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|Kevin Krock, editor|
In and around their two huge releases, Monsters, Inc. and Beauty and the Beast, Disney released a few other DVD titles that I checked out, and because the "biggies" took priority, I am now getting a chance to fill you in on these others. Also in the lot this time around is an update on an old arcade favorite of mine, Dragon's Lair. So, if you are thinking about some early holiday gifts, take a look below, and see what is worth picking up.
Available only through MouseShoppe or Disney outlets
I must admit that I have been looking forward to this DVD since the day I saw this documentary on television last year. Produced by Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, the film is an intimate, open, and touching look at one of the most influential personalities in modern history from those that knew him best: his family, friends, and colleagues.
The documentary features movie clips, home movies, and clips from 70 interviews from a wide range of guests, including Joe Grant, Ward Kimball, John Hench, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis, Diane Disney Miller, Roy E. Disney, Leonard Maltin, Bob Thomas, John Canemaker, Art Linkletter, Dick van Dyke, Chuck Jones, Ray Bradbury, John Lasseter, Dean Jones, Robert Stack and Buddy Ebsen. It is quite an impressive group, and listening to them talk about Walt is absolutely fascinating.
When I heard that the documentary was being released on VHS, I was encouraged to hear that the producers were including some extra interview footage, but I was still hoping that the DVD would contain even more. Now, almost a year since its original television debut, Disney has now released this fascinating film on DVD, and it proves to be the definitive videographic history of Walt Disney and his legacy. For those with any interest in Disney history, this disc is simply a must for this historical material alone.
Besides getting the extended, 120-minute documentary, there is a wonderful selection of additional interview footage that hits on a variety of topics. A 28-minute interview section called, "Walt: An Intimate View" covers things like people's first impressions of Walt, Walt as a boss, Walt at home, Walt's creativity, and his death. Then there are about 60 additional minutes of cut interview footage organized by interviewee, and individual interview clips run about five to six minutes. There is an eight-minute featurette on the making of Walt: The Man Behind The Myth, which gives a nice overview of the history of the project and all of the personnel involved with making it happen. There are also bonus sections covering the locations shown in the film, like Walt's home of Marceline, Missouri, as well as several short home movies narrated by Diane Disney Miller. Altogether, there is enough material here to keep the most ardent Disney fan busy for a while.
The Video, Audio and Interface
So, how does the disc look and sound? This is where my only major criticism arises. During the "Making of" featurette, the producers make a big deal about how the film was shot in widescreen on film, with the intent of making a high-definition video transfer to ensure compatibility with future home video formats. Unfortunately, the video transfer on the DVD is letterboxed widescreen with no anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 widescreen televisions. The video transfer looks great throughout the film, but given their planning and comments, I expected the extra effort to provide the anamorphic transfer.
As for the audio, since it is mostly interviews, the Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) soundtrack is completely acceptable. Finally, the interface is simple, well-organized, and reverential, with subtle musical cues and limited menu animation.
The Final Evaluation
As I already mentioned, this disc is perfect for anyone interested in Walt Disney's history and lore, and is well worth tracking down either via MouseShoppe or at your local Disney Stores, Disney theme parks, and Disney Online. Even if you already have the video tape, go out and get this disc. You will definitely not be disappointed.
Ah, the 1970s. I remember the wonderfully simple days of being a young child and lying around on a Saturday morning watching cartoons, and Sid and Marty Kroft shows. Now, over 20 years later, I don't remember much about many of the shows I was watching at the time, but I clearly remember these three-minute cartoons with very catchy songs, simple but striking animation, and educational lyrics that just seemed to sink right into my brain. I am speaking, of course, about the award winning Schoolhouse Rock shorts.
The brainchild of a New York advertising executive, these power-packed animated shorts virtually defined how children of the 1970s learned about grammar, science, money, American history, American government, and multiplication tables. The series writers all came from advertising backgrounds, so they knew how to pack as much educational and entertainment punch into the scant three minutes they were given for each concept. Add that to memorable musical soundtracks that stick with you for days, and you have the recipe for classic children's "edutainment." Even after 30 years, the songs still grab the attention of children, and now, my 4-year-old runs around the house singing, "Conjunction Junction" and "Electricity, Electricity." It is amazing how few times it takes for him to catch on to a song and just sing it all day long. I hope that all that educational stuff works its way into his brain, as it did mine.
The Goodies, Video, Audio, and Interface
The set is broken into two discs. The first disc contains all 46 of the original songs along with the new tune, "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College" about the American Electoral College process. There are a variety of ways to watch all the songs, ranging from a "Top 10 Jukebox," which allows you to program the order of the top 10 songs, to the ability to watch all 46 in a row, either sequentially or randomly. If you just want to watch specific songs, you can also browse through all of the general topic areas. That is about it for this disc.
The second disc contains all the goodies. The behind-the-scenes featurette for the new song is interesting, as it introduces you to all of the original creators, and shows you how they got involved. As a bit of an aside, one rather humorous aspect of this series is that it was originally "green-lighted" by none other than Michael Eisner, current Walt Disney Company CEO and former children's programming executive for the ABC television network. Because of that connection, he pops up to introduce the "Making of" featurette, and his name gets dropped in several places throughout the disc.
Besides the featurette, there are several songs that make their home video debut, such as the "Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips" songs. The disc also contains the top 20 songs, as well as commentaries for the top 10 songs. There are also the typical set top games and puzzles, which nicely follow the feel and look of the songs. Also appearing on the disc are four music videos from contemporary musicians such as Better Than Ezra and the Lemonheads, as well as the interesting Nike commercial of "Three Is A Magic Number." The bonus materials are all nice to haves, but the real meat of this set -- the entire collection of songs -- is what will keep you coming back.
For all of the effort that was apparently put into this set, the video transfer was a tad disappointing. Granted, these songs were made on a small budget for television, but they show their age a lot more than I had anticipated. The transfer exhibits little restoration work or cleanup, but none of it is intolerable. The colors are still bright and saturated just like they were 30 years ago, but I wish Disney had put in a little more effort to really polish up these shorts to make them shine for a new generation. As it is though, my 4-year-old has not noticed that the "Conjunction Junction" video looks like it is about 30 years old.
There is not much to say about the audio, as the stereo audio transfer is very basic but acceptable. All of the songs are clear and easily understood, but I did notice that the overall audio level on this disc is much lower than most other discs. It is not a major problem, that is until you put in another disc and unintentionally shake the walls.
The interface is very nicely done with new animation and narration by Tom Yohe, Jr. (son of the original animator) and Bob Dorough (one of the original Schoolhouse Rock musicians and singers), respectively. The menus are well-organized, and complement the material on both discs perfectly.
The Final Evaluation
I had no idea that there were this many Schoolhouse Rock songs, and it was interesting and fun to see how many I actually remembered. For parents, teachers, and late-20-to-30-somethings looking for a blast from the past, this is a collection to be reckoned with. The variety of topics, catchy tunes and memorable lyrics will keep both young and old occupied and interested for hours.
This is the second edition of House of Mouse to make it to DVD, and it turns out to be just as forgettable as the first. This disc simply takes the half-hour television series and adds a bit of fluff and extra animated shorts to extend it to an hour or so.
The twist on this disc is that the Disney villains take over the House of Mouse at midnight on Halloween, and to commemorate the event and act as the primary marketing point, there is a new song sung by the villains as they throw Mickey and friends out of the night club. Of course, Mickey returns at the end as Sorcerer Mickey to save the day and put the villains back in their place.
Interspersed between the mediocre, television series plot animation are classic and new animated shorts. Goofy's new "How to Haunt a House" and the classic shorts "Lonesome Ghosts," "Donald Duck and the Gorilla," and "Trick or Treat" are all nice to have, but they are not worth the price of the disc. I just find it hard to justify buying something that I can get just as easy and in more tolerable 30-minute doses from my satellite dish.
As for goodies, there are a few, but they are mostly children's games and puzzles. None of them are particularly challenging or entertaining beyond the first time you try them. The audio and video transfers, as well as the interface, are all of acceptable quality but not particularly outstanding. Essentially, what you see and hear on the Disney Channel or Toon Disney is what you get on this disc, and nothing more.
The Final Evaluation
This disc is at best a rental, but you would have to be pretty low on your list to have to pick it up.
The Disc Set
The 1980s video game phenomenon Dragon's Lair and its follow-ups will never die. Back in April 2001, I reviewed Digital Leisure's original DVD releases of Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair 2, and Space Ace, which were enjoyable, playable, and a major blast from the past. The original releases, however, were bare bones releases that lacked appreciable bonus material. This three-disc 20th anniversary box set is an update to those three discs, and besides being conveniently bundled together in new packaging, Digital Leisure has used the highest quality source tape available for the video transfer and added several bonus items.
Most of the bonus material, though, ended up on the Dragon's Lair disc, so it ends up being the most interesting from a behind-the-scenes and historical perspective. On that disc, there is a total of about an hour of interviews, Dragon's Lair 3D previews, and classic television. The Starcade television arcade game show episode was an utter flashback for me, and I remember watching that show all the time when I was younger.
The interviews provide a wealth of interesting information about how Dragon's Lair was conceived, developed, and marketed. Overall, the bonus material is interesting for fans of the game, but it may be less enthralling for the rest of the household.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
The game play is similar to the first discs, but the video transfers this time around are a bit cleaner and sharper, with nicely saturated colors. The stereo audio transfers are still pretty basic, but acceptable for the purpose. The interfaces, though, are very simple static screens that lack any character, especially given the heavy bent of the bonus material towards the new 3D game.
The Final Evaluation
If you were a really big fan of Dragon's Lair or either of the other games and don't already own the older DVDs, this set may be worth looking at (just keep in mind that it will run you about $60!), but for the price it has definite limited general family appeal.
Walt: The Man Behind the Myth
School House Rock 30th Anniversary Set
Disc 1 Goodies:
Disc 1 Technical Specifications:
Disc 2 Goodies
Mickey's House of Villains
Dragon's Lair: 20th Anniversary Box Set
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