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|Kevin Krock, editor|
This is a DVD release of the remake of Meredith Wilson's The Music Man that aired on The Wonderful World of Disney earlier this year. According to one of the interviews on this DVD, playing Harold Hill was a long-time dream for Matthew Broderick. So, it is good that he was able to realize his dream. Unfortuantely, though, some dreams are best left between yourself and your reflection in the bathroom mirror.
While this new version does offer a few pleasant surprises, it just cannot possibly live up to the history behind the 1962 original starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. Most of the reason for this falls squarely to Matthew Broderick. While he gives this performance everything he has, he simply doesn't fit the role. He seems too young, and more fatally, he doesn't seem sufficiently felonious. With Broderick's Harold Hill, you get the impression that this is a good man at heart who has somehow taken to the con. With Preston, you instead felt that Harold Hill was a con man at heart who was somehow taken by love; he was redeemed, whereas Broderick, at core, doesn't seem to be in need of redemption.
What this version does do well is provide a greater sense of narrative continuity. In the original, some scenes seem out of place or without reason. With this version, greater attention is played to the backstory, and with just a few sentences here and there provides a greater sense of reason (for example, explaining why Mayor Shinn is so persistent in finding out Hill).
Further, while Broderick pales in comparison to Robert Preston, Kristin Chenoweth more than holds up against Shirley Jones' Marian Paroo (who, I've always felt, was the weakest part of the original).
With only nine minutes of extra features on the disc, these certainly aren't a reason for buying. The making-of featurette is pretty standard fare, with everybody saying how much they loved working on the film and how everybody else was wonderful, and how this is just about the greatest project any actor has ever worked on in any age.
The second item is a live performance of 'Til There Was You (which the DVD case misspells as Till There Was You) by Kristen Chenoweth. If you particularly enjoy the song, this might be of some interest. Fortunately, the recent Disney DVD trend is bucked and no music videos starring current Disney Channel heartthrobs are to be found. This isn't a music video; just Chenoweth singing at some event.
As a DVD edition of a TV movie, I'm sure there wasn't much of a budget availablebut a bit more detail about the making of the movie would have been good, particularly something that focused in depth on the choreography, which was generally more ambitious than in the original film. Some acknowledgement of the history with which they were competing (or, more kindly, adding to) would have been very interesting as well.
Included trailers aren't generally worth mentioning, but it might be of interest to some that the DVD includes a trailer for next year's Home on the Range that I do not believe has yet been shown in theaters.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
This is a TV movie, and that is what you get. For those of you who hate the black-bars on the screen when watching a widescreen movie, you'll get the pleasure of a full-screen without losing any part of the picture (of course, those who have already made the switch to widescreen televisions will now have bars on the sides). Considering the general move towards widescreen, it is a litle surprising that the movie wasn't filmed in a widescreen ratio, with an eye towards the future (which is why several TV shows, and even commercials, are now filmed that way).
Dolby Digital 5.1 is used for the audio. However, the two rear channels are used only for intrumentation during song sequendes. This has the effect of making the other portions of the movie, essentially offered in stereo, seem particularly flat.
The user interface and menus are easy to navigate and pretty standard, with almost nothing to navigate through. Film clips are shown under the root menu, and the same interstitial is used for all menu transitions.
In my house it is pretty standard to watch a movie with the subtitles turned on. If you do this much, you'll quickly learn that subtitles don't always match exactly what is said on screen and as long as it is pretty close, that doesn't tend to be much of an issue. But with this disc it was particularly glaring in a few spots because they were the subtitles for songs and they didn't match up. With general dialogue, exact wording generally isn't that important, but for songs it is, and these differences were unusually annoying.
The Final Evaluation
There isn't really anything grievous to use as a mark against this DVD, especially for a TV movie it is pleasant. However, if you have the 1962 version in your DVD collection, there isn't really any reason why you'd ever choose to watch this one, other than out of an interest to see how different people can approach the same story. If you can find it very cheap, it would be worth it for a completist Disney collection, or for a The Music Man fan, but I can't really recommend it for anybody else.
When Kevin Krock first asked if anybody wanted to review George of the Jungle 2, I was surprised that there even was a George of a the Jungle 2. I vaguely remembered the first movie coming out, and then fading from memory. But this is Disney and I figured that they would be making direct-to-video sequels to even their unsuccessful movies.
But then I looked a little deeper and was shocked to see that George of the Jungle had earned over $100 million when it was released in 1997. So the surprise wasn't that a sequel was made, but rather that that sequel was direct-to-video rather than being released theatrically.
This movie is pretty much pure juvenalia, and would surely be appreciated by most boys under 12 (and probably by many boys well over that). As near as I can tell, this is pretty much a redo of the first movie, with George now married to Ursula, and her mother trying to break them up and reattach her to Thomas Haden Church's Lyle Van de Groot (TV's Wings). While Christopher Showerman, replacing Brendan Fraser in the title role, is pretty to look at and has a certain comic flair, he just doesn't have the charisma that Fraser must have had to pull off the role.
There are a few goodies on this disc, and one glaringly obvious missing goodie. An outtake reel can be a very nice addition to a disc, but this one is of almost no interest. Only 30 seconds long, it is mostly just a series of flubbed lines; none of them flubbed in any particularly funny way.
The behind-the-scenes featurette is a bit more interesting. It is made in the style of the movie, with the same narration and sense of humor. Unfortunately, while it tries to be funny, it never quite gets around to showing you much about how the movie is made.
The vine surfing game is a remote-control game that leads you through some trivia questions about the movie. You actually have to pay attention when watching the movie to get through it, but visually it isn't anything interesting; just movie clips every time you answer.
Finally, the deleted scenes. This is pretty standard, and there is a commentary track for them that explains why they were cut from the movie. With such things, 90 percent of the time the reason given is cut for length. Just once I'd like to hear someone say, We cut this scene because so-and-so just wasn't up to what it needed. This disc continues the norm.
However, note that I said the deleted scenes have a commentary track. The rest of the movie doesn't. From those few minutes of commentary on the deleted scenes it is clear that the director and others have a decent sense of humor about the whole enterprise and I suspect I would have enjoyed their commentary to the movie more than the movie itself. It is puzzling that they would record for the deleted scenes but not the actual movie.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
Nothing spectacular here. The surround sound is well used for a direct-to-video release. A widescreen format was used even though this will only be seen on TVs; since the whole movie was pretty much shot on a soundstage, there aren't any visuals that really cry out for a wide format, but for most this will be a complete non-issue.
The disc navigation consists of animated sequences and film clips. The background noise on most screens is pretty sedate so it isn't annoying to leave the TV on one for a while as you do something else.
The Final Evaluation
Younger audiences will probably enjoy the slapstick of this movie, which is similar in style (if not success) to the first film. While there is some potty humor, little of it would be too bothersome for most parents. On sale, it might be worth it to some, but the first film would probably be sufficient for your collection.
Eloise had a bit of a journey before showing up on DVD. She started out as a well-beloved character in Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight's 1955 book series. Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime and Eloise in Moscow have been perennial best sellers. Last year, Eloise Takes a Bawth was published 40 years after its initial conception, and has spent 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list since its publication.
Since it's a children's book, the screenplay had to expand a bit on characters and plot. The Plaza is juggling preparations for a grand debutante ball, as well as the visit of a royal prince, the Plaza's manager, Mr. Salamone (played by Jeffrey Tambor), begs Eloise (Sofia Vassilieva) not to meddle in affairs. But of course there would be no movie if she followed his advice. Eloise determines to get an invitation to the ball and wants the royal prince as her escort.
During her frantic day Eloise meets Leon, a sad 6-year-old boy whose father has been estranged from him and who hasn't had a day of fun his whole life. Unaware that Leon is the royal highness himself, she whisks him away for a day of sightseeing in New York City. But when Leon fails to return to the Plaza, Mr. Salomone, as well as Leon's father, the Prince of Kushin, and the entire New York City Police Department all point fingers at Eloise. Of course, hilarity ensues and all turns out exactly as it should.
The highlight of the entire movie is the incomparable Julie Andrews, who plays Nanny, the rawther British guardian to Eloise. Andrews has some extra posterior padding and a decidedly un-Mary Poppins attitude. Faithful to the book, Nanny enjoys boxing on the telly while drinking beer and must corset herself every morning thanks to the ample room service the hotel provides. She even croons the oh, what a lovely morning song in a husky alto with Eloise at the start of the film.
The goodies for Eloise at the Plaza are rawther scarce: only two bonus features.
The Making of Eloise at the Plaza is a very interesting featurette tracing the popularity of the Eloise books, the screenwriter's dilemmas in developing the books into film, and some standard interviews of the actors talking about why their characters are so fascinating. Julie Andrews has some intriguing comparisons between her nanny roles in Mary Poppins, the Sound of Music, and Eloise. It's very apparent she enjoyed playing a very different sort of nanny for this film.
Hiliary Draws Eloise: An Art Lesson is nothing more than Knight with a large sketchpad showing the basic shapes needed to draw Eloise, and then demonstrating with a black sharpie. It's very simple but fascinating to see such an acclaimed illustrator at work with the same black Sharpie that I have in my desk effortlessly make such an unforgettable character.
The DVD also includes an exclusive collectible lithograph, which looks remarkably like a little postcard size sketch of Eloise. Very cute, but not earth shattering.
The Video, Audio and Interface
The DVD is basically what played on the Wonderful World of Disney without commercial interruption. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, formatted 4x3. The sound is Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The colors are bright and crisp. The interface is a simple replica of the book, with short clips of the live action Eloise within the pages.
The Final Evaluation
Though the DVD extras are pretty lacking, the overall quality of the film is wonderful and definitely worth purchasing or at least renting. The filmmakers went to painstaking lengths to stay faithful to Thompson's and Knight's beloved books. The art direction for this movie is first rate, from the toys piled on the shelf, to Skipperdee the Pug, to the grand sweep of the Plaza ballroom. Sofia Vassilieva, who plays Eloise, is precocious without being overly unpleasant. The supporting actors are excellent. But it's Julie Andrews who makes this DVD worthwhile; she steals the movie from the cute little child actors and their pets. Luckily, The Wonderful World of Disney is coming out with another installment of the Eloise seriesEloise at Christmastime is set to air Saturday, November 22.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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