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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Holiday Home Theater, Disney-Style
As we rapidly approach the holidays, we all start gearing up for the big shopping season by creating gift wish lists. This year, Disney has several DVD titles available to fill those lists. Several of them are good, like Monsters, Inc., Lilo & Stitch, Walt Disney Treasures, and Beauty and the Beast, but others are simply not worth your money. To aid in finalizing your lists, here are some reviews of several recent Christmas-related Disney DVDs you may be considering.
Once again, Disney Television Animation brings us its latest extension of the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise, but it is nothing terribly new. See if this quote from the press release sounds familiar: "In Winnie The Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, all of Pooh's friends gather for fond recollections of a Christmas past, and afterwards, the New Year's countdown begins!" The phrase "gather for fond recollections" just makes me cringe. What that means is that about half of this "brand-new full-length adventure" is actually the old "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too" episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh television series.
The other half of the story and the interstitial animation appear to have been produced specifically for this disc, but that seems a bit of a stretch for the marketing claim. Also strewn about the movie are Pooh and friends' renditions of classic seasonal songs, such as "Jingle Bells" and "Auld Lang Syne."
The story and animation are typical of the Television Animation group, and while not particularly appealing to me, fans of the television series or hardcore Pooh fans will likely enjoy watching Pooh and the gang celebrate Christmas and New Years. Just go into it with average to low expectations.
There are a few bonus items on the disc, but children may be the only ones trying them out. First, the main menu has several selectable gifts that play short animation compilations of the characters. Second, there are two set-top games, but they are strictly for the little ones. Finally, there is an "enchanted environment," which is simply Pooh's animated living room dressed up for the holidays. You get to watch the fireplace flicker as several holiday songs play in the background. I guess if you have a big enough TV but lack a fireplace, this might be interesting, but I did not have a use for it.
The audio and video transfers are generally acceptable, but only by comparison to the television series. It is nothing particularly impressive, and while it falls short of my expectations, children are less discriminating and probably will not notice. On the other hand, the user interface is quite nice, with musically enhanced and animated menus and transitions, but which does not make up for the content shortfall. Overall, you may want to just rent this one for your children during the holidays.
While this is not really a sequel or prequel, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas brings the original cast and some new characters back together to describe how Belle and the Beast spent their first Christmas in the castle together. It is as if a chapter was dropped from the middle of the first movie, and expanded into a full-length feature.
During that first Christmas, Belle wants to warm the castle with the spirit of the season despite the Beast's dislike of the season. Unbeknownst to Belle, Christmas was the time that the Prince was turned into the Beast, but the castle objects decide to help Belle with the transformation. When the evil pipe organ, Forte, finds out about the plan, he works to keep the Beast away from Belle's gift of hope. It is then up to Belle, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and the others to save the day.
The movie, produced by Disney Television Animation and featuring five songs written for the movie and the original voice cast, was originally released directly to home video a few years ago. While the voice talent is strong, the story and animation fall considerably short of the Academy Award-winning film on which it is based. Additionally, the seasonal songs are not particularly memorable, and they lack the heart and feel of the original film's songs. Altogether, the movie ends up telling a mediocre story in a rather mediocre way.
About two years ago, Disney released Enchanted Christmas as a movie-only DVD, but in honor of the Platinum edition of Beauty and the Beast, it has been released as a special edition DVD. Disney has added a few bonus items, but there is only one item that I would consider part of a typical special edition: The 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which lightly touches on many of the production aspects, even though it is fairly superficial and borders on simply being publicity fluff.
The other bonus items include a set-top game, a sing-along track with lyrics, a music video, and a virtual holiday fireplace. The disc simply lacks many of the things I usually associate with special editions, such as a commentary, still galleries, and in-depth featurettes. Even though it is labeled "special edition," do not expect to find a lot of stuff to keep you watching past the feature.
As for the video and audio transfers, both have been remastered, and the video looks pretty good while the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack works well. There are traces of digital artifacting in the video transfer, but for most parents and children, everything is quite acceptable. Just do not expect to show off your brand-spanking new home theater Christmas present with this disc to do that, go pick up one of the Pixar titles instead.
The user interface is pleasantly animated, with nice screen transitions and musical accompaniment. Disney has been doing a darn good job with its user interfaces for a while, and I hope that continues. It certainly adds a nice boost to an otherwise average disc.
Ultimately, you have to be a die-hard Beauty and the Beast fan to want to add this to your collection. There's just not enough here for me to run out and buy this disc. Also, if you already own the older DVD, the decided lack of bonus material makes it very difficult to recommend that you upgrade. If you are curious about the movie or just want to occasionally watch it, go rent it. Otherwise, your money may be better spent on the Beauty and the Beast Platinum edition or one of the Wave 2 Walt Disney Treasures sets.
Recently, Disney also released a special edition of The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen (voice of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story). The disc lacks bonus material, in a way similar to the Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, which is a big disappointment, especially given some of the elaborate sets and potential for outtakes and a commentary.
The movie itself is fun, enjoyable, and worth giving it a watch during the holiday season. However, the DVD, while it looks and sounds pretty good, it just doesn't have much to it and does not fully warrant adding to your collection. However, if you are looking for a decent family movie to get everyone in the holiday mood, go pick it up for a night or two at a rental outlet and watch it with the family.
Winnie The Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year
Goodies: Technical Specifications:
Beauty And The Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
Goodies: Technical Specifications:
The Santa Clause: Special Edition
Goodies: Technical Specifications:
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