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+

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

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