the American Northwest. After several years their idyllic existence is interrupted when Pete is discovered by a girl named Natalie, and a kindly forest ranger named Grace. Grace takes Pete to stay with her until the authorities can find out where he came from.

Grace’s greedy future brother-in-law discovers Elliot, and decides to capture him and exploit him for money. Pete, Natalie, Grace, and Meacham must help Elliot before it’s too late. And, in the end Pete has a hard decision to make.

This is David Lowry’s first time directing a major motion picture. Previously he worked on indie films. With Pete’s Dragon he does a good job of giving us characters that we are invested in, and conveying magic, suspense, danger, heartache, and joy. The story has a very different feel as compared to other Disney films, and it’s a nice change.

There are some problems, though. For instance, he has a bit of trouble of wrapping things up, especially with the villain’s story arc. He also seems to have run out of time before he could tie up loose ends. Lowry gives us a lot of magical and heartwarming moments at the beginning of the film; however, spending too much time on that caused him to run out of time to wrap up other crucial parts of the story. It’s a matter of him learning to kill his little darlings, as Allen Ginsberg would say.

Lowry gets very good performances from his actors. Young Oakes Fegley gives an especially moving and natural performance as Pete. What can I say about Robert Redford? The gifted veteran actor is, as always, a delight on the screen. He’s an old man now, and has allowed himself to age gracefully, rather than fall into Hollywood’s trap of Botox, fillers, and cosmetic surgery. He’s still handsome, and that famous smile is as contagious as ever. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a gentle and understated performance. It's a nice change to see her play a truly kind person. She does it as well as she does the really vile characters she often portrays.

As far as the design for Elliot’s character, he’s more shaggy dog in appearance than dragon. He brings to mind Falkor the luck dragon from the classic fantasy film “The Neverending Story.” He does resemble the original Elliot from the original version of “Pete’s Dragon” with his snaggle-tooth, chubby tummy, sweet expression, and furry shock of hair on top of his head. His vocalizations were very nicely performed by actor John Kassir. Although the concept for the dragon could have been better, Elliot is a very lovable and cuddly character who can break your heart. One couldn't want for a better friend.

Overall, “Pete’s Dragon” is an enjoyable fairy tale. It does, however contain some really intense scenes that could be upsetting. The music, location, and cinematography are beautiful. While the story has some flaws, "Pete's Dragon" is enchanting and heartwarming. Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars; see it.     

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Fairy Blog confirms the fate of Freeform’s Harry Potter Weekends

Copyright Warner Bros. Used with permission from Freeform.
It’s a sad day for fans of Freeform’s Harry Potter Weekend events. For many years the cable network which is part of the ABC/Disney networks has been the home for Harry Potter movies on basic cable. The TV rights for the beloved fairy tale film franchise have gone back and forth between ABC/Disney and HBO/Cinamax. Most of the time, though, the TV broadcast/cable rights to the movies belonged to ABC/Disney, allowing Freeform (formerly ABC Family Channel) to air Harry Potter Weekend events three to four times a year.

Part of what makes Freeform’s special Harry Potter events so special is that they air editions of the movies that can’t be seen anywhere else. Warner Bros. only released director’s cut editions of the first two movies, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” on home video. None of the other six films in the series got director’s cuts. Freeform presented special editions of all eight movies with deleted scenes seamlessly edited into the films.

On August 9, NBCUniversal announced that they had acquired the TV broadcast/cable rights to all eight of the Harry Potter movies, plus the rights for the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” film trilogy. This will make the movies available to air on NBC, USA, and Syfy networks beginning July 1, 2018. NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast. They also own the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Japan.  

The Fairy Blog contacted Liana C. Yamasaki of Disney/ABC Television Group to find out the fate of Freeform’s Harry Potter Weekends. According to Ms. Yamasaki, "NBCUniversal has an exclusive deal and Freeform will no longer air Harry Potter after their window starts in 2018." That means that the Harry Potter Weekends are coming to an end in summer of 2018.

Until then, Potterheads can still enjoy Harry Potter Weekends for almost two years. Freeform has a Harry Potter Weekend event coming up in September. Please click here for my post with the dates and complete schedule.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Harry Potter Weekend on Freeform Labor Day weekend

Photo: Copyright Warner Bros. Used with permission from Freeform.
Cable network Freeform has been very generous with their Harry Potter Weekend movie marathons this year. It’s been such an exciting year for Potterheads, what with the upcoming release of the first movie in the three part Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” on November 18, and the premiere of London stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last month. Fans can’t get enough of their favorite fairy story.

There may, however, be another reason for the frequency of Potter magic on Freeform, and it may mean the end of their beloved Harry Potter Weekends. For several years, now, the broadcast/cable TV rights for the Potter films have gone back and forth between ABC/Disney, which owns Freeform, and HBO/Cinamax. They've mostly belonged to ABC Disney, and that's what made the Harry Potter Weekends possible. Yesterday, there was big news about the broadcast and cable rights to the movie franchise. I emailed my contact at Freeform regarding the status of the Harry Potter Weekends, and will report here if I get a response.  

NBC is reporting that NBCUniversal has purchased the broadcast and cable rights to the entire Harry Potter movie franchise and the Fantastic Beasts movies from Warner Bros. The Potter movies will become available to NBC, Syfy, and USA starting July 1, 2018. According to NBCUniversal, their cable networks will “bring viewers content that includes extended director’s cut versions of the first two Harry Potter films; the 2011”When Harry Left Hogwarts” featurette; and 3D versions of the last two films in the Harry Potter series.”

This venture brings the Harry Potter TV rights under the NBCUniversal umbrella. Universal, of course owns the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions at Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Japan. The acquisition of the movie rights opens up more opportunities for tie-in events between the Potter movies, the Fantastic Beasts movies, and the theme park attractions

In the meantime, fans can enjoy Freeform’s next Harry Potter Weekend which starts Friday, September 2, the day after back to school day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The current schedule is below. Air times are U.S. Eastern time:

Friday, Sept. 2:
2:30 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
6 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Saturday, Sept. 3:
7 a.m. – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
10:30 a.m. – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2:30 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
5:30 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
9 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Sunday, Sept. 4:
7:30 a.m. – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
10:30 a.m. – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
5:30 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
9 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Monday, Sept. 5:
2 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
5:30 p.m. – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Freeform sometimes changes their schedule, so I will publish the finalized schedule closer to the start of the event. Freeform always welcomes viewers to participate in Harry Potter Weekends by using special hashtags on Twitter. Follow Freeform on Twitter (@FreeformTV) to find out more. You can also participate on during the event on Freeform’s official Facebook page.

Monday, August 1, 2016

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" book review

Image from Pottermore.

In 2013, producers announced a new London stage play, called “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” that would be the eighth story in the Harry Potter saga. The play was written by Jack Thorne, with story elements contributed by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. While this was exciting news for Potterheads around the world, almost immediately fans were hurt that only a small number would ever be able to attend the stage play. Later came the announcement that the rehearsal script for the play would be released in book form.  The book was released at midnight on July 31, 2016 – the birthday of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.

The story begins nineteen years after Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry is married to Ginny Weasley, and Ron and Hermione are married to each other. Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, is starting his first year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s also the first day for Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose, and for Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius.

Albus is very nervous about starting school, and is afraid that he will be sorted into Slytherin, the school house associated with dark wizards. In the book and movie, we see a loving, sensitive, and wise father comforting Albus, and assuring him that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he were to be sorted into Slytherin because Albus was given the middle name of Severus, after a Slytherin, who was the bravest man Harry ever knew. Albus heads off to Hogwarts happy and excited. The final words of the book are: “All was well.”

According to this new story, all is not well. Albus is unhappy at school, and Harry has a lot of shortcomings as a father. He’s stressed out at work, and has to be prodded about doing his job properly. The story unfolds over three school years as Harry and Albus’s relationship deteriorates to the point that Albus’s anger towards his dad leads him to endanger the world and maybe even undo Voldemort’s downfall.

By all accounts, the stage play is quite enjoyable because of the excellent production, acting, directing, and wondrous special effects. Sadly, the story and dialog leave something to be desired. There is a secret love child, and a time travel mess reminiscent of the universally disliked second installment of the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy. There’s also a big heartbreaking scene that makes no sense because of what we know about the Fidelius charm from the original series, and that the charm was on Lily and James Potter’s house. It completely contradicts canon.

The dialog is not up to Rowling’s writing, and the kids don’t read as real, or as well as Rowling wrote them. J.K. Rowling’s kids’ dialog reads so true to life and feels authentic. Jack Thorne misses the mark here, and much of Albus’s and Scorpius’s dialog just isn’t as organic.   

The way time travel works is also not quite in line with the way it worked in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” In PoA, time travel followed the Novikov self-consistency principal, which asserts that if an event exists that would change the past in any way, or would cause a time paradox, the probability of that event is zero. We are told in PoA that what happened with Sirius Black was predetermined, and could not have happened any other way, because it had always happened that way. This story contradicts that.

The inconsistencies are really bothersome, and make the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” inferior to Rowling’s original writings. It’s disappointing that she O.K.’d this story. There are a few fun elements, like seeing the grown up Draco Malfoy, and his son Scorpius, and the loving marriages of Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny. But overall, it’s unfortunate that some elements of the story will now be considered canon.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' lacks the magic and enchantment of the original material. Potterheads are going to want to read this anyway, but it’s not great. It just reads like fanfic, and not very good fanfic at that. Verdict: 3 out of five stars. Maybe borrow a copy to read before paying for it.