DVD Roundup

by Kevin Krock, staff writer
Tarzan II
(2005) | Approx. 72 min| Rated G | Reviewed August 3, 2005 by Kevin Krock
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Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)

The Movie

Most of the advertising for Tarzan II indicates that it is a sequel to the original, but it is really more of a prequel, much along the lines of Lion King 1 1/2. This story picks up somewhere after about a third of the original movie, and it continues to tell Tarzan's growing pains as a human being raised by gorillas. The young Tarzan (Harrison Chad, Dora the Explorer) begins to feel like he is a terrible ape; he cannot do many of the things his best friend Terk can do, and he keeps causing trouble in the troop. Then, an accident injures Kala (Glenn Close, 101 Dalmatians), Tarzan's adopted mother, and leaves Tarzan missing and presumed dead. As Tarzan is making his way back to the troop, he overhears members of the troop discussing how they think he is gone and that the troop would now be better off without him, so he strikes off on his own to find his place in the jungle.

In his search, he comes across an outcast family of gorillas, Mama Gunda (Estelle Harris, TVs Seinfeld) and her sons Kago (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) and Uto (Brad Garrett, TVs Everybody Loves Raymond). The encounter kicks off an adventure to uncover the mystery behind the legendary monster of Dark Mountain, the Zugor, who turns out to be a cantankerous old ape (comedian George Carlin). Tarzan and Zugor slowly become good friends, and along the way, Tarzan finds his own skills that end up saving the day.

Produced by DisneyToon Studios, this movie falls into my enjoyable-but-not-particularly-memorable category. The story, apparently approved by the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, fits in nicely as an extension of the original animated feature, and it has enough of a plot and flow that it kept me and my children interested for the whole, relatively short, movie.

As for the animation—always a concern of mine for direct-to-video releases—t is surprisingly solid. The character animation features shadowing, shading, and a lot more depth than you typically see from direct-to-video or cartoon series releases, but the character designs seem to be a tad bit softer and more simply drawn than the original. All the characters, though, are true to the original film, and the vocal performances, including several from the original, are right on target. Finally, many of the backgrounds use the same “Deep Canvas” technology as the original film. This technology takes 3D objects, like trees and jungle vines, and applies hand painted textures and colors to them, so the end result is an environment that allows the cell animated characters to move freely through a more natural-looking animated world. Overall, the movie has several pretty good things going for it, but it just does not set itself apart enough from the other Disney films to really make it a must-see.

The Goodies

The quality and quantity of the goodies on this disc are reasonably consistent with other Disney direct-to-video releases. While not plentiful or in-depth, the little bit of bonus material on the disc is targeted at a young audience and contains a few items outside of the obligatory, vanilla set top game and music video. “Terk and Tantor's Jungle Guide” features a series of humorous but informative clips of a number of jungle animals, and along the same lines, the “Tarzan's Matter-of-Facts” feature pops up jungle trivia and ape language facts based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' invented language. Both are kind of interesting to watch bits and pieces of, but they have rather limited replayability. Finally, the very short (only 5 minutes) making-of featurette barely has time to touch on the highest level aspects of the movie: The idea behind the movie and the music. There is very little depth, and given the short length of the movie, I would have liked to see this fleshed out a bit more. In the end, there is bonus stuff, but it does not really amount to much more than marketing bullets on the cover.

The Audio, Video, and Interface

This may sound very familiar, but most of Disney's recent titles have reached a pretty high level of audio and video transfer quality. For a recent Disney direct-to-video release, there really are no surprises on this disc, either. The video will look good on just about any screen, as the colors are saturated and solid, and the video is clean, detailed, and free of any major visual distractions. The audio should prove equally acceptable on just about any home theater system, including DTS systems, as the soundtrack features plenty of surround effects and enveloping music. Finally, the interface features several themed and animated menus, which enhance the viewer's experience and help round out the very nice presentation of this movie.

The Final Evaluation

Fans of the original Tarzan animated feature should find this movie and presentation pretty enjoyable. The story is reasonably solid, and the voice acting goes a long way to making this movie work. The audio and video transfers are more than acceptable, and the interface is well themed and easy to use. On the down side, the disc is a bit light on the bonus material, especially for such a short movie, but there should be enough to entertain your children for at least a little while after the movie is over. If you are looking for a decent family-friendly movie for a movie night but are on the fence about buying it, this disc is worth renting. If you or your children will be watching this repeatedly, then the disc may be worth picking up at a discount store.

Home Improvement - Season 2
(1992) | Approx. 588 min | Rated TV-PG | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
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Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)

The Shows

I have always enjoyed watching Home Improvement, and it had been a while since I sat down and watched an episode or two. I had forgotten just how funny I found some of these second season episodes. I'm not sure if it is because I love gadgets and tools or that I can relate to Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (played by Tim Allen) on certain levels. I do know, though, that part of my current appreciation for the show is that the Taylor family has a similar makeup as mine, and some of the parallels are rather spooky. The other thing that I enjoy about the show is that is does an admirable job of balancing the comedy with “real world” family concerns and issues, such as sibling rivalry, spousal communication, extended family interactions, and many more. Sure, the show is a hyperbole of real life, but there are so many kernels of truth in the stories and characters, that I think most families will find something to relate to and laugh at.

Here is a quick rundown of the episodes in the set:

Disc 1

  • Read My Hips
  • Rites & Wrongs of Passage
  • Overactive Glance
  • Groin Pains
  • Heavy Meddle
  • The Haunting of Taylor House
  • Roomie for Improvement
  • May the Best Man Win

Disc 2

  • Where There's a Will, There's a Way
  • Let's Did Lunch
  • Abandoned Family
  • I'm Scheming of a White Christmas
  • Bell Bottom Blues
  • Howards End
  • Love is a Many Splintered Thing
  • Dances With Tools
  • You're Driving Me Cracy, You're Driving Me Nuts

Disc 3

  • Bye, Bye, Birdie
  • Karate or Not, Here I Come
  • Shooting Three to Make Tutu
  • Much Ado About Nana
  • Ex Marks the Spot
  • To Build or Not to Build
  • Birth of a Hot Rod
  • The Great Race

The Goodies

As with many compilation titles, most of the disc capacity is dedicated to the main content, and bonus material usually takes a back seat. This certainly holds true for the second season of Home Improvement, but given that there are 25 half-hour episodes crammed onto three DVDs, it is not much of a surprise. The one bonus item that is on the set is a pretty good-length gag reel compiled from outtakes and funny scenes from Season 2. It is a nice way to encapsulate all of the fun and humor that makes up this show and a welcome addition that rounds out the set. I just wish there were some commentaries, interviews, or other material to help fill in some of the background behind how the show was produced during this second season.

The Audio, Video, and Interface

Given that this is a compilation of TV shows, the quality of the audio and video is simply equivalent to watching a rerun on satellite or cable TV. There is nothing particularly outstanding about the transfers, but the presentation fully suits the intended purpose. As for the menu system, it is well laid out and simple to navigate. It is also well-themed and fits in with the feel of the TV series.

The Final Evaluation

It is pretty straightforward. If you enjoy watching the antics of Tim Allen and his television family, the Taylors, then this set is for you, and if you have Season 1, this will make a nice addition to your collection. The presentation of the TV shows will look and sound decent on just about any system, and the bonus gag reel is well worth watching if you enjoy the series. It is a good overall package for a funny, family TV series.

Fantastic 4 - The Complete 1994-95 Animated TV Series
(1994) | Approx. 569 min | Rated TV-Y7 | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
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Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)

The Set

This four-disc set covers the entire Fantastic Four animated television series from 1994 through 1995. The 26 episodes feature Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing battling a variety of villains including their arch nemesis, Doctor Doom. Not having watched the series when it was originally on television, I was a bit surprised by the mediocre to poor animation and thoroughly hokey theme music (at least for part of the series). On the plus side, the episodes I reviewed seemed to have relatively decent plots (with a few that spanned multiple episodes), and developed reasonably well characters, which is probably a byproduct of the Fantastic Four being one of Marvel comics longest-running comics. As with most things I review, though, the presentation of the story plays a big part in maintaining my and other viewer's attention, and based on the shoddy animation alone, I found it difficult to hang in and watch more than a few episodes.

The Goodies

As I previously mentioned, many compilations do not contain much bonus material, and this set also follows that trend. Besides the 26 episodes spread across four discs, there is an 8-minute featurette with Marvel Comics legend, Stan Lee. Lee describes the formation of the Fantastic Four, and discusses their relation to other comic characters of the time. While it may not be big news for hard core comic book fans, it was mildly interesting to listen to Lee's stories about the characters, plots, history, and so on. Finally, each of the episodes has a very brief introduction by Lee, which is a nice touch for those less familiar with the series.

The Video, Audio, and Interface

The audio and video are acceptable for the intended use, which is not saying much because the animation is not all that great to start with. As this was television show from the mid-1990s, at the very least, you get a decent picture and stereo sound. Outside of those presentation aspects, the interface is surprisingly barren. You get some menu animation and an annoying “techno” soundtrack, but it really did not do much to get me into the mood for the episodes.

The Final Evaluation

This set is definitely for the harder core comic book and superhero cartoon aficionados, as there is not much that the entire family will enjoy in this set. It seems to be one of those rather niche titles that a small group of fans will enjoy, but I would not add it to my DVD collection. The TV episodes are rated TV-Y7 due to the animated action violence, which is rather expected for a superhero series, but if you have young ones, this may not be the best choice for keeping them entertained.

If you are a fan of the series, then by all means pick it up, as you know what to expect. Others, though, may not want to jump right onto the Fantastic Four marketing frenzy that has recently accompanied the live-action theatrical movie. There is better stuff out there for families, and mine will probably be watching Tarzan II or Home Improvement.