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Kevin Krock, editor

September DVD Reviews – Continued

Last Tuesday, I discussed several DVDs released in September that are particularly targeted to your younger viewers, so today I thought I would cover several other September Disney live-action DVDs that are oriented towards a slightly older family crowd. Since most of you are probably relatively familiar with all three of these Disney live action movies, I have simply provided brief synopses of the movies and focused on the presentation of the movies and the bonus material on the discs.

Click on the following links to go to a specific review or scroll down:

Escape to Witch Mountain Special Edition
(1975) | Approx. 97 min. | Rated G| Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio 2 stars Video 4 stars
Goodies 2 stars Interface 2 stars
Value 2 stars

The Movie

Escape to Witch Mountain is one of those odd yet memorable Disney movies from the mid-1970s. It follows two orphans, 13-year-old Tony Malone (Iake Eisenmann) and his 11-year-old sister Tia (Kim Richards), as they begin to discover that they are a bit different from the other children they meet. The duo start to refine their psychic powers, but that only serves to catch the attention of an evil millionaire named Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland), who adopts them in order to exploit their unique powers for his gain. The two begin to realize why Bolt is interested in them, and they decide to run away. While escaping from the police, Bolt, and crazy townspeople, they run into a friendly camper (Eddie Albert), who helps the children unravel their mysterious origins. Soon, they discover that they are actually castaways from another planet, and the three must seek the refuge of Witch Mountain to save Tony and Tia from being captured.


Promotional image © Disney.

The Goodies

For a single disc special edition, this disc actually has a pretty darn good selection of bonus material, as do the other two classics described later. Yes, it is indeed a single disc special edition, and it made me realize why Disney probably dropped the “Vault Disney” moniker for their classic live-action titles. The first four Vault Disney titles were all full-blown two disc editions, which had tons of bonus material, but I think Disney realized that several of their classic live-action titles did not have enough bonus material to cost effectively support the ongoing two disc editions. They fell back to the “Special Edition” terminology to provide a bit more flexibility in how much bonus material and how many discs they pair with a particular classic movie. In the cases of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Love Bug, there was enough for two full discs, but for the three movies presented here, a single disc was all that could be filled.

However, even though the goodies all fit on one disc, they are of similar style and quality as the two disc editions. Just think of these discs as “Vault Disney Light” editions. The feature-length commentary by director John Hough and actors Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann is interesting and entertaining, but it is pretty average relative to other commentaries. There is a reasonably comprehensive 26-minute documentary called “Making The Escape,” which nicely compliments the commentary and features interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes video, and more. Finally of note, there is a neat little 11-minute “Lost Treasure” documentary covering Disney special effects. All of these are well worth watching and listening to, especially if you are a fan of the movie.


Promotional image © Disney.

In addition to those primary goodies, there are a few other short goodies, such as the classic Pluto cartoon, “Pluto's Dream House,” a 1975 Disney Studio video album, and a two minute video montage of Disney science fiction movies. Individually, they are not much, but they nicely round out the disc's collection of bonus material.

The Video, Audio, and Interface

This movie, as with the other two classics reviewed here, has been fully restored and remastered, and it looks and sounds surprisingly good for being almost 30 years old. The video transfer is solid, clean, and detailed, and the colors are well balanced throughout the movie. The audio is equally clean and detailed, but because of its age, the soundtrack tends to be a bit center-speaker heavy. As for the user interface, it is pleasingly similar to all the other Vault Disney titles, and the menus feature plenty of animation, video, and audio. The movie menus are well themed and maintain the feel of the movie, and the bonus material menus are identical to those in the other Vault Disney titles. Altogether, this is a very solid presentation package.

The Final Evaluation

The movie, while a bit on the unusual side, is entertaining for the whole family and worth watching. The audio and video transfers are very good, and the movie should look and sound good on any home theater system. When combined with the reasonable quantity of bonus material, this disc is definitely worth a rental, and big fans of this movie should find this a good addition to their home video collection.

Return From Witch Mountain Special Edition
(1978) | Approx. 95 min. | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio 2 stars Video 4 stars
Goodies 2 stars Interface 2 stars
Value 2 stars

The Movie

This follow-up to Escape to Witch Mountain brings Tony and Tia back together again in another adventure where cars and humans mysteriously fly around and evil and greedy people exploit the children's supernatural powers. However, if you thought the original movie was a bit weird, then this one is even more of a stretch, but oddly enough, it is still pretty good family entertainment.


Promotional image © Disney.

In this story, evil masterminds, played by screen legends Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) and Bette Davis, unleash a diabolical plan to destroy Los Angeles. In order to improve their chances of success, the two criminals manipulate Tony's psychic powers, and it is up to his sister to save not only him but also the entire city from certain destruction. Fortunately for Tia, she meets up with a group of streetwise children that do everything they can to help, and the young gang bands together to save the day.

The Goodies

As with the other two classic live-action movies, this one is also a one-disc special edition, and the bonus material is very similar that found on Escape to Witch Mountain. The commentary by director John Hough and actors Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann is unsurprisingly similar to the other Witch Mountain disc. The 22-minute documentary, “Making The Return Trip,” is also similar to the other disc, and it is reasonably adequate but not particularly memorable. There is also an interesting and entertaining eight-minute interview with several of the grown up actors that played the children that Tia teams up with in the movie. One final item of note is a 10-minute interview with Christopher Lee that he gave to a Spanish media outlet back when the movie was released, and the unique aspect of the interview is that Lee conducts it completely in Spanish. Fortunately for those of you that do not speak Spanish, the interview features English subtitles.


Promotional image © Disney.

The Video, Audio, and Interface

Simply put, all three of these technical aspects are virtually identical to the other discs in this review. The anamorphic widescreen video is very nice; the audio is pleasing and clean; and, the interface is perfectly suited for the movie. Altogether, this movie should look and sound good on any home theater.

The Final Evaluation

As with Escape to Witch Mountain, the video and audio transfers are very nice, and the interface and bonus material make for a good, solid package. This disc is worth a rental for a family movie night, and for serious fans of this movie, it will make a decent addition to you home video collection.

The Apple Dumpling Gang Special Edition
(1975) | Approx. 100 min. | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio 2 stars Video 4 stars
Goodies 2 stars Interface 2 stars
Value 4 stars

The Movie

There is just something about the infectious physical comedy of Don Knotts and Tim Conway that always sucks me into one of their movies, and when I think of those two together, The Apple Dumpling Gang is the first movie that I think of.

In the movie, the duo portrays bumbling Old West outlaws in search of their next target, and they find themselves scoping out the quaint Western town of Quake City, California. Simultaneously, a slick, poker-playing bachelor named Russel Donovan (Bill Bixby) gets stuck with three rowdy orphans, who promptly begin causing trouble around the town. However, when the children discover gold in their previously closed family mine, the townsfolk quickly try to get the gold from them any way they can. When Amos and Theodore (Conway and Knotts) hear about the gold, they concoct a convoluted plan to steal it, but the plan goes awry and leads to numerous funny consequences. Meanwhile, Donovan works to find a way to offload the children to somebody that can better care for them, and he works out a plan to pass them on to the rough and tumble female stagecoach driver, Dusty (Susan Clark), who has fallen for the children.


Promotional image © Disney.

It is an enjoyable movie with lots of laughs and enough heart to keep you and your children watching all the way through.

The Goodies

Like the Witch Mountain discs, this disc contains a relatively good commentary, delivered this time by Susan Clark, Tim Conway, Don Knotts, and Brad Savage. It is generally funny and informative, but I would have liked to hear more from Knotts. It seems that Knotts generally takes a back seat to Conway's interjections throughout the movie and only occasionally provides substantial comments. Also on the disc is a 23-minute documentary called “A Look Back With The Gang,” which does an entertaining and informative job of surveying the production but does not go into much depth. There is a 10-minute interview segment with Tim Conway, and that provides some additional insights into not only the movie production but also Conway's sense of humor and his thoughts on teaming with Don Knotts.

There are also a few other goodies that are not directly related to The Apple Dumpling Gang, but they work quite well with the other bonus material. Of particular note is the 10-minute featurette on the Disney Backlot. This provides a fascinating look at the old Disney Studio back lot in Burbank, California, before it became parking and sound stages. Through interviews, old photos, and video clips, you get a unique glimpse at how the Disney Studios shot many of their famous live-action films with a relatively small group of outdoor sets. There are a couple of cowboy-related cartoon items, including the Goofy animated short, “Two Gun Goofy,” and a two-minute montage of animated cowboy heroes. Finally, there are a few galleries worth perusing, and there is a Disney Studio video album for 1975, which is the same as the one on Escape to Witch Mountain. Overall, it is a pretty decent set of goodies for a single disc edition.

The Video, Audio, and Interface

Not to be outdone by alien children with supernatural powers, The Apple Dumpling Gang was also treated to a thorough video and audio restoration, and like the others, this movie looks and sounds great for being almost three decades old. Sure, there is the occasional dust fleck here and there, but the high level of detail and the saturated colors make this movie feel just as contemporary as any Western shot today—a distinct advantage over the rather obvious 1970s look and feel of the Witch Mountain movies. As for the audio, it is simple and clear, and while most of the audio is dialogue and focused in the center channel, the occasional surround effects in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix work well without sounding unnatural. Because of this top-notch restoration, this disc will look and sound good on just about any home theater system you put it on.


Promotional image © Disney.

Additionally, the user interface is similar to the other “Vault Disney Light” titles, in that it has a wonderfully themed and animated movie menu system and the standard Vault Disney bonus material menus.

The Final Evaluation

With a fun movie, a very nice video and audio presentation, and a solid set of bonus material, this disc will make a good addition to your home video collection, especially if you enjoy the impeccable antics of Knotts and Conway.

Escape to Witch Mountain
DVD FEATURES
Goodies
  • Commentary by director John Hough and Actors Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann
  • Making The Escape (26 min)
  • Classic Disney Cartoon – Plutos' Dream House (7 min)
  • Lost Treasure: “Disney Effects, Something Special” Featurette (11 min)
  • 1975 Disney Studio Album (3 min)
  • Disney “Sci-Fi” (2 min)
  • Conversations with John Hough (6 min)
Technical Specifications
  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Anamorphic Widescreen – 1.75:1
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Closed-captioned
  • THX Certified
Return from Witch Mountain
DVD FEATURES
Goodies
  • Commentary by director John Hough and Actors Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann
  • Making The Return Trip (22 min)
  • “Disney Kids With Power” (1 min)
  • Lost Treasure: “Christoper Lee, The Lost Interview” (10 min)
  • 1978 Disney Studio Album (2 min)
  • Classic Disney Cartoon – The Eyes Have It (7 min)
  • “The Gangs Back In Town” (8 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer
Technical Specifications
  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Anamorphic Widescreen – 1.75:1
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Closed-captioned
  • THX Certified
The Apple Dumpling Gang
DVD FEATURES
Goodies
  • Commentary by Susan Clark, Tim Conway, Don Knotts, and Brad Savage
  • “A Look Back With The Gang” (23 min)
  • Conversations With Tim Conway (11 min)
  • “Disney's Rootin' Tootin' Cowboy Heroes” – Old cartoons beginning with The Cactus Kid, 1930 (2 min)
  • Classic Disney Cartoon – Two Gun Goofy (6 min)
  • Lost Treasures: “The Disney Back Lot” (10 min)
  • 1975 Disney Studio Album (3 min)
  • Gallery – Production Stills, Biographies, Advertising Archives
Technical Specifications
  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.75:1
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Closed-captioned
  • THX Certified

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