Wednesday, January 16, 2008

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT: 40TH ANNIVERSARY (Mirisch Company 1967) MGM/Fox Home Entertainment

Norman Jewison’s provocative thriller, In The Heat of the Night (1967) is a super-charged melodrama about bigotry and hatred in the new south. The film stars Sidney Poitier as Det. Virgil Tibbs, an out of state professional who arrives in town for leisure only to find himself personally involved in the investigation of a racially motivated murder.

The story opens in the backwood enclave of Sparta Mississippi (actually a town in Illinois) with police officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates) discovering the abandoned corpse of industrialist, Philip Colbert (Jack Teter) in a lonely alley. Ordered by his superior officer, Sheriff Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to round up unusual looking suspects, Wood mistakenly arrests Virgil Tibbs who, having just visited his mother, is waiting at the platform for the midnight train to roll into town.

Gillespie is chagrined when he allows his own racial prejudice to assume Tibbs is his prime suspect based solely on the color of his skin. But his temper is brought to a boiling point when he is unable to solve the murder by himself. After providing invaluable leads on the case, Tibbs is ordered by Gillespie to get out of town. However, Colbert’s widow, Leslie (Lee Grant) is determined that Tibbs remain on and assist the local authorities.

But the race for the killer turns ugly when Gillespie overlooks the most obvious choice, Eric Endicott (Larry Gates) in favor of pinning the charge on an innocent man, Harvey Oberst (Scott Wilson) instead.Perhaps, the most liberating aspect of the film when viewed today is that it uses race in support of a very solid story rather than allowing the issue itself to become the modus operands for the entire piece.

The theatrical release of In The Heat of the Night cinematically marks the cusp of the civil rights movement – feeding into social frustrations of the era, yet coming down not quite so hard as one might expect with its own message. What is remarkable about the Stirling Silliphant screenplay is how it manages draws parallels between Tibbs and Gillespie – each viewing the law from opposing vantages.


Both Poitier and Steiger ignite the screen with an intensity rarely seen, making their unlikely bond and ultimate friendship all the more genuine and satisfying. Poitier is an obvious choice for Tibb’s, his easy going way initially branding Tibbs a pushover in Gillespie’s eyes.

Rod Steiger's Gillespie is a pompous ‘law man’ with more mouth than conviction. However, his burgeoning respect for Tibbs despite being immersed in the racist attitudes of his peers, is superbly portrayed by Steiger, branding Gillespie as something of a renaissance man.


Producer Walter Mirisch reportedly recognized the potential in John Ball’s novel immediately but had his misgivings about whether United Artists would be willing to pick up his tab. He had little to fear. After producing back to back hits for the studio, UA was more than interested in anything Mirisch had to offer. Their gamble and his paid off. In the Heat of the Night won Oscars for Steiger’s searing performance and Best Picture.

Quincy Jone’s jazzy soundtrack captures the immediacy and mounting tensions in Stirling Silliphant’s emotionally charged screenplay. In the late 1980s In The Heat of the Night became a successful prime time television series starring Carroll O’Connor. But by then, the tempestuousness between Gillespie and Tibbs had been largely diffused.

WHY ISN'T THIS ON BLU-RAY?
MGM Home Video 40th Anniversary re-release is the second outing for In The Heat if the Night. But this edition is superior in all aspects to the original offering. Image quality still has room for improvement, however. Colors are much more bold and pronounced this time around. Flesh tones remain slightly too pink in some scenes and garishly orange in others. Sidney Poitier’s skin tones adopt a rather curious reddish hue. Contrast levels are much stronger on this re-issued disc with deep blacks. Whites remain slightly yellowish.

Although digital anomalies have been greatly tempered from the previous release, pixelization and edge enhancement persist in two scene; Virgil’s examination of Colbert’s body at the morgue and the final confession sequence. In the first scene, a curious aliasing creates distracting halos around mortician Ted Ulam (Arthur Mallet). The end shot of this scene at the morgue also suddenly becomes blurry and out of focus as Gillespie leaves to pursue another lead on the case.

Both anomalies break apart background information and are rather distracting. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital, dated, but adequately rendered. Extras include an audio commentary by Jewison and Grant that is a direct import from the previous release. There’s also a comprehensive ‘making of’ documentary and a featurette on Quincy Jones’ contribution to the film. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
3

Monday, January 14, 2008

KNOCKED UP (Universal 2007) Universal Home Video

What would you do if you became pregnant by an oversexed bong-snorting gross pig of a human being after one drunken night of bar-hopping debauchery?

Such is the question proposed in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007) a mindlessly indoctrinating, severely cliched and strained, weak-premised regurgitation of that 'what if' and 'day after' scenario. The film is populated by thoughtless/clueless individuals who wouldn’t be able to discover their own navels with two hands and a compass. This movie is as primary in its objectives and painfully obvious in its execution as any clap-trap about twenty-somethings who should never become parents.

Apatow’s screenplay bombards the audience with an endless line up of 'go for the crotch' humour with the inevitable and largely predictable 'happy ending' tacked on for good measure. The script is not only simplistic, but as much in bad taste as it left a bad taste with this critic. One vagina joke can be funny. Two is 'oh, please' and move the humor above the equator. After all, we're not all five years old who just discovered what our hoo-hoos and pee shooters can be used for.

However, Apatow’s pedestrian screenplay degenerates into an anemic backdrop, merely exploited for the insertion of the F-word into every second or third line of boring dialogue and genuinely ‘bad’ writing. Advice to future script writers: if you can't make an audience laugh without employing obscenities then your lines ARE NOT FUNNY to begin with and Knocked Up is about as unfunny as movies get.

The story opens with attractive Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), a reporter for E!, throwing caution – and the good sense God gave a lemon – to the wind when she decides to hook up with horn-dog off his leash, Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) inside a popular L.A. night spot.

Aside: there’s a reason why managers of nightclubs universally ascribe a design strategy of loud music and dim strobe lighting to their establishments: both – in conjunction with liquor libations - dull and numb the senses.

Alison gets comfortably numb, then settles into a slightly censored sex romp. There's an overly long close-up of Ben’s exposed butt crack the next morning that is as pointless as it is unattractive.

From here, the plot becomes so predictable one could be in a coma and still figure it out – especially given the film’s title. Alison discovers she’s pregnant. Oh, big surprise! She decides to tell Ben, have the baby and hope for the best. Of course, nothing proves quite as easy as the first night’s indiscretion. Ben, a druggy dropout with no future and no hope of one, isn’t father material. He’s just a sperm donor with a potty-mouth and devil-may-care attitude about everything.

Yet, the film cannot even be honest about his character. Anyone smoking as much pot as Ben does would hardly be able to rattle off his own name, much less provide the uninterrupted angry litany of ‘crotch’ humour that philosophizes procreation into pornographic terminology - raw and unappealing.

Clearly, Apatow has no other purpose than to shock and repulse his audience with angry gross-out humour, and such a shame too, since Knocked Up does not even fulfill that basic function - having overplayed its hand in the first five minutes. Lest we forget, that funny and crude do not go hand in glove - and implied comments are always more memorable to an audience than obvious ones.

In the final analysis Knocked Up gets an 'F'. It doesn't stand for 'fantastic' or that other 'F-word'. From this critic it means, 'flat', 'flacid' and 'forgettable'! This movie is a Frisbee. Toss it with the trash because that’s exactly where it belongs. After seeing it once I hope never to see it again. I am trying to forget it now.

Universal Home Video’s transfer is adequate, but not outstanding. Although the anamorphic widescreen image can appear sharp with bright colors, overall it’s not quite as punchy as expected. Flesh tones particularly seem – at times – pasty and flat. There’s also a digitally harsh look to certain scenes; pronounced gritty and not very smooth. Contrast levels are adequately rendered.

Edge enhancement is detected in several scenes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and aggressive enough to encompass and sustain the abrasive dialogue. Extras include a litany of deleted/extended scenes, a guide to all the one line crotch humor and an audio commentary that, I must confess after seeing the film, I had zero interest indulging.

FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
0

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2.5

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

PINOCCHIO: Blu-ray (Walt Disney 1940) Disney Home Video



Walt Disney’s initial flush of success with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937) was put to the test on his next animated project, the ambitiously mounted Pinocchio (1940). With its very adult and sophisticated themes, in many ways Pinocchio is a close cousin to James Whale’s Frankenstein; the tale by Carlo Collodi, much more a harrowing nightmare about the harshness of humanity pitted against a creature not of this world.

Like Frankenstein, all the antagonists in Pinocchio are adult male authority figures – each devious, threatening and running amuck in their own social depravity – determined even - to ensure that the oddity in their midst is not allowed to assimilate into the human world.

The narrative eventually ironed out by Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner and Aurelius Battaglia consolidates the Collodi tale into three separate vignettes: the first, charting Pinocchio’s (voiced by Dickie Jones) abduction by Honest John (Walter Catlett) and Gideon (Mel Blanc) and his brief career as an actor in Stromboli’s (Charles Judel) traveling menagerie of puppets. However, apart from a few brief moments where the full wrath of Stromboli is revealed, this opening vignette is the most light-hearted of all three represented in the film.


The second sequence is terrifying to say the least. Pinocchio’s naïveté is ruthlessly exploited by the delinquent, Lampwick (Frankie Darro). The two boys are taken by The Coachman (Charles Judel also) to Pleasure Island – a veritable paradise of adolescent decadence. After a night of vapid debaucheries, Lampwick is transformed into a physical manifestation of the jackass he has been behaving, right before Pinocchio’s eyes.

The transformation is largely done in silhouette but is nevertheless frightening even to an adult audience. Pinocchio escapes his own complete transformation by diving off a cliff and swimming to safety – retaining a set of mule’s ears and a tail as his comeuppance. In the final sequence, Pinocchio returns home to discover that Geppetto (Christian Rub), his wood carver/father, has been swallowed by Monstro, the giant whale.

To offset the darkness of these adventures, Disney artisans developed and expanded the role of Jiminy Cricket. In Collodi’s original he is rather unceremoniously squashed by Pinocchio before the real story even begins. In the film, Jiminy (Cliff Edwards) not only survives, he assumes the function of Pinocchio’s conscience – a gift from The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) who entrusts Jiminy with Pinocchio’s salvation from sin. However, Jiminy is far from innocent. At varying intervals in the narrative he is worldly, satirical and quite a scamp with the ladies – in short, a Chaplinesque creation representing man, woman and child all at once.

At a cost of $2 million, Pinocchio is technically and artistically superior to Disney's first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; its Oscar-winning ballad ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington married to stunning usage of Disney’s multiplane camera. Yet, the film only managed to recoup $3 million dollars at the box office; a colossal disappointment. In hindsight, what Walt ultimately forgot with Pinocchio is that audiences are suckers for love stories. Pinocchio has none.
Today it is perhaps easier for us to appreciate the film as the immense artistic achievement it actually is.


There's no comparison between Disney's Bluray and the previously issued DVD. Color fidelity is superbly rendered on the Bluray. Fine detail is breathtaking. For the first time we can actually see brush strokes in the background paintings. The artist's care has been lovingly preserved. Age related artefacts have been eradicated for an image that is smooth and visually very film like. Film grain is very natural. This is an impeccable reference quality disc that will offer the young and old a superior home video presentation for many years to come.

If at all possible, the newly remastered DTS audio is even more of a revelation than anticipated. Mixed from mono 'sound stems' into a true stereophonic mix, the results are so life-like, so dimensional in their subtly nuanced spatial spread across the audio channels that I felt as though I was seeing and hearing the movie for the very first time.

Extras are extensive and include Disney's usual 'making of' documentary, a litany of vintage interviews, introductions by Walt, story boards and animation art, promotional materials, raw audio stems of songs and dialogue, still frame/live action footage and an immersive picture-in-picture audio commentary and theatrical trailers. This is truly the way this classic movie was meant to be seen and heard. What a fitting tribute to one of the finest films in the Disney canon. Kudos to everyone involved in this gargantuan restoration effort!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+

VIDEO/AUDIO
5+

EXTRAS
5+

FANTASIA/FANTASIA 2000: Blu-ray (Walt Disney 1940) Disney Home Video

By the late 1930s, Walt Disney faced a considerable dilemma in his fledgling animation empire. His current involvement on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had yet to be released and critics of the day were already earmarking the project as ‘Disney’s folly’ in reference to the massive amount of capital Walt had invested to bring his dream project to life.

But even more alarming to Walt in the summer of 1936 was the fact that his studio’s greatest asset; Mickey Mouse – once hailed as a star on par with the likes of Gable and Garbo - had fallen quietly out of public favor, thanks in part to Disney’s diversification into other projects that did not include Mickey. Hence, in the summer of 1937, Walt began plans to resurrect Mickey in a new short subject – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Incorporating the slant of a Silly Symphony, the short would be told entirely through music.

Unfortunately for Walt, the project quickly became far more costly in its development than any other short produced at the studio. A chance meeting with Philadelphia Symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski provided the answer. Why not make The Sorcerer’s Apprentice the centerpiece of a much larger film – a concert feature celebrating some of the most popular compositions ever written? The idea was inspiring and different to say the least. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was put on hold until after the release of Snow White.

A resounding success, Snow White earned enough money on its theatrical release to effectively put Disney Studios in the black. It also provided Walt with more than enough capital to produce his next two features; Pinocchio and Fantasia (1940). Today, Fantasia is widely regarded as one of the most ambitiously imaginative and fascinating departures in animation. However, at the time of its release it proved to be an incredible personal disappointment for Walt and a heavy financial flop that liquidated much of the studio’s prosperity.

The project was hard going from the beginning. Spurred on by initial excitement and Stokowski’s considerable involvement on the project, Walt put into development no less than twenty-four individual concepts for segments to be included in his ‘concert feature’ – only eight (Toccata and Fugue, The Nutcracker, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Rite of Spring, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours and Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria) were fully formed in the final film.

In re-conceptualizing classical orchestrations into visual designs, Disney chose to step away from time-honored perceptions and interpretations by musicologists. However, to ensure that Fantasia would be taken seriously by the high brow set, and, to lend a certain amount of critical authority to his project, Walt employed noted music historian and critic, Deems Taylor to provide introspective narrations between each segment. Finally, to ensure the absolute integrity of the audio portion of his film, Walt also began ambitious experimentations with a then revolutionary six track stereo recording process he nicknamed ‘FantaSound.’

Indeed, the Hollywood and New York premieres of Fantasia were treated more like a night at the opera than an evening at the movies with lavish printed programs given out to guests quaffed in their night time finery. A specially designed stereo speaker system installed to reproduce the directionalized audio tracks recorded in FantaSound ensured maximum integrity in audio fidelity.

Unfortunately for Walt, the critics were all but unkind to his grand gesture. Those who had expected furry forest animals and cute cartoons a la Walt’s own Silly Symphonies were instead subjected to a fairly adult interpretation on everything from the creation of the world to demonic possession and hallowed resurrection.

Bewildered at how best to review such an ambitious and unprecedented break with tradition, many newspapers sent both a film and music critic into the theater on opening night to provide commentary; only to have the former emerge considerably alienated by the plot-less experience and the latter much insulted with Disney’s cheek in depicting hippos, minotaurs and goldfish indulging the likes of Dukas, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

Walt had intended that his ‘concert feature’ should always be an evolving masterwork with new segments constantly being added. However, following Fantasia’s disastrous general release all such plans were immediately scrapped. Henceforth, Disney would regard his masterpiece as a painful personal failure.

It was not until the late 1960s, shortly after Walt’s death, that a general re-release of Fantasia prompted not only considerable interest in the film but ultimately a total embracement of its brilliant audacity in concept and design. Today, Fantasia is rightfully regarded as one of Walt’s most stunningly surreal and ever-lasting grand experiments – indeed a fitting conclusion to a project that only Walt and his animators had initial faith in.

Disney's Blu-ray resurrects a stunningly beautiful visual presentation of Fantasia. Restored and remastered from the original negative, the image is startlingly beautiful, crisp and with vibrant color fidelity intact. The image is so sharp we can see the artist's brush strokes in backgrounds.


Disney has gone back to the original 'Fantasound' stereophonic stems for a completely new DTS audio restoration. Although understandably dated, the recaptured fidelity in this recording is remarkable. Extras are a tad disappointing. The David Ogden Stiers documentary on the making of the film that was available on Disney's original DVD release has been omitted in favour of including three separate audio commentaries, one from film historian Brian Sibley, another featuring Scott McQueen, Roy Disney, John Canemaker and James Levine, and a third comprised of interviews conducted with Walt over the years.

There's also a pair of brief featurettes, one on the Schultheis Notebook - a reproduction of the chronicle by Herman Schultheis that documents how certain animated effects were created for the film, and another on the newly inaugurated Disney Family Museum. This Blu-ray offering of Fantasia also includes its sequel Fantasia 2000 (given its own separate review on this site) as well as DVD copies of both movies. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+


VIDEO/AUDIO
5

EXTRAS
3.5

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (Walt Disney 1954) Disney Home Video

In the mid-1950s, Walt stunned the Hollywood community with an ambitious diversification of his empire. A decade earlier, the studio had undertaken the duties of producing training films for the U.S. government. With war’s end, Walt re-entered the animation market to great critical acclaim. He also dove headlong into the fledgling new medium of television and succeeded there where other studios had miserably failed. Furthermore, Walt was nearing completion on his most ambitious project to date – the theme park; Disneyland.

Indeed, the Disney name seemed to be everywhere – its marketability and longevity sustained by the kindly words and wisdom of a visionary who continued to lay the responsibility for the whole massive enterprise squarely on the diminutive shoulders of a mouse named Mickey.

So, perhaps in hindsight, it only seems natural that Walt would also eventually get around to tackling live action movies. His earlier efforts in combining live action and animation (Song of the South 1946, So Dear To My Heart 1948) had been met with sustained enthusiasm. Yet, he longed to make a more adult film.

With director Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) Disney achieved that goal with a grandly amusing revision on Jules Verne’s classic futurist novel. The book presents a series of disjointed vignettes in undersea adventure, but without a narrative thread to link them all together.

In re-conceptualizing Verne for the movies, screenwriter Earl Felton introduced a trio of unlikely comrades who would serve as the constant travelers in the filmic journey; harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), marine biologist, Prof. Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) and his associate, Conseil (Peter Lorre).

Fascinated by tales of a sea monster reeking havoc on merchant vessels, Arronax, Land and Conseil survive their own brush with death when their ship is struck broadside. They later realize that the creature responsible for their ship’s destruction is actually a submersible iron and steel creation built by isolationist Captain Nemo (James Mason). The prodigal reject of tortuous experiences in a salt mine, Nemo is determined that man’s corruption and inhumanity on land shall not conquer the sea. To this end, he has set himself and his crew on a path in which the most telling casualty has been his own soul.

At first, Nemo is perfectly content to let Ned and Conseil drown. However, he rethinks his murderous act and instead opens his home – the Nautilus submarine – to Arronax, whom he respects as a scientist, and his compatriots. The three men are taken below as Nemo’s forced guests, Ned resenting the captain almost from the start and plotting an escape at every opportunity. Eventually, the men learn to regard one another with more than mere contempt – a sobering acceptance that humanizes Nemo, but ultimately leads to his own demise.

Well aware that his reputation as a purveyor of legitimate live action drama was at stake, Walt chose to populate his feature with intense dramatic talents. Mason is superb as the embattled tragic figure lost at sea even as his ship has afforded him a God-like autonomy from the rest of the world. Douglas and Lorre have a genuine chemistry that provides much needed humor to lighten the mood and tone of the story. Lukas is perhaps the least engaging of the film’s stars – his private battle with memory loss leading to many a troubled moment on set throughout the production.

In an era of big scale grand entertainments, Walt realized that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea could not merely be large scale to compete – it had to be ‘epic.’ As his own studio facilities were not large enough to house the project, work progressed with an ambitious location shoot in the tropics. Disney further hedged his bets by renting stages at 20th Century Fox and by constructing a special sound stage at the Disney Studio with an ‘effects lab’ to orchestrate and coordinate the climactic squid battle.

This spectacular attack by a giant octopus that threatens life and limb of the crew of the Nautilus is one of the finest SFX achievements ever put on film. Yet, bringing it to life proved problematic to near impossible. After an unconvincing first attempt set against a picturesque fiery sunset, the Disney artisans restaged the entire sequence at great expense during a violent storm at sea, with rain and wind effects concealing many of the shortcomings inherent in the uncooperative mechanical apparatus.

Director Fleischer, the son of Disney’s early rival in animation, Max Fleischer, was at first apprehensive about accepting the assignment. He was convinced by his father to take the job and the result remains one of the Disney’s most satisfying undertakings in the realm of live action. As Disney’s ambitious caprice, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea became the most expensive film ever made by a major Hollywood studio – topping the production costs on David O. Selznick’s Gone With The Wind (1939). It would continue to hold that dubious distinction until Fox’s Cleopatra (1963).



WHY ISN'T THIS ON BLU-RAY YET?
Disney DVD delivers the goods on a 2-disc Special Edition. The anamorphic Cinemascope image is breathtaking with vibrant, beautifully saturated colors, perfectly balanced contrast levels and fine details fully realized throughout. Occasionally, a hint of edge enhancement intrudes on an otherwise near flawless visual presentation that will surely NOT disappoint.


The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital of the original six track magnetic stereo and, despite inherent shortcomings, provides a very visceral fidelity that is both engaging and enveloping.Extras on disc 2 include an extensive retrospective documentary with a ship full of extra footage included aborted first attempts at the squid sequence, as well as interviews with surviving cast and crew.


There’s also several vintage featurettes, short subjects, a ‘juke box’ selection of musical cues, press and promo junket materials and the film’s original theatrical trailer to sink into. This effort from the Disney stable comes highly recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
5

OLD YELLER (Walt Disney 1957) Disney Home Video

Based on Fred Gipson’s poignant novel, Walt Disney’s Old Yeller (1957) is a heart-wrenching drama about two brothers, Travis (Tommy Kirk) and Arliss Coates (Kevin Corcoran) and their intimate relationship with the family’s faithful golden retriever – Yeller (slang for ‘yellow’).

Arliss is always getting into trouble – engaging wild bears, skunks and other critters in the brush, only to be saved in the nick of time by Yeller. When the boys’ father, Jim (Fess Parker) leaves on an expedition, mother Katie (Dorothy McGuire) becomes the head of the household. Set against a rugged wilderness of desperadoes, wild animals and other natural disasters, the story unfolds in poignant and bittersweet vignettes that recall the coming of age from boys into men.

This is one of Disney’s first attempts at capturing the truth of youth rather than ‘Disney-fying’ it through idealism run amuck (as had been done in Song of the South 1946 and later in Pollyanna 1960). Frank, charming – yet, at times dark and haunting, Old Yeller is perhaps one of the finest examples of storytelling to emerge from the Disney stable – or, for that matter, Hollywood in general. It deserves an honorable place in the echelons of family entertainment.


WHY ISN'T THIS ON BLU-RAY YET?

Unfortunately for us all, this disc isn't Disney's best attempt by a long shot - despite being advertised as part of their 2-disc (but short lived) “Vault Disney” series. In fact, visually it's not even close to what a film like Old Yeller truly deserves.The print is very softly focused, while oddly enough still managing to be riddled with edge enhancement, aliasing and shimmering of fine details.

There is a lot of pixelization throughout the image that breaks up fine detail. Color is poorly balanced, betraying the lushness of many of the outdoor scenes, with greens in grass and trees shifting color from brownish beige to muddy beige. Flesh tones are never natural but appear too, too orange. Fine detail is generally lost in the darker scenes.

The audio has been remixed to stereo but is very strident and forward sounding. At times, it’s painful on the ears and really does not hold up to the fidelity of this period in Disney’s film making.Disney does get top marks for their supplemental materials; very thorough documentaries, isolated scores, vintage advertising and short subjects, a gallery of stills, trailers and television spots and interviews with the surviving cast members. What more could anybody ask for? A better print of the film, sadly!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
5

THE PARENT TRAP (Walt Disney 1961) Disney Home Video

Based on a German novelette, David Swift’s The Parent Trap (1961) is a most delightful petty larceny – a light-hearted family entertainment that convincingly sells its star, Haley Mills as two people; twin sisters Sharon and Susan McKendrick. Sharon has been raised in Boston by her straight-laced mother, Margaret (Maureen O’Hara); Susan, as something of a tomboy by her outgoing father, Mitch (Brian Keith) in sunny California.

Neither girl has any idea that they have a twin living on the other side of the country until a chance meeting at summer camp leads to a fortuitous life-altering decision.The twins will switch identities – not only to experience life with the other parent they’ve never known, but in the hopes of reuniting mom and dad into one happy family once again.

One problem; Mitch is engaged to Vicki Robinson (Joanna Barnes), a ravenous fashion-plate who cannot wait to get her hands on Mitch and his money. The girls make a pack to destroy their father's relationship by making him see just how shallow and unattractive Vicki really is.

Director David Swift is quite adept at handling both the comedy and melodrama in this sincere, if lighthearted romp. There’s a remarkable weight and an emotional swell to the bittersweet first meet between Sharon and Susan at summer camp, and also, to those initial scenes where each girl meets her estranged parent for the first time since birth.

That the rest of the screenplay degenerates into fluffy lampoon and mild screwball comedy is not insurmountable to the film's overall enjoyment. Although it may be Ub Iwerks magnificent usage of the split screen process and optical printer that effectively manages to make two Haley Mills out of one on the screen, the film clings together primarily because of Mills’ masterful and convincing performances as both siblings. We believe that Haley is two separate people with conflicting personalities.

Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara are old pros. They have genuine on screen chemistry as the feuding couple destined to get back together. Stellar performances from veteran actors, Cathleen Nesbit (as grandmother Louise), Charles Ruggles (grandpa Charles), Una Merkel (Verbena, the housekeeper) and Leo G. Carroll (Rev. Dr. Mosley) round out this charming childhood classic on a high note.


The Sherman Brothers contribute two great musical compositions to augment this tale: the chart topping teen pop hit ‘Let’s Get Together’ and the more enduring romantic ballad ‘For Now, For Always’ regrettably only heard in its truncated version at the end of the film.

WHY ISN'T THIS ON BLU-RAY YET?
Released as part of the short-lived ‘Vault Disney’ series, The Parent Trap has been remastered with less than stellar results. Although the anamorphic widescreen DVD can exhibit a rather refined image with bold vibrant colors, many scenes – particularly those in which the crude split screen technique illustrates both sisters in one shot – exhibit an excessively grainy image with muddy colors and more than a hint of pixelization.

Overall, the image is not very smooth. Age related artefacts are prevalent and occasionally distracting. The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix, exhibiting a strident sonic characteristic. Extras include a detailed ‘making of’ documentary with interviews from surviving cast and crew, isolated music tracks, short subjects and vintage featurettes.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
4

THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (Walt Disney 1967) Anchor Bay/Disney Home Video

The last of the studio’s live action films to bear Walt Disney’s personal hallmarks in meticulous craftsmanship also proved to be one of his most poorly received. At the time of its release, critics found The Happiest Millionaire (1967) maudlin, overly sentimental and coyly unappealing; a claptrap of wasted opportunities.

The film is based on real life industrialist and self-appointed U.S. military advisor, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle – a man whose wealth and fortitude provide for a colorful backdrop to an otherwise leaden musical excursion. That the final ‘road show’ engagement proved overly wrought with perfunctory star performances and unappealing songs was indeed a great mystery and personal disappointment for Walt who had embraced the project as his own.

To be sure, Walt was a visionary of the highest order. Occasionally however, that vision was marred by Walt’s own inability and lack of foresight to see into changing audience tastes.

By the mid-60s the Hollywood musical was on its way out as a popular form of entertainment. Though musicals continued to be made throughout the decade – and occasionally succeeded in capturing the public’s fancy, and, all important box office revenue to sustain and make the exercise profitable – more often than not musicals were falling short of their own fiscal expectations.

So too was family entertainment – with its finger firmly on the pulse of wholesome cleanliness – finding less of an audience who were now staying home for their daily diet of serials like ‘Leave it To Beaver’ and ‘Andy Griffith.’ Instead, the movies were arguably ‘growing up’ with a new focus on sex, violence and social depravities (drug abuse, rape, prostitution et al). Hence, The Happiest Millionaire was very much Walt’s last ditch attempt to reverse the hands of time and deliver a more gentile reflection on a time when American life was not quite so crassly reflected as cutthroat.

The pity of this exercise is that, perhaps, at 80 minutes director Norman Tokar's The Happiest Millionaire could have been a tune-filled – if antiseptic and sexless – salvageable musical. Instead, at its lengthy 144 min. road show it remains an over-inflated spectacular that, quite simply fails to dazzle.

The film begins in earnest with eccentric, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (Fred MacMurray) who runs a combination Bible/physical-fitness College out of his fashionable Bostonian mansion. Biddle’s two passions are boxing and alligators; the latter kept in his solarium adjacent the dining room. When newly landed Irish immigrant John Lawless (Tommy Steele) becomes Biddle's butler he finds this rather odd. Not that Lawless isn’t odd himself. It’s just that unlike Biddle’s quirkiness, which can be grating to the point of distraction, Lawless is a genuinely loveable reprobate of congenial good humor, thanks to Steele’s remarkable performance.

Threadbare to the point of nonexistent, the plot next shifts to Biddle’s only daughter Cordelia (Lesley Ann Warren). She’s a tomboy desperate to be feminine and sent off to a lady’s finishing school where she becomes engaged to New Yorker Angie Duke (John Davidson). Mrs. Duke (Geraldine Page) is a social snob, but Angie doesn't share her values or views. He wants to forgo the family business and build automobiles in Detroit.

True to Disney form, everything works out in the end with Angie and Cordelia, driving off toward an unintentionally apocalyptic matte painting that depicts the Motor City as something of a cross between Blade Runner and Mary Poppins glowering roof top jungle of chimneys, blackening the skies in aftershocks of modernity.

The film is a potpourri of old time talent. Yet, many of these fail to make even a minor impression. As Cordelia’s mother, Greer Garson is given extremely little to do. One of Disney’s good luck charms - Hemione Baddeley has even less of a say. Equally curious in the narrative construction is the fact that after the film takes great pains to introduce Biddle’s two sons Tony and Livingston (Paul Petersen and Eddie Hodges) – even giving them a song – it jettisons both characters entirely from the plot.

All these oversights would be largely forgivable if the Sherman Brothers had come up with a score worthy of their best endeavors. Regrettably, the songs do not live up to expectation. There are no memorable showstoppers to leave one with a sudden urge to buy the soundtrack or even depart the theater humming. Hence, the lasting impression of The Happiest Millionaire is that it is an undeniably well intentioned and good-looking film that nevertheless fails to entertain.

The Happiest Millionaire comes in a fairly attractive DVD transfer, despite not being enhanced for widescreen television displays. Colors are bold and refined. Blacks are deep and solid. Two versions of the film are available – one from Anchor Bay, the other from Disney. The image quality is almost identical, but the Disney release contains a hint of pixelization that was not present on the original Anchor Bay release. Anchor Bay’s disc is a flipper. Disney’s is not. The audio is a 5.1 remastering effort with a rather impressive and bombastic acoustic spread. There are no extras, not even the trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
Anchor Bay 4
Disney DVD 3.5

EXTRAS
0

ROBIN HOOD (Walt Disney 1973) Disney Home Video

In 1973, the Disney animators were to sidestep the studio’s tradition of looking forward with an unusual ‘remake’; Robin Hood. Aside from the memorable Errol Flynn epic produced at Warner Bros. in 1938, and countless scores of less than ambitious interpretations put forth on celluloid in the interim, Walt had himself made a live action version of the famed tale in 1952: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merry Men.

In his prime, Disney would never have courted the idea of revisiting a concept he had already done to his own satisfaction. Too, there were those amongst the critical set who felt that many of the studio’s subsequent animated movies were becoming dependent on vocal characterizations increasingly supplied by ‘stars’ rather than unknowns – a concept first utilized in the last animated feature Walt supervised; The Jungle Book (1967).

To be certain, Robin Hood is a film driven by vocal performances. British actor Brian Bedford supplies the convincing voice of Robin; Phil Harris (Little John); Peter Ustinov (Prince John); Andy Devine (Friar Tuck) and so on. Yet, even in their animated styling – and particularly when viewed side by side with The Jungle Book – there is an alarming amount of copycatting going on throughout.


Little John the bear is actually Baloo (also voiced by Harris) from the aforementioned Jungle Book, merely wearing a green smock and cap to superficially conceal such direct comparison. In movement and tone, Sir Hiss (voiced by Terry-Thomas) is a verbatim reincarnation of Kaa (Sterling Holloway). Alas, there is a deliberate, all pervading sense of bastardized homage to the exercise that borders on guiltless ennui – all this has been done before.

The film’s narrative is largely episodic and strung together by a loose voice over from the minstrel/rooster, Alan-A-Dale (Roger Miller). We see Robin and Little John – masquerading as female fortune tellers - tricking the naïve and ineffectual Prince John out of his tax money. The focus then shifts to Nottingham, where its manipulative Sheriff (Pat Buttram) pinches the poor for their last farthing.

Robin, disguised as a blind peasant, brings much needed funds and hope to the town’s bedraggled inhabitance, eventually meeting the Prince’s young charge, Maid Marian (Monica Evans) and her Lady in waiting – Kluck (Carole Shelley). Together with John, Robin enters an archer’s match –easily winning first prize, but alas exposing himself to Prince John’s henchmen. After a spirited battle, Robin and his band escape with Marian and Kluck in tow to celebrate their freedom in Sherwood Forest.

In the final analysis, Robin Hood is delightfully spry in its execution. It moves effortlessly from one vignette to the next, paying little attention to continuity while remaining relatively faithful to the fabled hero’s origins and the ’38 Flynn swashbuckler. Director Wolfgang Reitherman and screenwriter Ken Anderson deliver a winning and witty combination of sight gags and dialogue. Still, from a purist’s perspective, this Robin Hood does tend to teeter dangerously close to self-parody rather than exist as its own timeless capsule of high adventure.

Owing to its place as ‘lesser than’ some of the studio’s other animated contributions, Disney DVD’s ‘Most Wanted Edition’ is an economized single disc offering with remnants borrowed from other 2-disc Platinum Series. We get fun and games, trailers, an alternative ending and stills – but NO making of documentary or featurette.

The filmic elements have been slightly cleaned up from their previous assembly on a bare bones single release. However, color fidelity from one cell of animation to the next continues to appear inconsistently rendered. Occasionally, the shimmering of color is more obvious than slightly distracting. A slight hint of edge enhancement is also detected for an overall visual element that is not as smooth as one would have hoped for. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital with obvious sonic limitations inherent from the original recording.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
4

FREAKY FRIDAY (Walt Disney 1976) Disney Home Video

After the hysteria that was Haley Mills in the 1960s had cooled, the Disney Studios began actively searching for her teenage successor to ensure and carry forth their lucrative box office into the 1970s. They found their heir apparent in the embodiment of tomboyish, Jodie Foster – an undeniably gifted child star who was later to make an even greater impact in films as an adult.

In Gary Nelson’s inspired Freaky Friday (1976), Foster is Annabelle Andrews a belligerent, though loveable, teen who cannot wait to grow up. The film is classic wholesome good-natured fun from the Disney stables and it unequivocally proves that no gutless remake starring Lindsay Lohan was required.

As a ‘coming of age’ flick, Freaky Friday examines the trials and tribulations that both ‘parents with teenagers’ and ‘teenagers with parents’ undoubtedly find quite humorous and exacerbating at varying intervals but without ever appearing to be condescendingly smug.

Annabelle envisions that her mother, Ellen (Barbara Harris) lives a life of leisure and luxury and as such, she longs for the opportunity to revel in what she misperceives as pampered adulthood. School is a drag/life’s a ball…or so it seems.

Likewise, Ellen can’t understand why her daughter complains so much about being a teenager. After all, the life of a teen is carefree, effortless and one big party – minus romantic angst, pimples and chronic self doubt of course. Both women get a reality check when a ‘freak’ accident transposes their brain matter into the other’s body, thus affording mother and daughter the experience of living each other’s life for one catastrophically hilarious day.

At first Ellen is enjoying herself immensely. She takes Annabelle’s body to the spa, has her nails and hair done in a more feminine style and indulges in some minor playful flirtation with Annabelle’s soon to be boyfriend. Unfortunately Annabelle is not having nearly so easy a time pretending to be her mother, much to the chagrin and confusion of her father/husband – Bill (John Astin).

Eventually, both women realize that they are glad of their situation and stature in life and long for their respective bodies back. They come away from the experience with a new found respect and understanding for one another that strengthens their mother/daughter bond. Dick Van Patten and Ruth Buzzi costar.

Walt Disney Home Video has given us a very clean and anamorphically enhanced DVD. Despite the fact that the 70s were not known for their resilient or vibrant color film stocks, colors on this DVD are eye-popping, rich, vibrant and bold. Age related artifacts are a rarity.Matte process shots are a tad worse for the wear than the rest of film, though only marginally so. Contrast and black levels are solid.

Overall, the picture has a very smooth characteristic that is easy on the eyes. The audio is mono and somewhat strident but, at a moderate listening level, quite acceptable. Extras include a very brief featurette in which the usually absent Ms. Foster waxes rather affectionately about her Disney days. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3.5

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH (Walt Disney 1977) Disney Home Video

If ever a Disney classic had a more auspicious beginning it is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). Conceived by Walt as a series of short subjects - the first released in 1961 - the aegis for this enduring and endearing masterwork began with A.A. Milne’s unassuming book of short stories entitled ‘When We Were Very Young,’ first published in 1924.

A successful writer in Britain, Milne was encouraged by his friend and illustrator, Ernest H Sheperd to compose stories deriving from Milne’s own son, Christopher Robin’s childhood playtime memories and experiences. Sheperd would eventually contribute the illustrations to Milne’s first book as well as the three subsequent installments that followed. Reportedly, Milne had given Chris’ a bear named Edwin for his first birthday – a toy eventually rechristened Winnie the Pooh after a chance visit with a Canadian black bear named Winnipeg, that was housed at the London Zoo.

In Britain, Winnie the Pooh was a well established loveable fictional creation. But in America he and Milne were virtual unknowns, despite the fact that many American soldiers stationed in Europe during the war had sent copies of Pooh to their own children back home. Reportedly, Mrs. Disney was chiefly responsible for Walt’s eventual discovery of Milne – having read the author’s stories to their own daughters at bedtime.

Tight financial times forced Walt to reconsider his original plans to do a full length theatrical release. Instead, he chose to debut the character in a short subject – ‘Winnie The Pooh and the Hunny Tree’ in 1961 to test public response. It was overwhelmingly positive and Walt began groundwork for a second short – intending to unite all subsequent shorts at a later date into one feature length film. The second short, ‘Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day’ was released in 1967 and won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. It was a posthumous victory. Walt had died the year before.

Then, in 1977 directors John Lounsbery and Wolfgang Reitherman embarked on the final chapter in Milne’s Pooh stories – the moment when young Christopher Robin bids a fond farewell to his childhood and with it the many adventures gone before it. Marrying the first two shorts to this last installment, Lounsbery and Reitherman finally realized Walt’s goal. By then, Winnie the Pooh was his own celebrity in the Disney canon– as much admired and beloved as any of Walt’s other creations from the golden age of animation.

Incorporating a voice over narration by Sebastian Cabot to bridge the shorts together, the feature film begins in earnest with Winnie the Pooh (brilliantly voiced by Sterling Holloway) in search of some honey to satisfy a ‘rumbly’ in his ‘tumbly’. Unable to reach the top of the tree on his own, Pooh borrows a balloon from Christopher Robin (John Walmsley) who is currently nailing a tail onto the backside of his old pal, Eeyore (Ralph Wright).

But the bees are not so easily fooled by Pooh’s camouflage as a little black rain cloud. He is attacked by the swarm and sent into a thistle bush… ‘Oh, bother!’ To satisfy his hunger, Pooh decides to visit Rabbit (Junius Matthews) who always keeps a stock of honey at his disposal. However, after devouring every last bit of honey in Rabbit’s cupboard, Pooh becomes stuck in Rabbit’s hole, resulting in several humorous failed attempts to free himself.

The narrative next moves onto the second short: Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day. Pooh and Piglet (John Fiedler) are blown by a great wind into the treetop home of Owl (Hal Smith). A rain storm sends the inhabitance of the Hundred Acre Woods scampering for higher ground with Christopher Robin once again coming to their rescue.

The narrative structure of the film is such that there really isn’t much of a forward moving trajectory to involve the audience. However, the sustained subtly of the animation, coupled with several memorable songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman are more than enough to captivate the heart and mind. In the end, the film works because of Disney’s strict adherence to the episodic source material – its unassuming patchwork creating a perfect cushion for the audiences’ sustained belief.

Disney DVD’s 25th Anniversary Edition adequately recaptures the timeless magic of filmic experience. The opening credits, shot against a live action background, appear a bit thick with obvious age related artifacts present and a lack of fine detail. However, once the story reverts to its animated sequences, the image quality develops marked improvements, both in color fidelity and overall sharpness. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital and is nicely represented. Extras include several games, some trivia and a comprehensive documentary on the making of the film. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

THE LION KING: Blu-ray (Walt Disney 1994) Disney Home Video

Despite suggestions made by the Disney artisans, that their main source for narrative inspiration was derived from ancient African folk tales with only a slight afterthought paid to Shakespeare, Disney’s The Lion King (1994) is an obvious retelling of the bard’s Hamlet. Thematically, the film stands on more liberal interpretation. It makes its inquiries as per the individual's place in the greater 'circle of life', while reflecting on the major impact a single individual can have on a whole community.


There is also a very sincere thread, introspective and dedicated to ownership and responsibility for one’s actions – a minor 'earth day' plug for preserving the delicate order and balance of the planet - and an honest reflection on coping with life after the death of a loved one. Still, and despite these thematic elements, at its heart – The Lion King is Hamlet with a hefty mane of fur.


The Lion King began its lengthy gestation in 1988. Multiple drafts followed, with final screenwriting credits going to Irene Mecchi, Johnathan Roberts and Lindsay Woolverton. As scripted, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) has begun to teach his young son, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) about the importance of governing with a mighty hand and an understanding heart. However, before the lessons can progress, Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) murders him in a wildebeest stampede, then implants the thought in Simba's mind that it is all his fault.  


The residual guilt from this great lie forces Simba into exile where he meets compatriots Timon the Meerkat (Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). Simba (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) grows up in their company. However, as the years pass, he realizes that his duty is to the pack of lions on Pride Rock – the domain once governed by his father, but now under the control of Scar and the hyenas; Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummins).


Largely considered a B-movie at the studio – at least, by the top animators on the lot, The Lion King’s directorial duties were passed on to Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff – under whom roughly 350 artisans brought their inspiration. Project research took a select team to the wilds of Africa to soak up the culture, majesty and grandeur of the wide open spaces. These were later translated into powerful visual concepts and final artwork in the film.


The results speak for themselves. The Lion King is a film of immense personality unlike anything Disney animation has ever attempted. Clearly the artists were 'touched' by their African experience and brought that intensity to their color design. For imaginative flare there was nothing to touch the buoyantly staged ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King;’ the disturbingly powerful symmetry of Adolph Hitler’s Nuremberg parades, brilliantly reconceived for Scar’s ‘Be Prepared,’ or natural beauty of the Dark Continent superbly celebrated in the film’s emotionally stirring opener – ‘Circle of Life.’


When The Lion King had its premiere it was universally hailed as a masterpiece. There's really no arguing the fact. The narrative may be thinly disguised Shakespeare, but the artistry in animation is pure vintage Disney. The chart-topping score from Elton John/Tim Rice justly won Oscars. The irony, of course, is that what had been perceived as a 'little film' has since gone on to become the most successful animated feature in the company’s entire history. It wasn't all magic and pixie dust. A lot of hard work had something to do with it too! 


And now comes Disney's Diamond Edition Blu-ray; a truly sumptuous visceral experience.  Colors are majestically rich and eye-popping. Contrast levels are bang on. We can see finite detail previous hidden in the art work. The image is sharp, yet smooth. This is a reference quality disc. The audio is a home theater 7.1 DTS remix - aggressive acoustics and perfect pitch. Extras abound. We get a comprehensive making of documentary on the film, another on the Broadway incarnation, deleted scenes, pencil tests, songs, bloopers, a theatrical trailer and audio commentary. Truly, there isn't anything more Disney could have done to make this Blu-ray an experience. The Lion King soars in hi-def. Very highly recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
5

EXTRAS
4

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Walt Disney 1996) Disney Home Video

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) is loosely based on the 1831 literary masterwork by French author Victor Hugo. In tone and theme, the central narrative of an undesirable – Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce) - sent forth into the ruthless humanity of an inhumane world is reminiscent of the studio’s Pinocchio (1940). However, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise – responsible for the overwhelming critical success of Beauty and the Beast (1991) – seem to have mislaid their light touch this time around.


Because 'Hunchback' is not a fairytale. The original source material does not provide for the usual Disney-fied translation. Nevertheless, the film is perhaps the most technically proficient of the new golden age movies – its animation detailed and refined, its backgrounds nearing, though not surpassing, the intricate level of artistry on Sleeping Beauty (1959). 620 artists in Paris contributed nearly a million individual sheets of animation paper to the project, while the enormous crowd sequences were achieved through a new and sophisticated use of CGI digital technologies.


The tale begins with Quasimodo, a misshapen outcast confined to the bell towers of Notre Dame by his mercilessly cruel master, Frollo (Tony Jay). Quasi is befriend by a trio of mischievous stone gargoyles; Hugo (Jason Alexander), Victor (Charles Kimbrough) and Laverne (Mary Wickes) who encourage him to partake in Topsy-Turvy Day – a festival where the socially inept and disfigured are made an acceptable spectacle.


Unfortunately for Quasi, he is found out and chained to a torture wheel in front of the cathedral for the amusement of the crowd under Frollo’s watchful eye. The gypsy girl, Esmeralda (speaking Demi Moore/singing Heidi Mollenhauer) takes pity on Quasi, freeing him against Frollo’s direct orders and thereby forcing her to seek sanctuary in Notre Dame in order to avoid persecution for breaking the law. Frollo assigns his Captain of the Guard, Phoebus (Kevin Kline) to surround the cathedral and arrest Esmeralda when she tries to escape. Though Phoebus’ heart is clearly not in his work, he complies with Frollo’s command. But Quasi knows of a secret corridor and affords Esmeralda her chance to escape.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a far more richly and intensely wrought character study than any of the critics of the day has given it credit. Its ballads – ‘God Help The Outcast’ and ‘Heaven’s Light’ carry a weight and depth of meaning previously not heard in an animated movie and the animation itself is first rate – excelling beyond anything seen in the latter golden age resurrection of new studio classics.


Yet, the film failed to find its audience, perhaps due in large part to the pre-sold expectation that what audiences were going to see was another romp through familiarity and not a drastic departure into darkness rather than light. In the final analysis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is deserving of more than a second glance.


Disney DVD has not afforded Hunchback the respect it deserves. The single disc incarnation displays a picture element that is relatively sharp but not quite as refined as other 2-disc remastering efforts. Colors are bold and rich. Occasionally, age related artifacts appear but do not distract. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital, yet oddly not as aggressive in its sonic spread. Extras include a superfluous ‘making of’ documentary obviously geared toward tots and hosted by Jason Alexander – who generally makes a quiet nuisance of himself. Trivia and games and the film’s original theatrical trailer are also included.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2.5