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|Kevin Krock, editor|
For a change of pace, I decided to write a Halloween themed review this time around. Rather than pick just a single DVD, I chose several that seemed perfect for family viewing while working on a spooky jack-o-lantern. As you'll see below, I ended up with a mixed bag of both tricks and treats.
The first disc, Scooby- Doo's Spookiest Tales, is simply a compilation of several episodes of this venerable children’s television cartoon series. Warner Brothers released several of these collections during the last year or so, and this disc happens to be the most recent one, being released in late September, 2001. The disc contains five 22- minute episodes, including one special bonus Halloween episode. All five shows follow the classic Scooby- Doo mystery plot line: Something weird is happening where the Mystery Inc. gang is visiting, they start to unravel the mysterious goings-on, Scooby and Shaggy get in trouble, and the mystery is finally solved with the arrest of the theme-park owner / landlord / rich heir / etc. The plots are predictable, but they are fun to watch, especially if you used to watch them as a kid or more recently on the Cartoon Network.
The second disc is Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the title, this movie is actually two separate stories. The first story is an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, brilliantly narrated by Basil Rathbone. The second story is an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. Both stories are lots of fun to watch, and the story of Ichabod makes especially great Halloween viewing. This is the first time, since an earlier LaserDisc release, that this feature has been available intact as it was originally released to theaters. (More on this below in "The Advanced Home Theater.")
The last disc is Disney’s The Black Cauldron. Produced during what many consider the "dark days of Disney animation" in the mid- 1980s, the movie is a hodgepodge of story elements and animation. The story is based on "The Chronicles of Prydain" books by Lloyd Alexander, but the movie comes across almost like a misguided collection of isolated animated fantasy scenes. At the center of the plot is a young boy named Taran who must find the mysterious Black Cauldron before the evil Horned King unleashes its power to take over the world. Unfortunately, there is very little character development, and things that make little to no sense happen to the main characters. Although even with this serious lack of story development, the movie contains some impressive animation, but it is hardly enough to compensate the story’s shortcomings. This was Disney’s first animated film to be rated PG, due to the intensity of several scenes, particularly the ones involving the Horned King. Therefore, it might not be the best choice for families with young viewers.
All three discs have minimal quantities of bonus material. Scooby- Doo’s Scariest Tales has the least amount, with a "bonus" episode, a trivia game, and character bios. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad has the classic Mickey Mouse cartoon "Lonesome Ghosts" as well as a trivia game, a sing-along, and a story book. (Plus there is an "easter egg" on this disc - the cartoon "Suzie the Little Blue Coupe" will play when you win the trivia game.) Finally, The Black Cauldron contains a trivia game, a Donald Duck cartoon, and a relatively decent still-frame gallery. None of the discs’ supplemental material is very impressive; you could honestly consider these discs "movie-only" titles.
The Video, Audio and Interface
As with the goodies, all three discs have similar audio, video, and interface characteristics. The video transfers on each disc can be rather rough, showing film damage such as scratches, dirt, color distortion, and so on, which could use some good digital clean up.
The mono or stereo audio transfers are clean and adequate, but certainly nothing extraordinary. Even The Black Cauldron, which was supposedly has a full Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer, is not overly impressive because it is nothing more than a re- channeled original stereo soundtrack.
Even the user interfaces are uniformly bland: They are ultra- basic, static menus without any audio accompaniment, and although they are quite boring, they are easy to use.
The Final Evaluation
In the end, each disc rates somewhere between disappointing and adequate, and your satisfaction will depend on your level of interest in the movies / shows rather than the quality of the DVDs. Unfortunately, none of these titles are sufficiently differentiated from their VHS counterparts to warrant upgrading to the DVD counterparts.
The Scooby-Doo title and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad are probably your best bets for a family Halloween treat. You could probably easily pass on The Black Cauldron, unless you are really curious. (You may also want to take a look at the Nightmare Before Christmas review here on the site for another Halloween title of interest.)
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