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Posted on Nov 04 2009 by Greg

When Disney brought Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and essentially the entire casts of animated features to Saturday morning and other daytime TV in 2001, it was done in grand style with an effort to create something that would please fans and young viewers, being hip as well as classic.

It's a testimony to those involved with House of Mouse that such an impossibly tall order was carried off so much of the time. Sure, the new animation is markedly different from vintage stuff, but even the Wonderful World of Disney combined the flowing, straight line animation with the "scritchy" xerox look of the early '60s. The main issue is, does the final product entertain?

My son sure loved it, and he's seen very little of House of Mouse because it's not on TV much and there are precious few DVDs. I found myself laughing out loud at the rapid fire gags and "inside" jokes on Disney characters. Most of all, for me it was fun to spot characters like the Gingerbread Man from Cookie Carnival and Elliot from Pete's Dragon.

That's not to say that House of Mouse is uneven -- the Brian Setzer theme and overall rock/swing music is a great way to keep it fresh yet classic. The references to Backstreet Boys and the like are no different than big band crooner nods in '40s cartoons.

Unlike much animation for television, House of Mouse contains lots of purely visual sequences, short as they are, and short cartoons, which are also shorter than the theatrical type. These cartoons abound with gags -- clearly a lot of work went into them by people who, by and large, generally cared about the early work and actually liked it. I can forgive occasional lapses in graphic quality because of the sheer beauty of the comical poses, especially for Donald. Clearly these poses are the foundation of animation that by necessity is produced in and out of the country. It's inspired by the work of the Disney masters, and probably was researched by the series staff.

Mickey's Magical Christmas is a special House of Mouse that extends to feature length, containing new cartoons as well as Pluto's Christmas Tree and Mickey's Christmas Carol. As a bonus, the premiere episode of House of Mouse in included -- a very funny story in which Donald takes over the 'toon club.

This DVD is also a bit of a tribute to the late Wayne Allwine, who voiced Mickey since Christmas Carol and is heard throughout. Surely it was unintentional, since this is a DVD reissue, but Wayne also appears on camera, guiding guests through the Disney sound effects department, where he worked with Jimmy Macdonald and from whom he took on the mantle of Mickey's voice.  This DVD is worth having just for his short bonus feature, "The Sounds of Christmas."

I sure would like to see more House of Mouse on DVD and so would my kids...

Posted on Oct 08 2009 by Greg

It's not easy being a hero or a villain in the world of the X-Men. They're feared, shunned, misunderstood and generally have lots of mental baggage from their childhoods (one episode actually suggests violent abuse by a father to his mutant son). Clearly the themes of prejudice, oppression and ignorance find many footholds in the serpentine storylines that weave through both Volume 3 and Volume 4 (each a two-disc set) of Buena Vista's "Marvel Comic Book Collection" releases of the TV series, which first appeared in daytime syndication in the 90's.

That's not to say that the mutants don't relax and enjoy their lives once in a while. In one episode, several enjoy a picnic. They kid each other with fond affection. They are a truly dysfunctional family.

Nowhere on the series is this more evident than in the Christmas episode...yes, that's right -- called "Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas." Jubilee is happy to spend her first Christmas with the mutants, Gambit cooks up traditional holiday treats, and Beast makes a mess of the cranberry sauce. There are mess ups, mixed feelings, and reluctant grumps. Just like in most families. The episode also seems to be fully post scored, blending holiday tunes with the X-Men theme -- a nice touch that is not always done in a single TV animation due to the costs.

Marvel characters know that power has a price. Spider-Man knows that with power comes great responsibility. The X-Men, their fellow mutants and various foes, all grapple with the consequences of their powers, whether for good or evil. Storm in fact, is especially challenged in a four-parter called "The Dark Phoenix" in which she finds herself in an evil role -- and kind of like it. This inner turmoil can be pretty deep stuff. The DVD's are rated Y7, clearly for older kids, teens and adults. It's pretty intense stuff, well executed and a great way to get to know these interesting characters well.

Posted on Sep 29 2009 by Greg
It's not completely accurate to compare Jonas Brothers to The Monkees, since they were a performing and composing group long before they skyrocketed to fame, but it's almost impossible to draw comparisons when they become a TV show, like their teen idol predecessors.

I can only imagine the discussions that went on in developing this series. Surely part of the effort was to, as much as possible, not do another Monkees show. The fictional group is called "Jonas" and they the "Lucas" kids live a fantasy life in which they have Archie comics-style teen lives as well as successful music careers. In essence, the live the dream of celebrity fame as well as, ironically,  the dream of some "normal life" of celebrities caught up in the trappings of notoriety.

The episodes on the new Jonas: Rockin' the House DVD include "Groovy Movies," one of the few episodes to feature the boys' TV mom (Dad is their agent, so is a regular character). Both Mom and Dad, capably played by John Ducey and Rebecca Creskoff, are descendants of June and Ward Cleaver, always formally dressed and immaculately coiffed.

The series, which seemed to be a long time in development, in entertaining, but there is a feeling of indecision about what genre it should follow. It tries to be so many things (family comedy, wacky farce, music video vehicle) that it's not easy to pin down and thus perhaps not as compelling as it might be in the future. The logistics of pleasing all the players involved must have been interesting, to be sure.

My favorite aspect of the series is the art direction. Since the one indisputable thing about the show is its fantasy, everything has a sunny, Technicolor look. The school is dazzling, with its own atrium for "heartfelt" scenes. The house is like an interactive playhouse with its own recording studio, gadget furniture and best of all, fireman's poles.

The DVD adds three new episodes to the already-broadcast half dozen: "Beauty and the Beat," yet another beauty contest sitcom story; and the rather amusing "Cold Shoulder," which finds Kevin smitten with a Norwegian beauty (like comic French and English characters, you can still joke about Norwegians on TV).

There is also a bonus called "You've Just Been Jo Bro'd," a candid camera prank on co-star  Chelsea Staub, who encounters a gentleman who tries to impress her with boasts like "I painted all the doorknobs at Disneyland." This talented actor should have his own show.

Posted on Sep 29 2009 by Greg

Fans of 60's television probably remember when characters from one series would "crossover" to another show, usually produced by or at the same studio. Morey Amsterdam appeared in his Dick Van Dyke Show character of Buddy Sorrell on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. The casts of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres often popped up on each other's shows. Rhoda called Mary Richards on her show. It's kind of a TV tradition (or gimmick, depending on whether your glass is half full or empty).

The Disney Channel sitcom characters have been doing this sort of thing for years, but probably never as elaborately in Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana, which are basically three half-hour episodes that connect with each other: a winning essay lands the Russo teens on the S.S. Tipton, where Hannah Montana is having a concert. It all comes together rather well, considering how many behind-the-scenes intrigues and approvals it may have involved (all three shows have different productions companies and crews even though they're all original Disney Channel series).

For fans, it's the stuff dreams are made of -- "Wow! Justin is meeting London as if she's a celebrity, and we all know how ditzy she is!" "Wow! Miley and Selena in one show!," etc. There's an interesting short bonus feature about the making of the trilogy with a selection of amusing bloopers, as well as a short feature called "How to Write an Essay," a tongue-in-cheek look at the writing process narrated by David "Justin" Henrie.

It might have been nice to have one or two bonus episodes, since all we get here are a total of three. It also might have been interesting to see how the episodes might have been edited together as if they were a feature/ But it's a convenient way to have the crossover "event," as it were.

As a note for those who like to keep track of these things, the three episodes are:  Castaway (to Another Show); Double Crazed and
Super(stitious) Girl. And as a further note, this is the first Disney DVD I can recall that does not open with Captain Jack Depp saying, "We have our heading" leading to a promo for Blu-Ray.

Posted on Sep 21 2009 by Greg
This year we've seen Abby Cadaby of Sesame Street go to the Muppet version of Wonderland, next year we're going to a Tim Burton vision of Wonderland, but right now we can follow Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the gang down a different sort of rabbit hole.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a CG-animated daytime series for preschoolers on the Playhouse Disney schedule of the Disney Channel. It has some references to the original Mickey Mouse Club -- a roll call, for example -- but instead of Mouseketeers, Mickey and his pals play a more central role. The stories are simple and involve viewer participation, in the style of Dora the Explorer.

Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland is a lengthened episode that takes the gang to a gentler version of the Lewis Carroll land, where the characters suggest Mother Goose more than Wonderland and the songs are short ditties. It's nice to see characters like Daisy Duck, Clarabelle Cow and others join the action with Mickey, Goofy and Minnie. Most of all, it gives young children a chance to get to know these characters as something besides merchandise.

The late, great Wayne Allwine makes one of his last voice appearances as Mickey, along with his widow, Russi Taylor as Minnie. Recently announced Disney Legends Tony Anselmo and Bill Farmer voice Donald and Goofy, respectively. The program can be played in two modes for different age groups with questions for advanced play. A bonus episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse called "Goofy Goes Goofy" rounds out the package.

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