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Kevin Krock, editor
DVD Reviews
While there have been several Disney releases the past couple of months, none of them have been particularly spectacular or feature-packed enough to warrant in-depth reviews, so I decided to gather several of the shorter reviews together and give them to you all at once below.

Fortunately, the remainder of the year should bring with it a stronger selection of Disney DVDs including, Schoolhouse Rock (just released), Monsters, Inc. (September 17), Beauty and the Beast (October 8), Lilo & Stitch (December 3) and the Walt Disney Treasures discs (December 3). Stay tuned for those reviews in the coming months.

Here is what I have lined up this time around; just click on a title to jump down to the review:

The Great Mouse Detective
(1986) | Approx. 74 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value
Advanced Home Theater - The smaller your big screen, the better

The Disc

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

Based on the characters from Eve Titus’ children’s book, Basil of Baker Street, this movie follows Olivia, a young girl searching for her kidnapped father with the help of Basil Bartholomew, the world’s greatest mouse investigator. As he searches for Olivia’s father, he begins to unravel a devious plot that would put the villainous Professor Ratigan into a position to rule over all mousedom.

While this is not a classic Disney film, it is certainly enjoyable and well worth watching. The animation is quite good, with some of Disney’s first computer-supported animation, and the voices, especially Vincent Price’s, are well-cast. The transfer on this disc has been digitally restored, and the video looks great. The colors are clean and saturated, with nice highlights and solid blacks. The detail is also well-preserved, and to top it all off, the transfer is in anamorphic widescreen – always a big plus in my book.

Advanced Home Theater

I was stunned, then shocked. I couldn't believe my eyes. I called people who also picked up this disc to confirm what I was looking at. They were stunned and also shocked. We just didn't think this would ever happen on a new Disney DVD release. Hell had frozen over.

What was the cause of all this commotion? There are no forced previews on this disc - it just jumps right into the menu, as almost every other DVD produced by almost every other studio does.

Even though the Disney employee who oversaw this is now most likely sentenced to work at California Adventure for the rest of his career, let's hope the suits above him hear the hosannas loud and clear from the consumers out there about this.

I don't want to hit skip on my remote. I don't want to see a preview for Cinderella III - The Revenge. I really just want the menu for the title to pop up so I can choose whatever features (or chapters) I want and then hit play.

The video transfer on this title viewed on a big screen TV is a bit better than some of the other Disney DVDs, such as Hunchback, but not by much. At least it isn't as grainy as Rescuers Down Under or Pocahontas - which look like they were shot in a sandstorm. The transfer can get a little murky at times, but considering its low price point (at about $15) and that this isn't really a special edition, it can just barely pass.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

On a 5.1 Dolby Digital system the original mix has been expanded a bit, but ever so elegantly. Disney's remixing of mono and stereo materials into 5.1 on almost all of their home video releases has been exemplary, and this is no exception. Henry Mancini's score fills the room nicely, and it's nice to see Hank again on the included promotional feature for the movie, as he is missed by the film composing community. Listen carefully during the big clock gear sequence at the end, and you'll hear a master musician at work - it is not what you would expect in a conventional film, much less an animated kid's feature.

- Al Lutz

This disc also features a few other features that set it apart from its VHS companion. First, it sports a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which will provide clean and solid audio on any home theater system, with enough surround effects to keep things interesting. There are also French and Spanish language tracks, should you want them. Second, while not a lot, the two animated shorts and the brief "Making of" featurette are nice, but there is little bonus material for collectors. Finally, the user interface is nicely themed, and it features animated accents and audio cues on many of the screens.

Overall, the disc is fairly typical of Disney’s non-collector DVDs, especially for their older theatrical movies. The video transfer and audio are well done, but the lack of bonus material may limit collector interest.

The Great Mouse Detective is definitely worth a rental, and if you are replacing your old videotapes with DVDs, you will want to put this on your list.

Tarzan & Jane
(2002) | Approx. 75 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Disc

This compilation show stars Tarzan and Jane on their one-year wedding anniversary. As the date approaches, Jane searches the jungle for the perfect gift for Tarzan, with the help of old friends Terk and Tantor. During the search, they reminisce about the adventures they’ve had over the last year, such as outsmarting panthers, surfing down a lava flow, and dealing with air pirates. While I’ve never watched the TV series, this disc appears to simply reuse previously animated segments from the series with some new interstitial animation. The show just feels like a TV series mid-season, flashback episode, and the plot is pretty thin. Major fans of the animated TV show may enjoy it, but those looking for the same quality as the feature film ought to save their money for another disc.

As expected for a direct-to-video release, the video and audio transfer are very clean and will play well on any home theater system, but the anamorphic widescreen was a bit of a surprise for this mediocre content. So, even though the transfer looks and sounds pretty good, the content just does not warrant it. As for bonus material, there is very little that will keep you or your children entertained for any length of time. The "Build Your Own Tree House" is a linear point-and-click "game," and the "Adventure Builder" is like one of those old choose-your-own-adventure books, where you read a paragraph and then select a choice which takes you down this path and that.

Ultimately, I did not find much here to hold my attention, and unless you absolutely love the television series, you will probably be rather sorely disappointed. I would suggest saving your money for something better.

The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina
(2002) | Approx. 75 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Disc

Produced by the creators of the Brave Little Toaster series, The Adventures of Tom Thumb & Thumbelina features two classic and very small fairy tale characters, Tom Thumb (voiced by Elijah Wood from The Lord of the Rings) and Thumbelina (voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt from Hunchback of Notre Dame 2). They independently longed for acceptance until fate brings them together, and then the two embark on a fantastic quest together. The plot and animation is better than I had anticipated, but the movie falls a bit short of holding my attention. The target audience is definitely children, and it seems fairly well suited for them.

The technical aspects of this disc were less of a surprise and more along my expectations for a direct-to-video release. The video is an acceptable full-screen (1.33:1 aspect ratio) transfer, with bright, solid colors and good detail, and the audio is a rather simple transfer, which should sound pretty good on any system. The most significant shortcoming was the complete lack of bonus material. The advertised "Select-A-Song" is a glorified chapter search that also allows you to turn captioning on or off so you can sing along. Wow. I’m sure there is more background material that could have been included, but obviously the intent was to get a quick return on this Miramax property.

While the story is somewhat interesting for adults, and more so for children, and the audio and video transfers are acceptable, the lack of any supporting material puts this firmly on my "rental only" list. If you are looking for a relatively light family flick for the evening, it may be worth a look, but just don’t look for it to be memorable classic that will endure the test of time.

Rolie Polie Olie: The Great Defender of Fun
(2002) | Approx. 74 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Disc

I would not consider myself a particularly huge fan of the Rolie Polie Olie television series on the Disney Channel, but my son and I do enjoy watching it together when it is on television. It is a fun computer animated show staring Olie, a young robot, and his robot family. Rolie Polie Olie: The Great Defender of Fun opens with preparations a birthday party for Zowie, Olie’s sister. Everything is going along smoothly until something goes terribly wrong: the evil Gloomius Maximus (voiced by James Woods from Hercules) catches wind of the fun event and threatens to bring doom and gloom to the whole planet. It is up to Olie and his buddies to protect the party from being "un-funerated" and defend Polieville against the perils of gloom. It ends up being a relatively enjoyable and cohesive movie, especially for those that enjoy the TV series.

Looking at the technical side of the disc, the audio and video transfers were better than I had expected. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix was full of surround and directional effects, yet it ought to play nicely on any system. The video transfer was very clean, with vibrant, saturated colors and very good detail. It looked to me like the production was done with the digital rendering and texture mapping cranked up a notch, and many of the visual artifacts observed in the TV series (such as visible edge banding or anti-aliasing, and pixelation) were missing or minimized. I am not quite sure what it is, but it seems less visually distracting to watch this disc than the TV series.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

As for other aspects, the bonus material is not abundant, but the few games or activities will keep the preschoolers happy for a while longer. Just don’t count on replayability. The menu system is top notch and the best one of this recent lot. Everything is wonderfully animated. There is an abundance of sounds and music. Olie’s voice even explains the menus to the children so they can, with your help, select the options they want. Altogether, it is a nice package that sets the atmosphere of the movie quite well.

I would have liked more background material for the parents -- such as William Joyce’s role in the development of the stories and characters, character and set digital design, and television series production -- and that puts this disc just short of my full recommendation. Other than that, the disc is worth taking a look at. The audio and video transfers and menus are right on target, and should please most parents and children. Fans of Olie and his friends will not be disappointed by the movie, and even though it is not the end-all-be-all of movies, it is a fun story that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Return to Never Land
(2002) | Approx. 73 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Disc

I decided to pass on Return to Never Land when it was in the theaters a while back, and after watching it on video, I quickly realized that I did not miss anything. Taking place during World War II and years after the original, Wendy, with her own children now, tries to comfort her young ones with stories of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. The kicker is that 12-year-old daughter Jane has no time for make-believe, especially the stories about Peter Pan. This all changes when she is mistaken for her mother and kidnapped by Captain Hook to use as bait to finally capture Peter Pan, and she finds that the only way home is to believe in Peter and the fantastic world of Never Land. It all feels rehashed and formulaic, and as an example of this lack of originality, the name of the family dog is Nanatwo (yes, as in Nana 2).

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

From a technical standpoint, this disc has just about everything going for it. It has a fully digital-to-digital audio and video transfer from the original digital film files. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix is quite good, and the video is flawlessly presented in "family-friendly widescreen," Disney-speak for anamorphic widescreen with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (Disney’s typical theatrical presentation aspect ratio). The menus are acceptable, but they are boring compared to the menus on the Rolie Polie Olie DVD. The one major downside of the entire disc is the meager selection of bonus material. There are a couple of deleted scenes, but other than that, there is nothing about the theatrical development of this film. Heck, the direct-to-video release, Lady and the Tramp 2 received a better behind-the-scenes package than this one.

With a ho-hum story and a lackluster collection of bonus material, this disc simply under performs. At best, it is a rental for those of you that need to see Peter in a rather forgettable adventure. For the rest of you, save up your pennies. There are better discs available and on the horizon.

Winnie the Pooh: Frankenpooh and Spookable Pooh
(2002) | Approx. 70 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Disc

There is just not a lot to say about this disc. Essentially, five segments of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh TV series have been bundled into two 35-minute episodes, "Frankenpooh" and "Spookable Pooh." The former contains the segments, "The Monster Frankenpooh," "Things That Go Piglet in the Night," and "Pooh Moon." The latter episode contains, "A Knight to Remember" and "Rock-A-Bye Pooh Bear."

I suppose that some children may enjoy these stories, but I doubt that parents will find this material of any interest. The animation or the stories did not impress me or hold my attention, and I would just prefer that my children watch something of higher quality. I mean, how hard is it to keep Rabbit’s fur color yellow instead of a sickly olive green? Please.

On top of the animation being sub-par, the video and audio transfers are ultra-basic and only barely met my minimum expectations. The bonus material is, as I had anticipated, virtually non-existent, with the exception of the omnipresent set-top game and sing-along. After all, these shows are meant only for children. I guess if I had to decide between the VHS tapes and the DVD, I would pick the DVD, but that assumes I would be shopping for these shows in the first place.

As I have unfortunately said in previous reviews, save your money and wait for something better.


You can e-mail Kevin at: dockrock@mouseplanet.com


Promotional art © Disney

ALSO PUBLISHED TODAY:

DVD New Release news featuring info on Lilo & Stitch

Great Mouse Detective
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • The Making of "The Great Mouse Detective"
  • "Donald’s Crime" animated short
  • "Clock Cleaners" animated short
  • Sing-along song

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Digitally remastered
  • Anamorphic widescreen – 1.66:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French and Spanish language tracks
Tarzan & Jane
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Build your own tree house activity
  • Tarzan & Jane’s adventure builder
  • Mandy Moore music video

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, double-layer
  • Anamorphic widescreen – 1.66:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French language track
Tom Thumb & Thumbelina
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Select-a-song with on-screen lyrics

Technical Specifications

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Full-screen – 1.33:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Rolie Polie Olie
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • "Find Pappy’s Teeth" game
  • "Build-a-bot" activity
  • "Color-a-bot" activity
  • "Go Globally Olie" galaxy map

Technical Specifications

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, double-layer
  • Digitally remastered
  • Full-screen – 1.33:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Return to Never Land
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Two deleted scenes
  • "Rescue the Lost Boys" set-top adventure game
  • Read-along story

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, double-layer
  • Direct-to-digital transfer
  • Anamorphic widescreen – 1.66:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French and Spanish language tracks
Winnie the Pooh
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • One Sing-Along song
  • "Piglet’s Hallowasn’t" set-top adventure game
  • Child-friendly menu

Technical Specifications

  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, single-layer
  • Full-screen – 1.33:1
  • Closed captions
  • Dolby Digital 2.0

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