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DVD REVIEW: Sofia the First: The Floating Palace
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 16 2014 by Greg

This is the third collection of episodes from the Disney Junior TV series. First was Once Upon a Princess (with Cinderella), second was Learning to Be a Princess (with Jasmine) and now The Floating Palace features an appearance by Ariel (voiced and sung by the wonderful Jodi Benson).

There are two kinds of Disney Junior series, educational (of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse variety that encourage participation) and more story-driven ones like Sofia the First. I tend to prefer the latter, more linear plotting. Sofia is a fine example, with some fine songs by John Kavanaugh, too.

The Floating Palace (Season 1, Episode 22) 49 minutes
Original Air Date: November 24, 2013
This is a double-length show in which Sofia (voiced by Modern Family's Ariel Winter) becomes a mermaid and and Cedric (Jess Harnell) tries to steal a magic comb from Oona (Mad Men's Keirnan Shipka). Very much at the high quality of a direct-to-video Disney movie.
Song: "Here in Merway Cove," a big band/"Under the Sea"-type production number, sung by Benson and the Cast and "The Love We Share."

Tri-Kingdom Picnic (Season 1, Episode 10)
May 17, 2013
At annual games, a friendly competition between three kingdoms,  James (Zach Callison) learns how to be a good winner and a good loser.
Song: The Picnic of the Year" Sung by the Cast

Finding Clover (Season 1, Episode 13) 23 minutes
June 28, 2013
Thinking Sofia no longer needs him, Clover fills in as a magician's rabbit.
Song: "Why Did I Go?" Sung by Brady and Winter.
Make Way for Miss Nettle (Season 1, Episode 16) 23 minutes
August 23, 2013
Wanting to be "more magnificent than Maleficent," an egotistical fairy (Megan Mulally) schemes to steal the magic book from Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.
Song: "Make Way for Miss Nettle" Sung by Mulally.

As a bonus gift, this DVD package comes with two knitted bracelets with images of the sea woven into the design.

Blu-ray & DVD Review: The Pirate Fairy
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 11 2014 by Greg

In his book about the Pixar challenges and triumphs, Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull describes how the role of the "Brain Trust" in making the best films possible -- and their record speaks for itself. As part of Disney, Pixar has inspired their "Story Trust," which is actually mentioned on one of the bonus features.

Clearly this system, while not infallible, works, because The Pirate Fairy has one of the tightest and fastest paced stories of not just the Disney Fairies series, but direct to video films in general. Of all the Fairies films, this one ranks alongside my favorite in the series, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue.

But you'll notice that "Tinker Bell" does not appear in the title. Perhaps it's because the Disney Fairies franchise has proven so strong, it alone can carry a film, with Tinker Bell as almost a supporting character.

The star of this film is the title character, an inquisitive, ADD fairy named Zarina who, in a strangely Breaking Bad kind of plot, uses her talents as a chemist (or "alchemist") to use the -- yes -- "blue" pixie dust to create a line of multi-purpose dusts. When her plans cause chaos and she is chastised, she turns to a life of piracy on the high seas.

Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway-Harris on Mad Men), turns in her third vocal performance for animation, preceded by Goro Miyazaki's From Up On Poppy Hill and as Lois Lane in All-Star Superman. Tom Hiddleston, of The Avengers and War Horse, has a blast playing and singing her assistant pirate, John (as he demonstrates in another bonus feature).

Though there are quite a few excellent direct to video animated features, some of them tend to sag after the first 20-30 minutes. This one never does. It's slam-bang adventure/fantasy, with lots of visual eye candy, character-based humor and a fine score by Joel McNeely.

Second Star to the Right: The Legacy of Never Land (4:45)
Croc-U-Mentary (4:45)
Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions:
     Tea House Disappointment
     Vidia's Birthday Surprise
     Zarina Experiments
     Fairies United
The Making of "The Frigate That Flies" (4:21)
Animated Shorts:
     "Treasure Chest"
Sing-Along Songs

DVD REVIEW: The Bobby Darin Show
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Apr 08 2014 by Greg

The Bobby Darin Show may well be the very last of the grand TV variety shows done in the classic style. Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and their ilk were more campy, more deconstructive, in their approaches. Bobby Darin was a throwback to the Rat Pack, the essence of cool and ultimate timelessness. (For those too young to know Darin's work, one of his biggest hits was "Beyond the Sea," which gained new fame in Finding Nemo, as performed by rock star Robbie Williams in tribute to Darin.)

It's also a study of a extraordinary performer giving his/her all, almost to the point of collapse. (Judy Garland's TV series is another example.) Here is a singer/actor/musician/showman who is seriously ill. Darin had struggled with health issues since childhood and when he was doing this series, his irregular heart beat often made him in a dreadful state when the cameras stopped rolling. He passed away only a few months after the series left the air.

But when the cameras were on, all the audience sees is a consummate entertainer with seemingly boundless energy and a personable quality ideal for television. He also had the rare quality of reaching audiences of all ages by singing Sinatra pop, country, classic rock and roll and blues, all in a way that came naturally. That was because there were many Bobby Darins -- he was one complicated fellow. Everything he had he gave on stage.

The TV show, whose writers included Alan Thicke and regulars included versatile TV host/radio personality Geoff Edwards, followed the basic variety format. The first few shows' finales salute a specific city with its music, there were assorted sketches, commercial bumpers with Darin as Groucho, and what had to be the most personal of the sketches, "The Neighborhood."

"The Neighborhood" was akin to Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners," a slice of life in the tough, working class streets of New York, surely as much a part of Darin's early life as Gleason's. Darin plays Angie, the voice of reason, while familiar character actor Dick Bakalyan (who appeared in numerous Disney comedies, as well as voicing the Oscar-winning "It's Tough to Be a Bird") plays Carmine, the dreamer who always hatches a money making scheme or is snared by a fishy endeavor.

Darin's other characters include a hippie poet and "The Godmother," two more personas that come from his life as living in a trailer on the beach and in the company of tough old Italian mamas.

The shows also include another unique regular feature, in which Darin sings to his female guest, face-to-face, both in a highly seductive way that says more than the most of today's more overt depictions of romance and general bedroom hijinks.

This was the early '70s, so many of the songs have that groovy sound. The dancers have that Disneyland "Kids of the Kingdom" vibe. It's also interesting to see what fine singing voices guests like Dyan Cannon and Cloris Leachman have. (Ever strange, Leachman does a butterfly number that is characteristically bizarre.)

But it's the last episode that is most unforgettable. Watch the bonus documentary for the background. Because of a lack of rehearsal, Darin performed pretty much his entire Las Vegas act while Peggy Lee simmered in her dressing room, waiting to go on. Once she did her segment with Darin, the tension is palpable, yet fitting as the duo sings very dark songs of lost loves. By the end, the two have connected as two giants of song interpretation.

One can only speculate what Bobby Darin would have given the world had he not died at 37. This DVD truly captures his lightning in a bottle.

DVD REVIEW: Jungle Book 2 Blu-ray
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on Mar 29 2014 by Greg

This is actually the second sequel to Walt Disney's 1967 animated hit, The Jungle Book. The first sequel was released in 1969. It wasn't an animated film, it was a Disneyland record album called More Jungle Book, co-written by and starring Phil Harris. The story was no great shakes, but there were some nice new songs, including a few from the Sherman Brothers.

It might have been nice if the makers of Jungle Book 2 were aware of the album, if only for a few of the songs and tweaks here and there. Both are not much more than retreads of the first story with nearly identical scenes (the Kaa and Shere Khan sequence is almost a direct lift).

The 1969 record focuses primarily on Baloo, who is depressed because he misses Mowgli. He goes to the man village. Bagheera and King Louie follow him and meet Mowgli. Louie tries to touch fiery coals and burns his hand. Baloo is captured but his friends rescue him. Baloo and Mowgli have a nice reunion in the jungle, but Mowgli goes back to the man village, promising to return once a week.

2003's Jungle Book 2 focuses more on Mowgli and his two new friends, including Shanti, known only as "The Girl" in the original film. Baloo pretends to play with Mowgli in scene spoofing Cast Away's Wilson. Baloo goes to the man village, Shere Khan follows, panic ensues. Mowgli and his friends enter the jungle. Kaa, the vultures and the monkeys return to do pretty much what they did in the last film. I won't spoil the ending, just guess.

Popular as The Jungle Book is -- and tempting as it had to have been to make into a sequel -- it's the story that is the major challenge. The first film, which clearly met and surpassed the challenge, was a celebration of great characterization in voices, music and animation. The sequel has lines like "You can take the boy out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the boy."

Like a pair of new Manolo Blahniks, the sequel is slick and technically superb as direct to videos go, but there must have been long meetings about "what can we do once they reunite?" They can't open a restaurant or solve crimes (unless it's a Disney Afternoon series). So almost everything in the sequel is repeated from the first film, albeit with much more technical virtuosity. I have to wonder if the film makers themselves wanted to expand the story but were hampered by meddling that forced them to take the "surefire" approach.

With respect to Walt Disney Animation Australia, which turned out consistently great work (TV animation too often gets a bad rap, frankly), this may be one of the least satisfactory of the direct to video sequels. The best that can be said is that it's an opportunity to spend some time with favorite characters again.

Bonus Features
Backstage Disney:
Synopsis of the Original Movie The Jungle Book
The Legacy of The Jungle Book

Deleted Scenes:
"I Got You Beat"
Music and More:
Sing Along with the Movie
Music Videos

DVD REVIEW: Doc McStuffins - Mobile Clinic
Blog, TV
Posted on Mar 28 2014 by Greg
Doc McStuffins is one of those children's shows with such a clear-cut, logical premise that it makes one wonder why no one thought of it years ago. Kids love to play with their toys, kids love to pretend to take care of them, kids love to act like authority figures, yet they want to be reassured about fears, social issues, the unknown, facing pain and so on.

This series deals with so many of these things with such seamless skill, only a few of the messages seem less than subtle. Charm and warmth don't seem synthetic -- Doc has a loving, supportive family and wants to be a doctor like her mother. It's as if Marcella of the Raggedy Ann books was more of a mover and shaker, but in a nice way.

(Trivia note for Brady Bunch fans: the voice of Stuffy is Robbie Rist, who played the infamous, shark-jumping Cousin Oliver.)

This is a new collection of episodes from seasons one and two (the series has already been renewed for a third). Each half hour show contains two 11-minute stories:

Season 1 / Episode 2
Out of the Box / Run Down Race Car
March 23, 2012

Season 1 / Episode 9
Rescue Ronda, Ready for Takeoff / All Washed Up       
April 3, 2012

Season 2 / Episode 11
Rest Your Rotors, Ronda! / Keep on Truckin
April 5, 2012

Season 2 / Episode 27
Doc McStuffins Goes McMobile / Chip Off the Ol' Box
September 6, 2013

Season 2 / Episode 22
Doc to the Rescue / Don't Knock the Noggin
October 24, 2013

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