Three New Releasesby Ed Perkis, contributing writer
You may not remember this, but in the 1960s Fred MacMurray was pretty much America's favorite father figure. From 1960 to 1972, he not only starred on television in My Three Sons (which lasted so long that two of the sons finally left), but also headlined a series of Disney live-action movies, including: The Absent Minded Professor, Kisses for My President, The Happiest Millionaire, and the recently released on DVD, Follow Me, Boys.
Follow Me, Boys stars MacMurray as Lem Siddons, a saxophonist in a traveling jazz band in 1930, who decides to settle down in the quaint middle-America town of Hickory. Lem's purpose for staying is his brief glimpse at the lovely Vida Downey (Vera Miles). In order to get himself in good with the stand-offish Vida, Lem suggests that the town start a Boy Scout troop and volunteers to be the Scoutmaster. So begins a several-decades tale of Lem's experience leading scores of boys on camp-outs, hikes and general good-deed doing and his impact on both their lives and his adopted hometown.
The movie is saturated in the type of feel-good, small-town Americana that is the trademark of Disney live action films of this era (not to mention the inspiration for places like Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland Park in Anaheim.) When the troop files out of town for their very first march ever, the entire town turns out to clap and wave good-bye (kind of makes you wonder why the town could never get an adult to lead a Scout troop prior to MacMurrays appearance.) The troop is made up of a mixed-bag of small town boys who, while not exactly sterotypes, don't move too far from the mold. When the troop stumbles onto a Morse code machine that starts to chatter at them, who can decipher it? Why the kid with glasses, of course.
The plot, such as it is, meanders a bit. It's more a series of episodes designed to show MacMurray'sand by extension small town America'slife during an idealized first half of the last century. Kurt Russell, a stalwart like MacMurray of a string of Disney films, makes his Disney debut here as Whitey, the tough-guy kid. Whitey's father drinks (but, in keeping with the type of movie it is, really isn't a bad guy) and Whitey scoffs at the Scouts but secretly wants to join. He eventually does, of course.
MacMurray is perfect in his role: The classic wise and kind father figure. His chemistry with Vera Miles is not sizzling, but then this is a Disney film and sizzling wouldn't be appropriate. They work well together as a couple. Russell shows a good range for such a young actor. Silent film star Lillian Gish is in a few scenes as town's rich old lady who isn't as forgetful or crazy as she sometimes appears. There are plenty of laughs to go around, and sentimentality is not in short supply. Director Norman Tokar, a Disney vet who also helmed The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat From Outer Space, and the non-Disney Where the Red Fern Grows keeps the pace moving despite the 133 minute running time.
There isn't much here. Spanish subtitles are given a prominent place under Special Features on the back of the DVD box. That's never a good sign. There is an 11-minute reminiscence on the filming called Looking Back with Lem's Boys. Unfortunately, Lem's most famous boy, Kurt Russell, didn't participate. In fact, only four of the former child actors are involved, none of whom had very big roles in the film. Disney didn't even bother to track down Duane Chase, who played the non-entity Joe in this movie, but also played that annoying punk Kurt in the Sound of Music. They do discuss working with the main stars MacMurray, Miles, and Russell, and the visit to the set by Walt Disney, but there isn't anything that you might call insightful here.
Other than that, the extras are limited to a gallery of promotional art, posters, and publicity stills for the 1966 release and 1976 re-release of the movie. This is a movie that would really benefit from a more thorough making-of featurette and maybe a commentary track.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
OK, everyone take a deep breath here. The movie is fullscreen (1.33:1). Now, that's enough to send some people running from the room to pour acid in their eyes. The word fullscreen is an anathema to them. The movie doesn't suffer too much from it, but if you are a widescreen-or-nothing type person, then avoid this movie. The picture itself is OK, it doesn't scream restoration work at its zenith or anything. It somewhat looks its age. But it'll look better than your worn-out VHS copy (if you have one), so most will consider it an upgrade.
The audio is Dolby digital mono sound, and is nothing special. You'll appreciate this when Fred MacMurray sings the title song. Just kidding.
The interface is pretty simple, with no animation or music changes. Just the same peppy, vaguely Disney beat. As I've stated in other reviews, if your child has ever operated your DVD remote, they can easily navigate these simple offerings.
The Final Evaluation
This is a really good movie. It's kind of a shame that Disney didn't put a little more effort into the DVD release. Some more extras, a commentary track, a widescreen version and this would be a must-have for any fan of the classic Disney family movies. As it is, it's a good value and if you like movies like Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent-Minded Professor, or The Apple Dumpling Gang, then this DVD is a worthy companion.
The world is divided into two camps: Those who have (or have children who have) seen the animated Kim Possible television series which plays daily on the Disney Channel, and those who have not. If you are in the have not group, feel free to stop reading now. You don't want the new DVD Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time (no, that's not a typo, it's a play on Kim's use of the phrase what's the sitch?) If you aren't already a Possible fan, you should catch one or two episodes on the Disney Channel (don't worry, it plays 16 times a week) and then come back and read the rest of the review.
If you're still reading, it means, like me and my two children ages 7 and 9, that you are already familiar with Kim Possible (Christy Carlson Romano), a high school girl who fights super-villains bent on enslaving the world, and worries about homework, cheerleading, and her outfit in her spare time. Kim is assisted by her sidekick, Ron Stoppable (Will Friedle), Ron's naked mole-rat sidekick Rufus (Nancy Cartwright), and computer/gadget genius Wade (Tahj Mowry).
Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time was originally shown in November 2003 on the Disney Channel as a three-part episode. It has a strong advantage over other television series movies in that the entire thing is an original coherent plot and not just a stringing together of three or four already-shown episodes with new material linking them together (see the recent Recess DVDs reviewed on this site.) The plot involves four of Kim's fiercest villains (Drakken, Shego, Monkey Fist, and the hilariously named Duff Killigan) teaming up to steal the Tempus Simia, a monkey-shaped stone that can create a time portal. The villains plan to use trips into the past to help them dominate the future. Will they succeed? I'll never tell, but just remember that the show isn't called Duff Killigan (although that would be something I'd watch.)
The trips back and forth in time serve to introduce viewers to younger and older versions of familiar characters from the show, and allow producers to stack the movie with guest-star voices, including: Kelly Ripa as the adult version of Kim's high school nemesis, Bonnie; Freddie Prinze, Jr. as Kim's brothers Jim and Tim; Raven and Vivica Fox as friend Monique at different ages; Michael Clark Duncan as a grown-up Wade; and Elliot Gould as Dad Stoppable. The time travel can be fun for fans to see their favorite characters as pre-schoolers or as adults. My kids really loved this aspect.
The movie has all the same action and humor as the television show. Some of the lines are good enough to keep an adult laughing (Ron's dad to Ron, I'm an actuary; I can work anywhere people attach a dollar value to human life.) The action can sometimes be fast-paced, but it's never particularly scary, and humans are never, ever hurt. As long as your daughter doesn't have an eating disorder, then Kim is a good role model (she is prone to belly shirts and has an impossibly narrow waist).
The interplay between Kim and Ron is breezy and fun, and the oafishness of some of the villains is humorous. While it's possible to watch the movie without having seen the show, a lot of what is happening will be lost if you lack some basic knowledge of the characters and their personalities. It will generally appeal to people who are already fans of the series.
One major drawback to the DVD, despite the fact that it is new material rather than recycled episodes, is that it is only 66 minutes long. Take out the credits at the end, and it's just over an hour long. That's just too short.
Expecting someone to pay almost $20 for a 66-minute movie that has already played on television probably means there will be some unbelievable (or at least mediocre) extras, right? Well, no. There is a (thankfully) brief video of Ron Stoppable's song, Naked Mole Rap. The song isn't that good and the video isn't funny enough to save it. There is also something called the Totally Awesome Tempus Simius Simulation Activity. That's a pretty long name for a pretty lame extra. It is basically pictures of Kim, Ron, and Rufus at various ages and a brief (one line) voice-over explaining their personalities at that stage in their life. To call this extra a goodie is being too generous.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen. It's not like this is the movie to get to test out your new $5,000 home theater system picture. It's a television movie, not The Matrix. That said, the picture quality is surprisingly good. The visuals are crisp and clear even during some time effects when they use a big swirl on the screen to represent a portal in time.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 so you can hear every explosion and witty quip. The sound on this movie is probably more critical than in many Disney Channel TV movies since it has more action.
The interface is pretty easy. The menus are clear and since there isn't much on the disc besides the movie, previews, and two extras, it's simple to find what you want. Any young child who has operated the remote on a DVD player before will be able to navigate these menus.
The Final Evaluation
If you (or more likely, your pre-teen) is a fan of the Kim Possible television series, then chances are, Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time will be an enjoyable diversion. However, I really can't see how it is worth the $19.99 list price. If you can find it in the $10 range, it might be worth picking up. The shortness of the movie along with the paucity of extras makes it a very limited value. Getting it as a cheap rental is really the way to go. If you aren't already a fan of the Possible-Stoppable team, skip this altogether until you've seen at least a few episodes on the Disney Channel.
The Misadventure of Merlin Jones is a misleading movie. During the '60s and '70s, Disney on several occasions took several episodes of the The Wonderful World of Disney, melded them together and released the result theatrically (e.g., after great success on televsion, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier found itself on movie screens).
You couldn't be faulted for assuming that Merlin Jones is an unusually sloppy example of this. The titular Merlin Jones (played by Tommy Kirk) is a socially awkward college student, whose eternal quest for knowledge in the name of science is constantly getting him in trouble.
Fortunately, the cutest girl in school (Annette Funicello) values brains above brawn and helps keep the worst away. In the first part of the movie, Jones has developed a complicated contraption for measuring brain waves, and after an accident, finds himself able to read minds.
When he overhears a local judge reminiscing over old crimes (and plotting new ones), they are off on one crazy caper! Well, crazy in the sense of a bad episode of Happy Days or something. Eventually everything resolves itself, the credits roll and the theme song plays again and the next episode starts.
Well, not really, but it'll feel like it. The first half of the movie (about 45 minutes) has about nothing to do with the second half (about 45 minutes) other than the characters being the same.
In the second, Jones takes an interest in hypnosis (after he is hypnotized in class by a professor and made to kiss a girl not Annette) and tries to teach a laboratory chimpanzee to stand up against the bullying lab guy (Norman Grabowski, bit member of many Disney and Disney-like movies of the '60s).
Of course, the chimp stands up a bit too well and they end up back in front of the judge from the first epis er, half of the movie. Things go weird and Jones ends up proving to the judge that a man can't be hypnotized to do something against his moral code, and to prove it, hypnotized the judge to steal the chimpanzee. And they are off on one crazy caper!
About the only thing of note is the paper cut-out animated opening sequence, with music by the Sherman Brothers. That bit of alternative animation shows more imagination than all of the rest of the movie.
While it seems very clear that these two parts were originally intended for TV, the film did make it to theaters first, and movie-goers must have been perplexed.
Nothing much in the way of goodies. In honor of Merlin Jones's life mission, there is a brief clip reel of other Disney inventors. Maybe thirty seconds of everything from Goofy and his parallel parking putter to Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.
Not enough to be of interest, and the navigation from one to the next requires you to go back to the menu screen.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Again, there is nothing noteworthy hear. The video and audio quality were probably no more than average when it hit the theaters and it doesn't appear anything special was done to clean it up for DVD.
The menus are unexciting, though you are required to return to them to access the half-dozen, 30-second inventor reels. Disney previews do lead the main menu when you first start the disc, and you will have to fast forward to get past them (you can not skip over them).
The Final Evaluation
If you are a completist Disney collector or a fan of Tommy Kirk or Annette Funicello, you might want a copy of this DVD. However, don't pick up a copy expecting a couple hours of fine entertainment.