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  • Home Video Highlights: DuckTales: Destination: Adventure (2018) Review

    DuckTales: Destination: Adventure! (2018): Gearing up for another round of excitement and hijinks, DuckTales: Destination Adventure! finds everyone’s favorite mini ducks and their wealthy grandfather Scrooge McDuck together again in a handful episodes taking them from ancient tombs to the dangerous Mt. Neverrest and beyond.  Equally as fun as their delightful pilot episode, over two hours of death-defying hilarity across six episodes await fans with a penchant for globetrotting thrills that only Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby can deliver.  While younger viewers will enjoy the offerings of episodes no questions asked, keen-eyed fans may be confused and slightly disappointed by the disc’s random selection and sorting of episodes kicking DuckTales’ home video beginnings off to an uneven start.  While their inclusion and placement may be a bit messy, there’s no denying that the fun contained within DuckTales: Destination: Adventure! is another worthy artifact deserving of a spot in fans’ home video museums.  As an added bonus for elder fans who grew up with the original DuckTales, classic episodes from seasons 1 and 4, “New Gizmo-Kids on the Block” and “Ducky Mountain High” respectively, are included to keep you woo-hooing just a little while longer.  Furthermore, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), DisneyNOW (1:03) and Incredibles 2 (1:01) round out the disc’s supplemental material.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DuckTales: Destination: Adventure! can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Home Video Highlights: DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017) & Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017) Reviews

                          

    DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017): 30 years later, Disney XD revives one of the original Disney Afternoon’s cherished properties with DuckTales.  Based on Carl Banks’ iconic comic strips, DuckTales: Woo-oo! finds clumsy Donald Duck leaving his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie with his Uncle Scrooge while attending a job interview.  Unimpressed with their elderly family member, the triplets are introduced to the young Webby Vanderquack who reveals the many adventures conquered and relics secured by McDuck.  After accidentally unleashing and daringly recapturing evil spirits within the mansion, Scrooge’s sense of adventure is awakened and rounds up his young spectators to recover the Lost Jewel of Atlantis.  Confronted with his nemesis Flintheart Glomgold who is also after the jewel and aided by a clueless Donald, hilarity and excitement ensue in this phenomenal pilot installment to its equally strong first season.  Led by spot-on vocal work by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones) as Scrooge McDuck, exceptional animation and a newly recorded cover of the memorable 80s theme song, DuckTales: Woo-oo!, accompanied by 6 “Welcome to Duckburg” bonus shorts and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards, DisneyNOW and Disneynature’s Dolphins, is a splashing good time for fans of all ages.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DuckTales: Woo-oo! can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4.5/5      

    Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017): In this epic hour-long episode, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day finds Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) looking over the kingdom while her parents take a royal getaway.  Overwhelmed with her role as acting queen and each decision for the kingdom backfiring, Rapunzel is faced with a dire winter storm that pits her parents in mortal danger while young Varian’s pleas to aid his father who is being encased by the recent uprising of mysterious spiky rock formations fall on deaf ears, making Rapunzel’s test run at leading the kingdom her hardest challenge to date.  Perhaps the most dramatic installment of the series to date with its enchanting, brushstroke-like animation continuing to be a feast for the eyes plus, four “Inside the Journal” Shorts as well as the same recycled Sneak Peeks as its fellow animated DisneyXD release, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day is a magical highpoint for the longhaired fairy tale saga.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4/5

       

  • Cars 3 (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Cars 3 (2017)

    Director: Brian Fee

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt & Kerry Washington

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Riding high as renowned champion for years, Cars 3 finds racing legend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris) being pushed out of the limelight by a new generation of hotshot racers.  Recognizing times are a-changin’, McQueen teams with an enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo, Cristela), to prove he still has what it takes to go the distance.

    Reverting back to the bluegrass roots of its originator, Cars 3 comes full circle as Lightning McQueen, the once arrogant rookie turned lovable champ, becomes the aging pro to face his biggest and most emotional challenge yet.  Continuing to enjoy a successful winning streak and unanimous respect amongst his peers, McQueen and others of his breed are quickly sideswiped by a new crop of determined and technologically superior vehicles with their eyes on racing glory.  Rattled by the speed and cockiness of his new foe, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger), and the retirements of longtime pals, McQueen begins to feel his time may also be up after suffering a near fatal wreck.  Recovering in Radiator Springs and longing for guidance from his late mentor Doc Hudson, McQueen’s spirits are lifted by his Route 66 family and his determination renewed by new Rust-eze owner, Sterling (Nathan Fillion, Castle).  Teamed with spunky motivational trainer Cruz Ramirez, McQueen, through soul-searching and additional support from Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper, The Muppets), navigates his way through the evolving world of racing while learning to see a future beyond just his own career.  

    Ditching the sillier espionage hijinks of its predecessor, Cars 3 is a leaps and bounds improvement, reverting the spotlight back onto Lightning McQueen in a tale that resonates with an aging audience who have grown much since happening upon Radiator Springs a decade ago.  While humor is in noticeably shorter supply with franchise mainstays such as, McQueen bestie Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, Jingle All the Way 2) surprisingly regulated to background decoration, the third installment recaptures the small-town charms and big city dreams that was sorely lacking in its internationally sprawling and mindlessly mundane sequel.  Taking over directorial duties from John Lasseter, longtime Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee (Cars, WALL-E) paints a picturesque installment with photorealistic animation including, the most devastatingly heart wrenching sequence of the series and a tender core that reaffirms audiences deep-rooted love for these chatty cars.  Incorporating flashback sequences and previously recorded dialogue from Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, Cars 3 is a lightning fast return to form for the series that, in its presumable last lap, whizzes past the finishing line as the best effort since its 2006 debut.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cars 3 with a pristine 1080p transfer, fitted in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Sparkling from start to finish, the wide spectrum of unique car colors burst off the screen while finer details appearing in rust and asphalt boast equal levels of crisp quality.  Matching its glorious high-definition picture, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 excels during high-speed races and heart-pounding wrecks with dialogue exchanges rightly prioritized for ideal listening.  Sprawled across two discs, special features on Disc 1 include, an in-depth Audio Commentary with Director Brian Fee, Co-Producer Andrea Warren and Creative Director Jay Ward, Lou (6:43), Pixar’s latest short film about a schoolyard’s magical lost-and-found bin and Miss Fritter’s Racing Sckoool (5:40), an exclusive new mini-movie/commercial attracting cars on how to get their mojo back.  Furthermore, Ready for the Race (5:40) sits down with actual race car driver William Byron on his passion for the sport and Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could (7:46) takes a deeper look into the evolution and vocal talent attached to Lightning McQueen’s new coach.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:32), Dolphins (1:16), Coco (1:37), Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (1:34) and The Walt Disney Signature Collection (1:33) are also provided.  

    Meanwhile, Disc 2 kicks off with an extensive five-part Behind the Scenes featurette including, Generations: The Story of Cars 3 (11:20), Let’s. Get. Crazy (7:41), Cars to Die(cast) For (5:21), Legendary (11:22) and World’s Fastest Billboard (5:30) that explores the film’s tricky development, new and returning characters, the making of the toys based on the film and the many logos and faux brands implemented in the sequel.  Furthermore, Fly Throughs puts viewers in the driver seat for some of the film’s digital environments including, Thomasville (1:10), Florida International Speedway (0:37) and Rust-Eze Racing Center (0:56).  My First Car finds cast and crew participants discussing their very own first ride in A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington (1:53), Old Blue (1:21) and Still in the Family (2:16).  Also included, Deleted Scenes (26:17) with optional director introduction, Trailers featuring Crash - North American Teaser (0:56), Icon - North American Trailer (2:33), Theatrical Payoff - Japan Trailer (2:02), All New - International Teaser (0:31) and Rivalry - Global Trailer (2:10).  Finally, Promos for Cars D’Oeuvres (4:27) and Cars Reveals spotlighting the characters of Lightning McQueen (0:39), Cruz Ramirez (0:41) and Jackson Storm (0:39) close out the on-disc supplemental content while a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Speeding onto home video as Pixar’s next anticipated effort lights up theaters, Cars 3 is a true return to form for the franchise once thought to be left in the dust.  An endearing tale about the trials of aging gracefully, Lightning McQueen’s last lap is one that sends viewers off into the sunset with warm memories of the residents of Radiator Springs.  Unsurprisingly, Disney has once again ensured an extravagant audio and visual presentation while its bonus content covers considerable ground for fans of behind the scenes happenings.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Cars 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Vampirina DVD Review

    Vampirina 

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Isabella Crovetti, James Van Der Beek, Lauren Graham & Jordan Alexa Davis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Fangs never appeared more precious than in Disney Junior’s Vampirina.  Based on the book series by Anne Marie Pace, this brightly-colored animated series finds young Vampirina relocating to Pennsylvania from Transylvania and adapting to her new surroundings as a monster in a human’s world.  Presenting the program’s first four episodes consisting of two unique adventures each, Vampirina befriends her new next-door neighbors who graciously overlook her family’s monsterific appearances while, Vee’s parents attempt to open their own B&B without their spookier and more human clientele scaring one another off.  Befit with catchy musical numbers in each installment, Vampirina’s nerves get the best of her during the first day of school, an all-girls sleepover to win over Vee’s especially scaredy cat pal takes place while, Vampirina’s household conducts a different kind of surprise party and a viral video of Vee and best friend Poppy busting a move becomes a viral sensation leading to a dance off against Transylvania’s own Dragos the Dancer.  Featuring familiar voice talent from James Van Der Beek (Dawnson’s Creek) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) to Wanda Sykes (Alpha House) and Dee Bradley Baker (Star Wars Rebels), Vampirina, arriving just in time for the Halloween season, joining the ranks of the Disney Channel’s Hotel Transylvania: The Series, Vampirina that continues to fill the void of more spooky-centric content for preschoolers.

    Although the program’s intended demographic may not be the most vocal of videophiles, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment offers Vampirina in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, relaying the blue skin tones of Vee and her family with crispness as well as the family’s gothic homestead with glowing allure.  Furthermore, the accompanied Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes on each episode are also perfectly serviceable making dialogue and song cuts an easy and satisfying listen.  Apart from  Sneak Peeks at Coco (1:38) and Disneynature’s Dolphins (1:17), no special features are included.  Pleasantly entertaining as much as it teaches valuable lessons about accepting others regardless of their appearances or social backgrounds, Vampirina is fangtastic fun for youngsters.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Vampirina can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

    Director(s): Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally & Geoffrey Rush

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Crashing into the cinematic seas for its fifth adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds the flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through the Looking Glass) caught in the crosshairs of his most formidable foe yet, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, Skyfall).  After being outsmarted by Sparrow years earlier and cursed upon entry into the Devil’s Triangle, the vengeful Salazar seeks to make the endlessly drunk pirate pay.  Meanwhile, young Henry Turner’s (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) determination to locate the Trident of Poseidon to free his own father from sea-drifting captivity pits him with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a resourceful astronomer whose curiosity and intelligence make the journey possible.  Also welcoming Captain Jack’s established frenemy, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Genius), back to the proceedings, the young newcomers find themselves, for better or worse, in the company of Jack as Salazar hunts the swashbucklers to the Trident’s island in an action-packed climax.

    Billed as the franchise’s curtain call, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to the ghoulish roots of its original chapter with a fresh-faced cast of newcomers playing strongly against Depp’s eccentric captain who continues to prove the chameleon-like thespian is having more fun than ever in the role.  Kickstarting with a hilarious and technically impressive bank robbery by Jack’s crew who accidentally steal the entire bank itself, Javier Bardem sends chills down audiences’ spines as the demonic Captain Salzar whose mouthful of black slobber and undead appearance casts an effectively foreboding shadow upon the film.  With several surprises in store for longtime fans of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also gives the treasured Captain Barbossa far more depth than before making the film perhaps the most gratifying for the series veteran.  Far more in line with the charm of the Disney film’s debut outing and boasting top-tier spectacle value, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an above average delight that proves Captain Jack still commands the high seas.

    Marveling with its 1080p transfer, presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment continues to prove its pristine abilities with this flawless presentation that accentuates sharp skin tones, exacting black levels and crisp details spotted in Salazar’s deathly appearance and his man-eating zombie sharks.  Accompanied with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply projected while, the film’s swelling themes provide bonafide boosts to the action-packed proceedings.  Notably shorter than previous Pirates films, special features include, Dead Men Tell More Tales: The Making of a New Adventure (47:50), a seven-part featurette exploring the creation of the epic production with interviews from some of the film’s young stars, the film’s many visual effects and the franchise’s enduring presence in pop culture.  Furthermore, Bloopers of the Caribbean (2:58), a Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:40) and Deleted Scenes (2:59) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD copy and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Earning a respectable near $800 million while dividing critics and audiences, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a return to form for the franchise that once left fans dizzied by its third adventure before sticking to simplicity with On Stranger Tides.  Harkening back to what made the original film so special without overthrowing it, the fifth installment does an admirable job with its renewed mojo hinting that this may not be Captain Jack’s final sail at sea after all to which we say yo-ho!  Although less desirable in its scant offering of bonus features, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film in a quality as visually and sonically rich as the Caribbean itself.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As the resistance grows stronger, the Empire’s new leadership spells greater challenges for the Ghost crew in Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three.  Following the fatal conclusion of last season, young Ezra, now even wiser with the Force and adopting more responsibilities in the fight against evil, faces the fleet’s most daunting adversary to date in Grand Admiral Thrawn.

    Suffering physical and emotional setbacks on Malachor that left Ahsoka dead and Kanan blinded, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three finds the Ghost crew healing their wounds while restrategizing their fight against Imperial forces.  Growing restless with the rebels’ ongoing interference, the Empire instates the strategically deadly Grand Admiral Thrawn to take down the resistance fighters once and for all.  Further tempted and deceived by Sith Lord Darth Maul whose desire to possess the holocrons boarders on obsession, Ezra’s mistrust in Maul weighs heavily on his development as a Jedi while, Thrawn's methodical assault on the resistance slowly begins to take shape.  Continuing to excellently develop the characters in new ways with the scars of battle weighing on their psyche, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three follows its sophomore year with a general sense of the same excitement fans have come to expect while, several episodes involving an Imperial droid sneakily attempting to infiltrate the rebel’s base and another where Chopper comes under the Empire’s control, albeit entertaining enough, serve as mere fodder and deter from the season’s ongoing narrative.  

    Although these one-off character centered tales are few and far between, true highlights of the season find Hera and the crew facing Thrawn during an intense face-off on her home planet, Sabine’s wielding of the Darksaber and her eventual decision to reunite with her Mandalorian family plus, the nail biting suspense of the Empire discovering Agent Kallus as a rebel spy keeps the show’s quality at a premium.  Furthermore, the welcome return of Obi-Wan Kenobi (during a rather underwhelming confrontation against Maul) on Tatooine makes a fan-pleasing nod to the chosen one before the program’s most epic season finale to date takes to the skies.  As the rebels prepare to stage an attack on Lothal, Thrawn discovers their plan, resulting in a cinematic battle amongst the stars that brings old friends, Force wielders and the Empire’s deadliest fleets head to head.  Yet another striking chapter in the rebel’s efforts to overthrow evil with few miscalculations to be had, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three balances drama and action with refined skill ensuring another season’s worth of intergalactic adventure is on the way.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents all 22 episodes of Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Once again delivering sterling clarity and highlighting sensational color grades from the many lightsabers to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s glowingly blue skin, the show’s visual presentation continues to impress.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is nicely refined while the many intergalactic sound effects and dramatic scoring cues please immensely.  

    Special features on Disc 1 include, Rebels Recon (51:26) where Star Wars Correspondent Andi Gutierrez acts as your guide in this overview of the show’s first 8 episodes.  In addition, Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2:10) is also included.  Next up, supplements on Disc 2 continue with two Audio Commentary tracks on “Trials of the Darksaber” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni and “Legacy of Mandalore” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett & Supervising Director Justin Ridge.  Furthermore, Rebels Recon (46:24) continues with coverage on episodes 9-16 while, Disc 3 features A Rebel Alliance (6:10) that details the show’s place within Rogue One’s timeline and beyond into its next season, Return to Mandalore (6:59) (Blu-ray exclusive) explores the fan-favorite culture and Sabine’s personal struggles this season with uniting her people against a common foe plus, Thrawn: A Legend Returns (6:59) (Blu-ray exclusive) celebrates the rebels mighty new adversary and what his future may hold throughout the series.  Additionally, Apprentices to Outcasts: Kenobi and Maul (8:47) (Blu-ray exclusive) covers the history between the two characters and the epic conclusion to their tale.  

    Also on Disc 3, The Original Rebel: Saw Gerrera Returns - Extended (3:19) (Blu-ray exclusive) catches up with Forest Whitaker as he discusses bringing his character into both live-action and animation, three additional Audio Commentaries on “Through Imperial Eyes” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett & Supervising Director Justin Ridge, “Double Agent Droid” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, CG Supervisor/Lighting & EFX Joel Aron, Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg, Art Director Kilian Plunkett, Supervising Director Justin Ridge & Co-Executive Producer Henry Gilroy and “Twin Suns” with Executive Producer Dave Filoni are also on-hand.  Finally, Rebels Recon (44:48) concludes its coverage on the season’s final six episodes.

    While several one-off adventures, albeit entertaining ones, slightly take away from the season’s larger picture, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three greatly captivates with the arrival of the brooding Grand Admiral Thrawn, Sabine’s personal struggles and yet another thrilling season finale to keep Jedi enthusiasts anxiously wanting more.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment ensures another first-rate technical package with a supplemental supply that easily bests its previous seasons.       

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bambi (1942) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Bambi (1942)

    Director(s): David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield & Normal Wright

    Starring: Bobby Stewart, Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, Peter Behn, Stan Alexander, Paula Winslowe, Will Wright & Ann Gillis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi charts a young deer’s adventures in the wild from infancy to maturity as memorable moments and dangerous encounters shape him into the prince of the forest he was born to be.

    Intended to be Walt Disney’s followup to his critically acclaimed debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the tale’s bleaker tone and Disney’s perfectionism to capture realistic animated depictions of the characters required years of extensive development before fully coming to fruition.  A master of intuitive storytelling, Disney’s softening of the material for his family-friendly audience proved wise while, the slow and oftentimes demanding nature of bringing more lifelike expression to forest animals than ever before would payoff as one of the studio’s most visually dazzling sights.  Quieter on dialogue with the changing of seasons, complimented by musical orchestrations and the chimes of nature’s critters, unfolding the narrative, Bambi invites viewers to the miracle of a baby deer’s birth as we witness his first steps and words before befriending lifelong friends Thumper, the adorable scene-stealing bunny, and Flower, a bashful skunk.  Cared for by his protective mother and slowly learning how to survive the harsh winter seasons, the threat of gun-touting hunters alter the young deer’s life forever in a sequence long considered one of Disney’s most tragically effective.  Taken in by the fatherly great prince of the woods, Bambi comes of age, returning to the wilderness of his youth to reunite with old friends, falls for a fellow deer and faces his greatest challenge yet when his home is engulfed in flames.  

    The fifth of Disney’s cherished animated features only behind other such classics as Fantasia and Dumbo, Bambi excels through its gorgeous visuals and flawless animation that once again set a new bar of excellence for the studio.  A costly investment that failed to recoup its original budget, Bambi’s impact on audiences has never wavered and continues to delight viewers with its humorous moments of Bambi struggling to find his balance on ice and the tearjerking drama conveyed through its moments of personal loss.  A touchstone achievement with timeless themes of love and conservation at its core, Bambi stands as animation’s lasting love letter to nature and all its majestic inhabitants.

    Recycling their Diamond Edition transfer from 2011, Walt Disney Studios’ Home Entertainment’s 1080p transfer (1:33:1) of Bambi is just as marvelous as before with the gorgeous greenery of the woods, vibrants colors found in the various furs of the animals and fantastic background paintings looking flawless.  Meanwhile, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is once again on hand delivering dialogue clearly and giving eloquent force to Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb’s beautifully dreamy score.  

    In addition to presenting the Original Theatrical Edition (1:09:50) with optional DisneyView and a thoroughly interesting Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Extended Edition (1:35:55), new supplements include, Studio Stories: Bambi (4:56) featuring archival recordings of Walt Disney culled from interviews circa 1956, Deleted Scenes (7:25) with introductions by Animator Floyd Norman, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Africa Before Dark (5:50) short film, The Bambi Effect (3:00) and Bambi Fawn Facts (3:34).  Furthermore, vintage bonus features carried over feature Classic Deleted Scenes (3:07), a Deleted Song: “Twitterpated” (1:52), The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born (53:15), Tricks of Our Trade (Excerpt) (7:18), Inside the Disney Archives (8:39), The Old Mill: Animated Short (8:58), The Golden Age (6:24) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:12).  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Cars 3 (0:57) and Beauty and the Beast (1:38) round out the on-disc extras.  Additionally, Celebrating Tyrus Wong (8:56), available only digitally, examines the long life of the famed artist, who passed away only last year at the age of 106, and his lasting impressions on Bambi.  Fans are also treated to a Collectible Tyrus Wong Lithograph in the packaging’s interior while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    Retaining the same splendid audio and visual specifications as its previous outing on Blu-ray, Bambi’s Signature Collection Edition joins the line with several new worthy supplements including a new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short while, a stash, albeit incomplete, selection of classic extras are also on-hand.  Lovers, young and old, of Disney’s golden age efforts will be delighted to add this quintessential feature into their collections if they haven’t already and cherish the breathtaking sights of Bambi and his furry friends for years to come.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Bambi can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tangled: Before Ever After (2017) DVD Review

    Tangled: Before Ever After (2017)

    Director(s): Tom Caulfield & Stephen Sandoval

    Starring: Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Eden Espinosa, Clancy Brown, Julie Bowen & Jeffrey Tambor

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Taking place after the events of the original film but before the lead characters’ eventual marriage, Tangled: Before Ever After brings the charming heart and humor of Rapunzel and beau Eugene to the small screen in this original movie event, kickstarting its new episodic series.  Exchanging its slick computer-generated animation for a more traditional 2D style that echoes an illustrated storybook come to life, Rapunzel, although thrilled to be back home and surrounded by loved ones, struggles to adapt to her new royal lifestyle and the responsibilities it demands.  Temporarily turning down the love of her life’s proposal in order to explore sights beyond her castle walls, the barefoot beauty teams up with her resourceful aide Cassandra and encounters a mystical rock formation that returns her lengthy locks.  Attempting to fulfill her coronation ceremony, danger is not far behind as the vengeful Lady Kaine and her ruffians seek to infiltrate the castle leaving Rapunzel and Flynn, along with their animal friends, leading the defense.  Welcoming back the voice talents of Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore, Tangled: Before Ever After sets the stage for the Disney Channel’s seemingly surefire followup to the much loved feature.  Introducing new characters, familiar locations and retaining the enchanting tone audiences fell in love with several years ago, this anticipated return for Corona’s favorite couple, complimented by new original songs by legendary Disney composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), is a romantically fun adventure fans will looks favorably upon.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tangled: Before Ever After in a widescreen format, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally mastered and warmly preserving its very vibrant color scheme, characters and busier castle backgrounds look solid making the watching experience a satisfactory one.  Joined by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently handled while, the Menken penned song numbers give the track a subtle but, gracious boost in quality.  Bonus goodies include, four Short Cuts mini movies including, Checkmate (2:32), Prison Bake (2:22), Make Me Smile (2:32) and Hare Peace (2:27).  Furthermore, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Descendants 2 (0:34) and Born in China (1:16) are also included.  Lastly, an Exclusive Replica of Rapunzel’s Journal, as seen in the film, is also included in the packaging.  Fans awaiting for more fairy tales to be told from the world of Tangled, fear not, as this humorous new beginning for the beloved characters is on par with the magic of its 2010 originator.  With its formal series now airing and already renewed for a second season, Tangled: Before Ever After is the perfect start to catching up with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, making for a prime Easter basket treat for young viewers this holiday season.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: Before Ever After can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    Director: Gareth Edwards

    Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen & Forest Whitaker

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a time of ruthless Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds an unlikely band of heroes headed by the daring Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) as they plot to steal the coveted plans to the Empire’s most destructive weapon, the Death Star.  Ben Mendelsohn (Una), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange), Alan Tudyk (Frozen), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival) costar.

    Marking the first of many planned stand-alone films in the popular sci-fi saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers an action-packed and emotionally riveting tale based on a crucial footnote, often referred to but never explored in the film universe on such a profound scale.  Following the murder of her mother and capturing of her scientist father (Mikkelsen) fifteen years ago, Jyn Erso, resorting to petty theft and anything else to survive in the war-ravaged world the Empire has fashioned, is rescued from incarceration by rebels with an imperative message from her thought to be dead father, Galen Erso.  Using his brilliance to design the Empire’s most invaluable weapon for total domination, Galen alerts Jyn of the Death Star’s near completion and its sole vulnerability.  Aided by rebel officer Cassian Andor and the series’ most hilariously blunt droid to date, K-2SO (Tudyk), to retrieve the elder Erso in an effort to assist the Alliance, Jyn must scour distant and dangerous worlds, confront old foes and ensure the plans to the Death Star are captured in a mission built entirely on hope and outnumbered by the odds.  

    A far riskier endeavor than its previous Episode-connected installment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story forges on with an adventure, visually and thematically, engrained in the spirit of Lucas’ franchise-starting wave of films.  Grittier and focusing on a new breed of unlikely and richly diverse heroes that come together to aid Jyn’s deathly mission, the prequel to A New Hope flourishes with stunning visual effects and a groundbreaking achievement that resurrects the deceased Peter Cushing’s likeness to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  As strong and appealing as these new rebels including, the determined Jyn and blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) are individually, their chemistry as a unit lacks and is a far cry from the charming connections seen between the stars of George Lucas’ original trilogy.  While character development issues, also present in his 2014 Godzilla reboot are repeated here, Director Gareth Edwards handles the wealth of the narrative with a steady hand and an obvious appreciation for the detailed universe.  Complimented by a distinct yet familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Tomorrowland, Doctor Strange) that seamlessly taps into John Williams’ beloved themes and featuring the most viciously exciting appearance by Darth Vader on film yet, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although leading to an unavoidably predictable finale, is a thrilling journey into the galaxy’s past that stands strongly on its own merits.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Immaculately handled, the digital photography detailing the various planet landscapes and colder color textures seen early in the film make for a flawlessly crisp picture.  Furthermore, skin tones are naturally preserved with the deepest of black levels observed during high-flying space battles, death trooper armor and of course, Darth Vader’s iconic garb.  A picturesque high-definition experience on all fronts, the Force is triumphantly strong with this transfer.  Equipped with a fittingly perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that delivers dialogue with the swiftest of precision, Michael Giacchino’s swelling score boldly supports the spectacular visuals while, the whizzing sounds of TIE fighters, X-wings and explosive laser blasts all make reference-worthy statements on the track.

    Respectably stocked and presented on a separate disc, supplements found under The Stories banner include, A Rogue Idea (9:00) that finds ILM’s John Knoll discussing how he came up with the film’s concept that would ultimately launch the Star Wars stand-alone projects, Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) explores the lead character’s traits and backstory with insight from Actress Felicity Jones, Cassian: The Spy (4:14) hosts Actor Diego Luna as he discusses Cassian’s own complexities being a hero against immeasurable odds, K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) details the technical process bringing the droid to life through Alan Tudyk’s performance, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) digs deeper into the characters’ backstories and the Chinese superstars playing them, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35) finds Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflecting on their very unique roles as an extremist rebel leader and Imperial pilot gone rogue while, The Empire (8:18) gives a revealing look into the film’s antagonists, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) explores the production’s challenge with making a film that could visually fit into the realm of the original trilogy’s appearance, The Princess & The Governor (5:49) sheds light on the impressive movie magic that brought a younger Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin back to the big-screen and Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) finds the filmmakers and cast reflecting on the experience with footage from the film’s world premiere included.  In addition, Rogue Connections (4:31) points out all the Easter eggs and references to other films in the Star Wars universe found in the film with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code concluding the bonus feature offerings.

    Following up on the momentum of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story successfully charts a new course in a universe of stand-alone features that overwhelmingly soars on its first flight.  Minor character development hiccups aside, the prequel invites viewers back to a familiar world, this time told via strangers eyes, who win the affections of its audience through compelling performances and mesmerizing visual effects.  While its ultimate destination may be easily foreseen, the journey and near-impossible mission at hand is as exciting as one could hope for from a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.  Unsurprisingly, Disney’s high-definition presentation is a lavish-looking, reference worthy example of excellence with a serviceable amount of supplements bested only by its own Target exclusive release containing additional on-disc content and a 3D presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 4th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Mickey and the Roadster Racers DVD Review

    Mickey and the Roadster Racers

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bret Iwan, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer, Daniel Ross, Tress MacNeille & Nika Futterman

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Less educationally-minded than the preschool geared Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey and the Roadster Racers whizzes into the fast lane of fun for a delightful serving of after school entertainment.  Set in the racer-loving community of Hot Dog Hills, Mickey Mouse and pals Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto compete in the pedal-pushing sport while finding themselves in a series of adventures at home and abroad.  Presenting two tales per episode, the gang sees their vehicles go loony after filling up with Goofy’s experimental gasoline while, Minnie and Daisy, as the Happy Helpers, find their petsitting duties go haywire and their search and rescue of an escaped ape from the zoo be anything but easy.  Also facing off against the infamously unfair Piston Pietro at an international race in Rome, Mickey and friends’ colorful new exploits are a blast from start to finish and ones that young viewers will be glad they took the ride with.  Collecting the program’s first three episodes and featuring appearances from beloved favorites such as, Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow and introducing racing emcee Billy Beagle (voiced by Jay Leno), Mickey and the Roadster Racers is a wildly fun return for the characters where their vibrant personalities and engagement in humorous scenarios takes first place.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents episodes of Mickey and the Roadster Racers in their widescreen (1.78:1) format.  While target viewers may be less enthused by the release’s technical merits than the quality of the show itself, Disney Junior’s latest boasts a colorful vibrancy throughout that makes the computer-generated animation shine nicely.  Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes make for easy dialogue delivery and heightened sound effects, offering more than acceptable listening enjoyment.  Special features include, a Bonus Episode: “Mickey’s Perfecto Day!” / “Running of the Roadsters!” (the show’s fifth), Music Videos for the “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” Theme Song (1:15) and the “Happy Helpers” Theme Song (1:30) plus, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Tangled: The Series (0:18), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Born in China (1:16) and Cars 3 (0:59).  Lastly, a customizable Metal License Plate is included inside the disc’s packaging.  Screeching into high-gear with plenty of laughs, Mickey and the Roadster Racers is tailor-made for tikes looking to join Disney’s golden characters on a track course built on fast speeds and hearty good times.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Mickey and the Roadster Racers can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Moana 3D (2016) Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Moana (2016)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements and Chris Williams & Don Hall

    Starring: Auli’i Cravalho & Dwayne Johnson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A mythic adventure like no other, Moana sets sail on a daring teenager (Auli’i Cravalho in her film debut) whose mission to fulfill her ancestors’ wish teams her up with the powerful and cocky demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas).  Charting the gorgeous seas together, the determined duo encounter waves of danger and immeasurable odds on their journey.

    From the talented twosome that helped redefine a Disney generation with such milestone hits as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Directors John Musker and Ron Clements, with co-direction from Big Hero 6’s Chris Williams and Don Hall, tell a richly original tale seeped in the culture and splendor of the South Pacific islands.  Once great sailors, the ancient islanders have seized voyages for a thousand years until their picturesque home begins to crumble.  Teenage Moana, spiritually connected to the sea since childhood and Polynesian princess to her people, rebels against her land’s reef-fearing rules and sets sails on a daring mission across the sea to restore balance.  Seeking out the aid of demigod Maui whose reputation has since been tarnished, Moana’s youthful ambition matched with Maui’s desire to redeem himself and live up to his heroic mantra make for an unexpectedly ideal combination to face the peril of cantankerous coconut warriors, lava monsters and their own self-doubt.  

    Continuing their virtually flawless streak of quality animation and instantly classic storytelling, Disney’s oceanic adventure adheres to the studio’s high benchmarks of recent years with the film’s uniquely proportioned character designs, mind-blowingly photorealistic settings and inventive interpretation of factual mythology all contributing to its arresting effect.  Creating harmonious chemistry with one another, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho’s range of fearlessness and innocence coupled with the inherent charm and full-of-himself humor of Dwayne Johnson bring true magic to the screen.  Serving as an invaluable component to the film’s rhythmic nature, the combined musical efforts of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda offer viewers culturally moving compositions and immensely catchy tunes including, but hardly not limited to, the terrific track “You’re Welcome” that showcases Johnson’s surprisingly solid singing chops.  Riding a current of immaculate artistic beauty and a moving story filled with unwavering heart and humor, Moana is yet another shining example of the very best of Disney animation that fans will happily be sailing with for years to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Moana with a pitch-perfect 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Thrusting viewers into the action with its depth-fulfilling 3D capabilities, the deep blue waves of the sea and Maui’s constant in your face moments are shining examples of the format solidly put to use while, its 2D transfer is an equally glorious sight of tropical colors, lifelike water effects and the deepest of black levels that are nothing short of reference quality.  Equipped with a striking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply relayed while, oceanic sound effects and the film’s delightful musical numbers seal the track’s fate as another first-rate Disney effort.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Inner Workings (6:26), featuring an introduction by the filmmakers, Disney’s latest short feature examines the struggle between’s a man’s logistical and free-spirited sides in a gorgeous blend of animation styles, a Maui-Mini Movie: Gone Finishing (2:29) and Voice of the Islands (31:13), takes a detailed look at how the Pacific Island people and their vibrant culture impacted the film and its makers.  Additionally, Things You Didn’t Know About… (4:00) hosts Q&A’s with the voice cast and musical teams while, Island Fashion (5:13) catches up with Costume Designer Neysa Bové and her artistic approaches to the film’s garbs plus, The Elements of… (14:14) explores the effects work that brought to life many of the film’s supporting characters in this four-part featurette.  They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37) hosts musicians Opetaia Foa’I, Marc Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda as they reflect on their life changing involvements crafting the memorable tunes, a Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” (3:41), Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52) explores the hidden nods to other Disney features found in the film and Deleted Scenes (25:56) with optional filmmaker introductions are also found on the release.  Finally, the “How Far I’ll Go” Music Video by Alessia Cara (3:04), “How Far I’ll Go Around the World” (2:44), a multi-language reel of the song and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Disney’s Aulani Resort (0:32), Cars 3 (0:57) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the on-disc supplements while, separate 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray and DVD editions are provided alongside a Digital HD Code.

    With little else to add except you’re welcome, Disney has once again rode the waves into viewers’ hearts with Moana, delivering delightful characters, exceptional visual sights that seamlessly captures the splendor of the Pacific Islands and a phenomenal selection of songs that rivals the titanic popularity of Frozen’s biggest hits.  Dazzling audiences with yet another pristine presentation of reference worthy 3D and handsome supplements, Disney’s Academy Award nominated feature is a sight of beauty that will move the hearts of many like the rhythm of the sea.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Moana can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pinocchio (1940) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Pinocchio (1940)

    Director(s): Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson & T. Hee

    Starring: Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Mel Blanc, Charles Judels & Evelyn Venable

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece, Pinocchio finds a magical wooden puppet coming to life and assisted by his conscience, the faithful Jiminy Cricket.  In an adventurous quest that tests the impressionable marionette’s bravery and honesty, the wave crashing events will determine his desire to become a real boy to his loving creator Geppetto.

    Based on, albeit severely deviating, from Carlo Collodi’s enduring tale, Disney’s followup to the spectacle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eclipses its predecessor in every way.  With the profits of Disney’s animated feature-length debut handy, technical advancements from blended color effects to animated underwater realism and a profound desire to prove his studio and artists were more than one-trick ponies, Pinocchio stands as the defining work of a creator unrestricted by his limitless imagination, never to be seen or experienced on such a grand scale again.  Yearning for a child of his own, lonely toymaker Geppetto wishes upon a star for his latest puppet to become a real boy.  Given life to his wooden body by the enchanting Blue Fairy, Pinocchio must prove himself honest and brave before the wish can truly come to fruition.  Narrating the film’s proceedings and serving as Pinocchio’s personal conscience, pint-sized Jiminy Cricket promises to guide the now stringless puppet on his journey of self-discovery.  As temptation rears its head and ignoring the advice of Jiminy, Pinocchio finds himself conned by the swindling Honest John and his feline companion Gideon before being sold to the heinous Stromboli as a moneymaker in his puppet sideshow and whisked away to the anarchic Pleasure Island by a devilish Coachman.  While Geppetto, along with his faithful pets Figaro and Cleo, frantically search for his son, Pinocchio is absorbed by the island’s seedy activities and ultimately transformed into a donkey.  Before long, Pinocchio’s family is swallowed whole by the ghastly whale Monstro, inspiring the wooden boy and Jiminy Cricket to risk life and limb to save them from certain doom and rightly earning his place as a real boy.

    A clear advancement over Walt Disney’s game-changing opus just three years earlier, Pinocchio is the fullest embodiment of Disney’s visionary style and also the studio’s bleakest effort produced during its Golden era.  Retaining the cautionary tone of age-old folktales, Pinocchio urges young viewers to mind menacing temptations and remain truthful while, at its core, is a heartfelt story concerning fathers and sons.  From its serene beginnings in Geppetto’s warm workshop to the foreboding downpours and unwholesome characters Pinocchio encounters on his road to righteousness, the film serves as a fabled account of prepubescent maturity.  Through the garishly intriguing sights of Pleasure Island and Pinocchio’s frightening confrontation with Monstro, the unrelenting suspense and drama captured in these sequences are unparalleled in Disney’s vast history.  Juxtaposed with touching yet, not overly sentimental warmth and comical sight gags at the expense of the puppet’s naiveté, Pinocchio runs the emotional gamut with ease and utmost precision.  With his money firmly placed where his mouth was once again, Disney spared no expense from the film’s grandest moments to its more rudimentary details presenting a feature eclipsing anything produced by its makers, earning its place as Disney’s gold standard for all other features to be compared to.

    Recycling the technical specifications of its Platinum Edition release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pinocchio with a 1080p transfer, retaining its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  A mark of high-definition excellence, colors are vast and bold with age-related anomalies nonexistent and black levels appearing deeply rich.  Furthermore, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix strongly relays the film’s dialogue levels and award winning score with only mild exchanges of softness that is less a complaint then an observation.  Newly produced supplements on this release include, the two-part featurette The Pinocchio Project: “When You Wish Upon A Star” with The Project (3:03) focusing on the recoding of the beloved track’s cover with interviews from the musical participants while, The Video (2:49) presents the finished music video of the completed song.  In addition, Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7:14) takes transcriptions from 1938-1939 story meetings and presents them with recreated narrations and stills to detail the development of this awe-inspiring sequence.  Also included, In Walt’s Words - Pinocchio (4:48) is an archival recording of Walt Disney from interviews conducted in 1956 and his thoughts on his animated followup.  Lastly, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit in “Poor Papa” (5:19), an animated short featuring Disney’s pre-Mickey star rounds out the release’s new to disc bonus  features.

    Offering the film’s Original Theatrical Edition, DisneyView and Sing-Along with the Movie options, classic bonus features ported over include, No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (56:09), Deleted Scenes (10:33), The Sweatbox (6:25), Geppetto’s Then and Now (10:57), Live-Action Reference Footage (9:57) and a Publicity section featuring the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52), the 1984 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and the 1992 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:33).  Furthermore, “When You Wish Upon A Star” Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin (3:14), A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio (5:06), a Storyboard-To-Film Final Comparison (4:04) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Born in China (1:14), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Moana (1:37) round out the entirety of the disc’s supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Simply stated, the artistic majesty, adventurous storytelling and iconic characters of Disney’s Pinocchio make the film a direct result of wishing upon a star and witnessing true magic come alive.  Released in a golden era of unequivocal classics, Disney’s daring second feature is unlike anything else with a beauty and emotional core unmatched, soaring above the others as the studio’s towering achievement.  Retaining its Platinum Edition’s already flawless restoration, the Signature Collection’s handful of new and stockpile of vintage supplements make those without this essential slice of animated perfection a no-brainer.  

    RATING: 5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pinocchio can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Queen of Katwe (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Queen of Katwe (2016)

    Director: Mira Nair

    Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza & Taryn Kyaze

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspiring true story, Queen of Katwe centers on chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga in her film debut) whose gift of the game propels her from poverty to the World Chess Olympiads.  David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) costar.

    Developed in association with ESPN Films, Queen of Katwe celebrates the tireless spirit and beauty of Uganda through the gorgeously cultivated direction of Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake).  Residing in the slums of Kampala with her siblings and hardworking widowed mother (Nyong’o), Phiona Mutesi's encounter with local missionary Robert Katende (Oyelowo) alters her life for the better.  Teaching his newest student the art and strategies of chess, Phiona’s natural abilities to foresee movements and defeat her fellow players with ease is met with newfound confidence and encouragement to compete.  Harnessing her skills, Phiona finds herself envisioning a future where proper education is within reach and relieving her family of the poverty they’ve only ever known is now possible.  Adhering to the tried and true structure of most underdog tales, Queen of Katwe monitors Phiona’s rise to prominence before overconfidence, family struggles and defeat knocks her down but hardly keeps her out from regaining balance.  Seamlessly tugging at viewer’s heartstrings, the mentor/student relationship between David Oyelowo the young Nalwanga succeeds in overwhelming audiences with emotion and giving reason to cheer during the traditionally quiet game of chess.  In addition, Lupita Nyong’o delivers another standout performance in a career of many as Phiona’s single mother who will stop at nothing to ensure her children’s well-being.  

    Shot inexpensively with its African locations capturing priceless photography, Queen of Katwe also welcomes the sounds of Uganda with soundtrack cuts from A Pass, Jose Chameleone and Goodlyfe Crew included alongside a newly produced song by Alicia Keys.  While its inspirational narrative doesn’t necessarily stretch the wings of what has come before it, Queen of Katwe excels with its prominently all black cast, evocative setting and Nair’s intimate direction all making exacting moves.  Inviting audiences to their latest tale of unconventional athleticism, Queen of Katwe honors Disney’s celebrated blending of family entertainment and true stories for another crowd pleasing checkmate.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Queen of Katwe with a stunning 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the sunny shades of Uganda’s scenery, bold colors found in virtually all costume choices leap off the screen while, skin tones are radiant and always natural-looking.  In addition, the poverty stricken areas of Phiona’s household and the faded turquoise boards encompassing her chess training ground are captured with immaculate detail, allowing viewers to fully bask in a presentation of such crispness.  Equipped with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that balances the transition of dialogue, bustling street ambiance and the film’s rhythmic song selections seamlessly, the track is nothing short of delightful.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe: Their Story (29:39), a three-part featurette exploring the filmmakers’ journey bringing the true story to fruition and the culture’s undeniable impact on the finished product plus, A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight (13:14), Nair’s original short film on the real Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo in the film.  In addition, In the Studio with Alicia Keys (6:26), a “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys Lyric Video (5:01), “#1 Spice” by Young Cardamom & HAB Music Video (3:55) are also included alongside Deleted Scenes (20:25) with optional introductions by Director Mira Nair.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks (4:30) at Born in China, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and Moana conclude the on-disc supplements while, a Digital HD Code is also included.

    Champions are often found in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.  Rising above poverty and a lack of education, Queen of Katwe brings welcome notice to the beauty and hardship of a Ugandan upbringing and the perseverance of the human spirit.  An inspirational journey ripe with heart and humor, Disney’s latest true story dramatization is a hit thematically while, its home video release exudes high-definition beauty and a worthy helping of bonus features including, the continued inclusion of a filmmaker’s commentary.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Queen of Katwe can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The BFG (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The BFG (2016)

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall & Bill Hader

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the beloved book by Roald Dahl, The BFG focuses on orphaned human bean Sophie (Ruby Barnhill in her film debut) and her wondrous friendship with an enormous giant (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies).  Experiencing unimaginable adventures and facing their biggest fears together, the two once lost souls discover what dreams are made of within each other.

    In a career spanning nearly 50 years filled with countless achievements ranging from fantasy to the factual, The BFG marks Director Steven Spielberg’s first production helmed under the magical Disney banner.  Reteaming with the creative talent responsible for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial including, the late Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, the long-awaited live-action adaptation maintains the whimsy and heartfelt connections to Spielberg’s more fanciful features with the technical advantages of today’s visual effects exquisitely bringing to fruition the film’s larger than life characters.  Exuding unfiltered innocence and bravery to the role of young Sophie, Ruby Barnhill joins the growing list of child actors appearing in a once in a lifetime Spielberg role and excelling beautifully.  Continuing their successful collaboration from Bridge of Spies, Academy Award winner Mark Rylance brings a childlike glee and emotional center to the titular role that enriches the film’s chemistry between the tender tall man and his sweet sidekick.  Furthermore, the combined efforts of Jemaine Clement (What We Do in the Shadows) and Bill Hader (Inside Out) welcome hilariously buffoonish and foreboding clout to the villainous residents of Giant Country in their pursuit for human nourishment and tormenting the BFG.  

    Faithfully adapted and retaining the signature tongue of the film’s towering characters, The BFG suffers from a simple-mindedness that although, charming and sweet, inhibits the fantasy feature from topping the flawlessness of Spielberg and Mathison's sci-fi classic.  Built and thriving on the BFG’s bond with Sophie, their dream-catching adventures and the effectively subtle hints into the giant’s previous friendship with a human, the film’s rather bland and uneventful military climax pales in comparison to its more intimate moments.  Bringing renewed laughs to the otherwise cheap gag of fart humor and cloaked with an enchantingly quaint score from go-to Spielberg Composer John Williams (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark), The BFG may not be an immediate classic but, lovingly reminds viewers of the power and necessity for innocent escapism.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The BFG with a reference quality 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Richly capturing the aging wrinkles and intricate gray hair follicles in the BFG’s motion-captured face, skin tones in the film’s human characters excel with natural bliss while, the fog-entrenched streets of London and the giant’s dimly lit cave showcase the utmost revealing of black levels.  In addition, textures in the costumes, both real and computer generated, are pristine with the luminescent colors of whizzing dreams glowing beautifully.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that captures the clarity of dialogue and the ambiance of floor creeks and meowing cats, the film’s track supports all areas with no disruption.  Furthermore, the bass heavy steps of the giants and John Williams’ highly recommendable score are worthy reminders of the film’s impressive soundscape.  Special features include, Bringing The BFG to Life (27:09), an in-depth series of video diaries hosted by Ruby Barnhill with onset footage and interviews from the likes of Spielberg, Executive Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Producer Frank Marshall and many others scattered throughout.  Furthermore, The Big Friendly Giant and Me (1:55) is a lovely short told through illustrations inspired from Dahl’s books that detail the BFG’s friendship with the bean that preceded Sophie, Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (3:16) serves as a lighthearted resource to the film’s funky speech patterns and Giants 101 (4:57) finds fellow giants Jemain Clement and Bill Hader detailing the making of their characters and movements.  Lastly, Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (5:54) is a farewell featurette to the memory of Mathison containing priceless footage of her on The BFG set collaborating with Spielberg and company.  A Sneak Peek at 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37), a DVD edition and Digital HD Code formally conclude the release’s supplemental offerings.

    Spielberg’s movie magic teamed with Dahl’s timeless tales may be the cinematic embodiment of pure imagination.  A technical marvel with the relationship between human and giant being the film’s true strengths, The BFG, remaining true to its source material, underwhelms in a third act attempt at action excitement.  Nonetheless, while Spielberg’s latest may be imperfect, the reunion amongst the human beans behind E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial still offers enough heart and a fine farewell from Mathison worth celebrating alone.  Disney’s high-definition presentation is nothing short of remarkable while, its bonus offerings are limited but offer respectable insight into the film’s making.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The BFG can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Finding Dory (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Finding Dory (2016)

    Director(s): Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

    Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba & Dominic West

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to the undersea world of the 2003 hit movie, Finding Dory focuses on the loveably forgetful blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen) as memories of her family slowly resurface, inspiring a new quest to find them.  Assisted by a wave of new sea creatures, Dory’s journey won’t be simple but, one of unforgettable adventure.  

    In its long overdue followup, Finding Dory shifts its attention to the fan-favorite costar of the original with her role as the seeker now substituted as the lost traveller in her pursuit for her family.  Treading familiar waters with a less epic journey ahead, Finding Dory’s routine calculations are thankfully offset by DeGeneres’ charisma and the film’s hilarious new supporting players.  A year after reuniting Nemo (Hayden Rolence) with his father Marlin (Albert Brooks, Drive), Dory is struck with memory flashes of the parents (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall and Eugene Levy, American Pie) she became separated from as a child.  With assistance from the bodaciouslly cool sea turtle Crush, Dory, Marlin and Nemo find themselves at the Marine Life Institute in California where the blue tang is certain she resided with her loved ones.  Before long, Dory is separated from her clownfish pals by marine biologists and forced to navigate the interiors of the aquatic development on her own.  Luckily encountering Hank (Ed O’Neill, Modern Family), a particularly crabby octopus with desires of living his days solely in an aquarium, the two find mutual benefits in sticking together while, meeting hilariously lazy sea lions Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba, The Jungle Book and Dominic West, John Carter respectively), a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and a bulbous beluga whale known as Bailey (Ty Burrell, Muppets Most Wanted).

    Warming hearts with flashbacks of an adorably young Dory and rescuing her best friends from a permeant stay in Cleveland during a high-speed truck pursuit, Finding Dory never stumbles in relaying saccharine charm yet, its narrative plays itself too safely that although entertaining, halts the sequel from exceeding the quality of its original.  With Dory and Hank’s at first contentious turned sweet friendship being the film’s finest asset along with its stunning visuals, Finding Dory may not be the next Pixar masterpiece but, remains a throughly fun ride, no matter how simple-minded its journey is.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Finding Dory with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Nothing short of perfection, the oceanic environment from the murky, dimly lit depths of the sea to the colorful shades of blue in the waters of the film’s California setting shine beautifully with strong presence and exacting detail.  Furthermore, the bolder hues found in characters such as Hank, Nemo and Dory pop exceptionally while, black levels never falter in relaying the inkiest of depths.  Disney once again has made a high-definition splash viewers will find the utmost delight in.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with the splashing of waves, bubbling ambiance and the film’s lovely musical score all presented with effective priority.  Featuring well over two hours of additional content, Disc 1’s special features include, an Audio Commentary with Directors Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane and Producer Lindsey Collins, Piper (6:05), Pixar’s latest short subject revolving around a baby sandpiper coping with his fear of water, Marine Life Interviews (2:04) featuring humorous sit-downs with the supporting sea creatures about their encounters with Dory, The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar (9:05) deals with the complexities of bringing the tentacled character of Hank to life and What Were We Talking About? (4:31) finds the creative team discussing the titular character and the trickiness of her short-term memory loss.  In addition, Casual Carpool (3:47) finds Director Andrew Stanton chauffeuring Stars Albert Brooks, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy and eventually Ed O’Neill as they hilariously fail to discuss fish facts, Animation & Acting (6:57) explores the art of voice acting with the cast and creators while, Deep in the Kelp (3:20) finds Jenna Ortega of Stuck in the Middle hosting a look into Pixar’s oceanic research developing the film and Creature Features (3:02) catches up with the cast as they share tidbits on their real undersea counterparts.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:32), Disney Store (0:32), Disney on Ice (1:02), Moana (1:26) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the supplemental smorgasbord.

    Next up on Disc 2, bonus content includes, a Behind the Scenes section of several featurettes covering Skating & Sketching with Jason Deamer (4:14), Dory’s Theme (4:57), Rough Day on the Reef (1:11), Finding Nemo As Told by Emoji (2:47) and Fish Schticks (3:35).  Secondly, a selection of bonfire-like ambiance for your television screen featuring unique Living Aquariums are included such as, Sea Grass (3:03:52), Open Ocean (2:48:30), Stingrays (2:48:42) and Swim to the Surface (1:02:20).  Finally, Deleted Scenes (50:15), Trailers ranging from the Sleep Swimming United States Trailer (1:43), Theatrical Payoff Japan Trailer (2:09), Can’t Remember Spain Trailer (1:22) and the Journey Russia Trailer (2:31) are included alongside a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    Over a decade since Finding Nemo swam its way into the hearts of audiences worldwide, its belated sequel may have arrived with open arms but, strays too closely to formula to be considered as impactful.  While its dynamics may seem wholly familiar, the returning characters make for delightful company with the hilarious supporting players being responsible for the better part of the film’s laughs.  Falling short of the greatness of Pixar’s Toy Story sequels, Finding Dory keeps its agenda simple and breezy with depths of fun still to be had for audiences who can’t stop swimming for these beloved characters.  Meanwhile, Disney admirably stretches its tentacles to deliver another first-rate high-definition release with hours worth of bonus content to keep viewers drenched in entertainment.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Finding Dory can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

    Director: James Bobin

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Producer Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie), Alice Through the Looking Glass finds the yellow-haired heroine (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) on a quest to save her ailing friend, The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).  Reuniting with old friends, Alice must run against the villainous Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugo) to right a past wrong before all that she knows seizes to exist.  James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) directs this fantastical followup to the 2010 box-office hit.

    Sailing the seas since her last wondrous adventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass welcomes the titular character back down the rabbit hole for another dreamlike journey into Underland.  Escaping the realities of her own world where her home and beloved ship are jeopardized, Alice is informed of the Hatter’s deteriorating state due to the loss and assumed death of his family.  Determined to restore her friend’s muchness, Alice sets a course to visit the embodiment of Time in order to return to the past to save Hatter’s loved ones from their grim future.  Resistant to accept the notion of impossibility, Alice steals the powerful Chronosphere to travel through time, igniting a wave of repercussions and revived vengeance from her former foe, The Red Queen (Bonham Carter).  From the clown-faced Johnny Depp to the late Alan Rickman in his final role returning to the psychedelic festivities, newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen adds a complimentary touch of eccentricity as the film’s surprisingly layered and not-so evil antagonist while, Helena Bonham Carter once again bobs her bulbous noggin and uncontrollably shouts as the film’s returning baddie.  

    Featuring a gothic fairy tale-esque score from Composer Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), extravagantly loud costume designs and zany computer-generated environments, Alice Through the Looking Glass remains true to the spirit of its predecessor while forging a daring new tale for our characters with a well juggled balance of humor and magic.  While its narrative may not be wholly groundbreaking, Director James Bobin’s apparent love and enthusiasm for the works of Lewis Carroll is evident in his approach that whisks viewers on a journey where time is of the essence.  Although detractors of Burton’s original film may find its sequel of little value, like-minded viewers of Alice Through the Looking Glass will find its results most entertaining and even improving in various cases on its financially successful yet, widely divided originator.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Alice Through the Looking Glass with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally capturing the natural tones of Alice’s facial features to the rainbow colored makeup of the Hatter and the unpigmented appearance of The White Queen, clarity is nothing short of astounding.  In addition, detail in Time’s gear orchestrated dwelling is top-notch while, black levels found in his attire and Alice’s thunderous journey on sea is deeply inky and absent of any crush.  Bursting with a wide variety of colors through costumes, VFX driven sets and characters, their bold appearances are always in the healthiest of contrasts.  Continuing to lead the pack for best consistently handled transfers from a major studio, Disney delivers yet another exemplary effort.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, sound quality is of the highest order with ideal dialogue levels and a handsome handling of thematic moments including, crashing waves, the Jabberwocky’s fire breathing blasts and Danny Elfman’s effective score all making grand impressions.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director James Bobin, Behind the Looking Glass (8:39) with insight from Bobin and his talented cast, A Stitch in Time: Costuming Wonderland (4:24) where Costume Designer Collen Atwood discusses the trickiness of approaching a sequel, Characters of Underland (4:47) explores the otherworldly costars of the film and their importance in the story and Time On… (1:46) featuring a humorous interview with Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Time.  Also included, Alice Goes Through the Looking Glass: A Scene Peeler (2:27) and Alice Goes Through Time’s Castle: A Scene Peeler (1:33) showcases the blue screen shooting of the sequences and their finished appearances in the film.  Next up, a “Just Like Fire” by P!nk Music Video (3:58), Behind the Music Video (3:02) and Deleted Scenes with optional Audio Commentary with Director James Bobin (8:56) are also on hand.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43), Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments (0:32), Once Upon a Time (0:32), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Finding Dory (1:39) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also accompanied with the release.

    Although not the billion dollar success its previous entry was, Alice Through the Looking Glass may appear upon first look to be more of the same yet, repeat tumbles down the rabbit hole prove the sequel to be even more charming.  With a visually rich design and entertainingly over the top performances, Disney’s fairy tale followup is fine tuned for those as mad as the Hatter himself.  Hosting a flawless visual and sonic presentation with a satisfying slate of supplements including, an appreciated commentary track from the enthusiastic Bobin, Alice Through the Looking Glass is littered with magical muchness worth exploring.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Alice Through the Looking Glass can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) 25th Anniversary Edition: Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (1991)

    Director(s): Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise

    Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everheart & Jesse Corti

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Disney’s 30th animated feature, Beauty and the Beast finds independent bookworm Belle (Paige O’Hara, Enchanted) rescuing her father from an enchanted castle and a cruel beast’s (Robby Benson, Running Brave) captivity.  Sacrificing her own freedom and looking deep within to see the beast’s inner beauty, the blossoming love between the two unlikely housemates will prove magically invaluable in breaking the spell cast on the titanic castle and its residents.

    A tale as old as time and beloved by generations worldwide, Beauty and the Beast continues the triumphant return to form of Disney’s animation division following the runaway success of The Little Mermaid.  Once again combining timeless characters, brilliant musical arrangements by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, and a story of true love, the romantic fairy tale enchants viewers with its grace, humor and themes of acceptance.  Attempted several times throughout Walt Disney’s career to no avail, Beauty and the Beast continues the magical traditions of its golden age forefathers with mesmerizing art and catchy tunes while, charting its own breathtaking path earning itself the first Best Picture Academy Award nomination for an animated film.  Seeped in gothic romance with glitzy broadway style musical sequences, the valued vocal efforts of Jerry Orbach (Law & Order), David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H*) and Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote) bring impressionable life to their memorable roles as Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts but, more importantly make viewers feel warmly at home within their company.  In addition, brute Gaston (Richard White, House of Mouse), along with his hilariously buffoonish accomplice Lefou (Jesse Corti, Zootopia), make for some of Disney’s grandest antagonists while, the development of Belle and Beast’s evolving love may be the most beautiful of all the mouse house’s animated features.

    Showered in critical praise, deserved awards and box-office riches upon its initial release, Beauty and the Beast would continue to welcomes guests to its enchanted castle through a Broadway musical, two direct-to-video followups, an enduring Disney Park presence and a theatrical 3D re-release.  With its reputation graciously preceding itself after a quarter century, Beauty and the Beast’s impact and instantly recognizable songs can’t be understated.  A perfect storm of splendid storytelling and exemplary animation, Beauty and the Beast not only ranks as the crowning jewel of the Disney Renaissance that consisted of other such masterworks as Aladdin and The Lion King but, also one of the studio’s most treasured features of all-time.

    Repurposing their already flawless 1080p (1.78:1) transfer and sonically hailed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix from its 2010 release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment once again supplies three versions of the film including the preferred Original Theatrical Edition (1:24:54), Special Extended Edition (1:31:44) and a Sing-A-Long Version (1:24:54).  Also recycling its Audio Commentary (Extended Edition Only) with Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Producer Don Hahn & Composer Alan Menken, new on-disc supplements include, Always Belle (11:32) as Paige O’Hara reflects on her role and childhood love for the arts, Menken & Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration (19:06) where fellow Disney composers Stephen Schwartz (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana) and Robert & Kristen-Anderson Lopez (Frozen) rap with Menken about the film’s memorable music, #1074: Walt, Fairy Tales & Beauty and the Beast (9:36) details Disney’s earliest developments of the film, The Recording Sessions (3:48) invites viewers into raw footage of the actors laying down their lines and 25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast (5:24) hosted by Kayla Maisonet of Stuck in the Middle and Gus Kamp of Best Friends Whenever.  In addition, a Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek (1:24) at the 2017 live-action feature, Song Selection (Sing-A-Long Edition Only), a Classic Bonus Preview (0:43) and Sneak Peeks at 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37), The BFG (1:38), Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), a Disney Princess Promo (1:32), Elena of Avalor (1:02), Moana (1:26) and Finding Dory (1:39) are also included.

    For better or worse, several more hours of supplemental content including such new featurettes as Character Development: Lumiere (2:50), Character Development: Beast (3:49) and countless others are available only digitally along with other vintage bonus features.  While their inclusion is plentiful, their lack of on-disc appearances is disparaging for physical media purists.  Finally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code round out the release’s extensive extras.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary before asking viewers to be their guest in 2017 for its live-action counterpart, Beauty and the Beast remains as magical and captivating as ever.  With several newly created bonus features included and a reference quality presentation preserved, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has prepped a sumptuous meal of hi-def majesty for Disney lovers to partake in.  A towering animated achievement and simply one of Disney’s best, Beauty and the Beast deserves a spot in every collector’s west wing!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Jungle Book (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Jungle Book (2016)

    Director: Jon Favreau

    Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken & Neel Sethi

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the timeless tale, The Jungle Book centers on young Mowgli (Neel Sethi in his film debut), a man-cub raised by wolves, as he embarks on an adventure of self-discovery where great danger and unexpected friends lie.  Featuring the talented voice work of Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Ben Kingsley (The Walk), Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Giancarlo Esposito (Once Upon a Time) and Christopher Walken (Hairspray), Jon Favreau (Iron Man) directs this modern adaptation.

    Seamlessly blending the magical whimsy of Walt Disney’s animated classic with cutting-edge visual effects, Director Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s masterwork balances emotional gravity and awe-inspiring moments of marvel for a mesmerizingly audacious experience.  Scripted by Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), The Jungle Book remains true to the spirit of its cinematic predecessors while, injecting more of its source material back into its finished product.  Raised by wolves in the Indian jungles, man-cub Mowgli struggles to keep up with the daily challenges of his adopted family.  Plagued by a dry spell, the animals of the jungle congregate at a peaceful drinking location where the feared and severely scarred tiger Shere Khan (Elba) voices his animosity and desire to kill Mowgli.  After much deliberation, the young man-cub solely decides to leave his family for their own safety with assistance from the trusted panther Bagheera (Kingsley).  Journeying to the nearby village, Shere Khan strikes, separating the two and leaving the child to navigate exotic depths of the jungle unknown to him.  Following a near-death encounter with a hypnotic python, Mowgli is rescued by the lovably lazy bear Baloo (Murray), forging a new friendship built on ingenuity and honey consumption.  After reuniting with his former protector Bagheera and news of tragedy is reported, Mowgli overcomes a labyrinth of monkeys and their royal King Louie (Walken) to face his destiny back in the only home he knows.

    Retaining the beloved musical tunes of Terry Gilkyson and the Sherman Brothers, The Jungle Book guides viewers through a computer-generated realm of unbelievable reality populated with photorealistic animals that break new ground in movie magic wizardry.  Stunningly realized by a voice cast of Hollywood’s finest including, the pitch-perfect Bill Murray as Baloo and the briefly seen yet, wholly impactful Scarlett Johansson as the seductively sneaky Kaa, newcomer Neel Sethi brings a youthful energy and wide-ranging charisma to his role as the film’s only central human character.  Epically conceived and pushing the boundaries of adventure to new heights, The Jungle Book delivers far more than the bare necessities, ensuring a heartwarming and intensely packed avenue of escapism for all ages.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Jungle Book with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Flawless in every aspect, the lush greenery of the jungle to its more rainy and overcast skies read with exceptional clarity.  Meanwhile, Mowgli’s skin tone breathes with natural ease while, scars and the delicacy of all animal furs appear with impressive detail.  Finally, black levels found in Bagheera’s coat and King Louie’s dilapidated kingdom are exquisitely inky and deep making Disney’s latest transfer yet another mark of visual perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is solidly relayed with the natural ambiance of a jungle setting nicely supported.  In addition, John Debney’s (Sin City, Iron Man 2) score packs immersive depth while, animal roars, bass heavy stampedes and of course, Murray and Walken’s renditions of “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You”   making reference quality statements.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau that is both highly informative and passionate, The Jungle Book Reimagined (35:02) presents a roundtable discussion with Director Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato on the long, rewarding process of making the film, I Am Mowgli (8:18) explores the charming qualities that earned newcomer Neel Sethi his role in the film and his unique interactions working on an imagined set while, King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer (3:14) presents a nicely edited rendition of “I Wan’na Be Like You” juxtaposing from Walken’s recording, the computer-generated developments of the sequence and John Debney’s conduction of the music.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43) and Zootopia (1:37) are included alongside a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    A visual splendor from start to finish, The Jungle Book continues Disney’s long, storied tradition of timeless tales and breathtaking adventure.  Achieved through dazzling technological advances, Director Jon Favreau’s modern rendition honors its animated forefather with the utmost respect while, pushing cinematic boundaries that Walt Disney himself would be impressed by.  Serving its feature rightly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers a pristine high-definition experience with a delightful dose of supplements including, a highly enjoyable commentary with Favreau that will leave viewers swinging from the trees in excitement.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 30th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Jungle Book can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two reconvenes with the crew of the Ghost as they continue their pursuit for freedom under the rule of the Galactic Empire.  As young Ezra continues his own Jedi training under the disciplined Kanan, the rebels find themselves increasingly targeted by new threats from the dark side causing them to forge alliances with others on their journeys.

    Rustling the feathers of the feared Galactic Empire, Darth Vader, aided by fellow Inquisitors, make the capture of the Ghost crew a priority in this action-packed sophomore season of Star Wars Rebels.  With risks increasing and danger constant, the combative freedom fighters join forces with former clone trooper Captain Rex, much to the discontent of Kanan whose reminders of the doomed Clone Wars are far too fresh to initially trust Rex.  Establishing unlikely friendships and trusted alliances with those fighting mutual causes, the Ghost crew’s missions to aid those suffering around the galaxy is met with lethal force from a double threat of new Inquisitors (voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez and Sarah Michelle Gellar respectively).  Richly conceived and crafting even stronger character developments, the second season of Star Wars Rebels finds common themes of teamwork and resisting responsibility central to the proceedings as Ezra’s continued Jedi education and conflicted emotions inch the character forward on his journey of self-discovery.  With appearances from fan-favorite characters including, Ahsoka Tano (who becomes a crucial ally to the rebels), Emperor Palpatine and Princess Leia who the crew aids on a secret mission, Star Wars Rebels continues the turbulent trials of the Ghost when Zeb must work with the evil Agent Kallus in order for both to survive a hostile planet while, the spunky Chopper takes kindly to an Imperial droid during a location scout for a new rebel base.  Unquestionably more intense than its debut season, Star Wars Rebels ups the ante with an epic conclusion involving Kanan, Ezra and Ahsoka discovering a living Darth Maul at a sacred temple with the powers of the dark side tempting the young Padawan like never before.  Intensely cinematic, humorous and wildly exciting, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two raises the bar once again with its grandiose storytelling taking our characters into new and potentially darker territories in the future to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents all 22 episodes of Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  As colorfully crisp as any theatrically released animated feature, Star Wars Rebels delights with flawless black levels and exceptional detail touches in backgrounds, spaceship interiors and uniquely layered costumes.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is well exchanged with the high speed pursuits of spaceships and lightsaber battles adding robust touches to the show’s sound effects.  Special features on Disc 1 include, Rebels Recon (43:31) where Star Wars Correspondent Andi Gutierrez acts as your guide in this 1-6 episode breakdown of the season.  Sneak Peeks at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43) are also included.  Next up, Disc 2 continues Rebels Recon (49:09) coverage on episodes 7-14 while, Disc 3 concludes Rebels Recon (37:27) on the season’s remaining episodes.  In addition, Connecting the Galaxy: Rebels Season 2 (3:30) takes a look at the season’s unique references and hidden easter eggs with the Blu-ray exclusive featurette From Apprentice to Adversary: Vader VS. Ahsoka (6:08) finds Executive Producer Dave Filoni discussing the season’s epic showdown between the former teacher and apprentice.

    An intergalactically epic followup to last year’s explosive debut season, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two exceeds expectations and pushes the quality and emotion of episodic animation within the Star Wars universe.  Continuing to be Disney XD’s strongest and most throughly engaging program, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment weaves the power of the Force with their praiseworthy presentation.  While supplements could surely be more plentiful, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two easily earns a true Jedi’s recommendation.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 30th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Zootopia (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Zootopia (2016)

    Director(s): Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush

    Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk & Shakira

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a metropolis populated by animals, Zootopia centers on Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time), the first bunny on its force, as she seeks to prove her place by cracking her first case.  Confronted with overwhelming odds and minimal support, Judy must team up with scamming fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses) to solve the mystery behind what’s reverting residents back to their savage ways.  

    In Disney’s most creatively designed animated feature in recent memory, Zootopia’s buddy cop dynamic demonstrates exemplary levels of laughs and conflicting personalities that send its furry, mismatched protagonists on an adventure-filled journey of animalistic proportions.  Ginnifer Goodwin’s spunky energy infused into Judy Hopps is excellently matched with the dry wit of Jason Bateman’s conniving fox, setting the tone for a feature about the big city, overcoming social prejudices and making a positive difference in a very turbulent world.  With the exception of a knee-slapping sequence set in Zootopia’s DMV offices, Disney’s animated feature announced itself with a mediocre marketing campaign leaving viewers in the dark of its true potential.  Strongly encouraged by overwhelming word of mouth feedback, Zootopia continues the success of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ most recent hits with heart-filled characters, impressive moments of action and peril (most notably when Judy and Nick infiltrate a hidden underground laboratory responsible for targeting the predators of Zootopia) and the always charming touches of saccharine that Disney has perfected.  While Zootopia’s many merits can be simply identified by its comedic touches and dazzling animation, perhaps its greatest strength is its not-so subtle message that true changes of understanding can only come from us.  In a heated political season where targeting the differences between our fellow man is a source of vile negativity, Zootopia’s message of acceptance and embracement of the various critters that compile our own animal kingdom is a lesson that all audiences, particularly ones of a more mature generation, can forever benefit from.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Zootopia with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with never-ending colors that leap off the screen, detail is immaculate with impressive clarity picking up delicate animal furs and razor-thin whiskers.  In addition, the unique boroughs of Zootopia’s diverse city are all excellently captured while nighttime sequences are perfectly inky and free of any digital artifacts.  As strong and memorable as its narrative, Zootopia’s high-definition transfer is as perfect as one can get.  Equipped with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue and gives rise to Composer Michael Giacchino’s (Inside Out) eclectic score, special features include, Research: A True-Life Adventure (9:58) where the filmmakers dive into their characters real worlds for invaluable inspiration, The Origin Story of An Animal Tale (9:15) allows the makers to discuss the evolving changes made to the film and Zoology: The Roundtables (18:23), introduced by Ginnifer Goodwin, these three featurettes center on the characters, environments and animation of the film.  Furthermore, Scoretopia (4:59) dances on the wild side as Composer Michael Giaccino crafts the film’s score while Z.P.D. Forensic Files (8:23) investigates the film’s hidden easter eggs.  Lastly, the “Try Everything” Music Video by Shakira (3:21), Deleted Characters (3:16), Deleted Scenes (28:03), Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), the Disney Store (0:32), Girl Meets World (0:32) and Finding Dory (1:43) are also included alongside a DVD edition and a Digital HD Code.

    Eclipsing Frozen’s opening weekend returns at the domestic box-office, Zootopia would ultimately exceed $1 billion from worldwide grosses and be hailed by audiences and critics alike.  Warm, funny and offering an important lesson to embrace all the unique personalities that comprise our world, Zootopia is yet another glowing chapter in Disney’s tradition of timeless tales.  In addition, the Mouse House’s phenomenal high-definition presentation is nothing short of reference quality while, its supplements are nicely stocked and varied offering well-rounded insight into the film’s making.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Zootopia can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Finest Hours (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Finest Hours (2016)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

    Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainer, John Ortiz & Eric Bana

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the fascinating true story, The Finest Hours retells the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history where a deadly storm threatened the lives of countless sailors aboard a sinking oil tanker.  Led by Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, Star Trek), the determination and actions of his crew would ultimately define unparalleled heroism.  Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Ben Foster (The Program), Holliday Grainer (Jane Eyre), John Ortiz (Togetherness) and Eric Bana (Deliver Us from Evil) co-star.

    Detailing the frightening 1952 rescue mission off the coast of Cape Cod, The Finest Hours is the latest of Disney’s inspirational tales lifted from the pages of history.  In one of his best roles to date, Chris Pine stars as disciplined Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber whose love for local beauty Miriam Pentinen (Grainer) quickly escalates to a charming engagement.  Before long, the seas are struck with a devastating storm that leaves two separate oil tankers split in two with   their crews struggling to survive.  Tasked with an impossible mission, Webber is dispatched to rescue his fellow seamen with a limited crew and only a small boat as their steed.  Juxtaposing between the crew of the sinking ship, led by the resourceful Ray Sybert (Affleck), Webber’s own confrontations with 60-foot waves and the worried citizens on shore, The Finest Hours weaves a historically accurate account that submerges viewers through its increasingly tense circumstances with effective realism.  While Pine leads the film with heavy emotion, Grainer’s chemistry with her onscreen beau is equally noteworthy.  Meanwhile, Ben Foster, alongside Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body) and John Magaro (Carol), provide powerful supporting performances as Webber’s crew mates while Eric Bana, appearing as Webber’s superior officer is largely forgettable.

    Helmed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm and Fright Night, the latter released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner), The Finest Hours may appear predictable yet, the exceptional staging of its disastrous sea sequences and uplifting finale greatly outweigh its foreseeable developments.  Theatrically released in 3D during the dead of winter, The Finest Hours would prove to be Disney’s first financial failure in a year of other box-office winners for the Mouse House.  Unfortunate and grossly unwarranted, The Finest Hours may possess shades of saccharine but ultimately triumphs as an important footnote in Coast Guard history, warmly retold with solid performances and impressive visual effects.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Finest Hours with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Cloaked in constant darkness, nighttime sequences on dry land and at sea demonstrate impressive inkiness while skin tones are beautifully handled.  Although the film’s color scheme is far from vast, details are sharply identified in wardrobe choices making for an exceptional viewing experience.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is always audible with the crashing sounds of the sea’s violent waves making tremendous impact.  Bonus features include, Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story (14:10) where Director Craig Gillespie, Authors Michael J. Tougias, Casey Sherman and other key talent discuss the film’s true events with footage lifted from the actual town of Chatham, Massachusetts.  In addition, Deleted Scenes (4:28), Brotherhood (1:49), a standard EPK focusing on the camaraderie amongst the male actors, Two Crews (2:02) where the unique circumstances confronted by both crews in the film are briefly detailed and What Is Your Finest Hour? (1:02) where a Coast Guard member retells their most heroic moment are also included.  Finally, The Finest Inspiration: The U.S. Coast Guard (1:42) and a Digital HD Code round out the disc’s remaining supplements.

    Disney’s commitment to real world underdog tales has paid off once again with The Finest Hours.  While its basis may appear predictable from the onset, the emotional subtext and unbelievable odds confronted by the characters gives viewers a thrilling ride that will surely increase one’s appreciation for the fearless members of the Coast Guard.  Furthermore, Disney’s high-definition release is a remarkable sight that makes up for its limited bonus features.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Finest Hours can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

    Director: J.J. Abrams

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew & Max Von Sydow

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finds the galaxy confronted with a new threat in the form of the First Order.  When a rebellious young heroes are caught in the crosshairs of the galactic war, resistance fighters from the past aid them in their battle against the dark side.  Featuring franchise veterans and impressive up and comers, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Stark Trek) directs the anticipated seventh episode of George Lucas’ enduring saga.

    Cinematically dormant since the concluding chapter of Lucas’ prequel trilogy in 2005, fans worldwide came to the unfortunate realization that further adventures set in a galaxy far, far away were to be left only to the imagination.  A force was truly awoken in 2012 following Disney’s purchase of Lucas’ illustrious company and the Star Wars franchise with the intent of continuing the beloved legacy set forth in 1977.  With scripting duties by its director, franchise favorite Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns viewers to a world not quite seen since the fall of Darth Vader and the destruction of the evil Empire.  Perfectly encapsulating the dirty, lived-in environments we remember while, setting its course on a journey yet unknown, the latest installment finds the galaxy at the mercy of the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls) and the First Order, both born from the ashes of the Empire.  Following the disappearance of sole Jedi master Luke Skywalker, lonesome scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley, Scrawl) and Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a former stormtrooper gone rogue, team up with war hero Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Resistance to locate Skywalker and restore balance to the Force.  Joined by the accomplished Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) as rebel pilot Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens welcomes back its seasoned cast of original stars including but not limited to, Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Harrison Ford who, after years of resistance returning to his famed role, has an absolute blast as everyone’s favorite smuggler.  Juggling the delicate realms of nostalgia and forward-thinking storytelling, Star Wars: The Force Awakens accomplishes both in spades as familiar faces are integral to its narrative yet, never outshine the new and exciting characters introduced to carry the franchise’s respected torch.  

    Furthermore, Abrams and his talented crew restore the charming practicality of the original trilogies special effects and creature designs while, flawlessly injecting modern techniques such as, motion-capture and CG into its narrative that feels both seamless and visually stunning.  Although detractors have sighted the film’s similar structure to A New Hope as a grave flaw, the reoccurring theme between the light and the dark is ever-present in all Star Wars films and can hardly be viewed as a setback in a film crafted with so much heart and obvious respect for its source.  From its scroll defining intro blessed with John Williams’ iconic score to its thrilling cliffhanger conclusion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wildly exciting adventure bursting with action, heartbreak and nonstop fun.  Through the power of the Force, Abrams and company have magically transported viewers back to a euphoric state of youth where old friends have gathered to welcome us as we warmly embrace the path of our new heroes.  An absolute return to form for the beloved franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has restored the magic for all generations to marvel.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Impressive from start to finish, skin tones are naturally presented with impeccable detail picking up perspiration caused on Jakku and Poe’s blood-spattered face.  In addition, the film’s unique environments from desolate desert landscapes to the lush greenery of Maz Kanata’s planet leap off the screen while, the delicacies of shadowy sequences, prominently seen in the film’s opening battle, are handled beautifully.  Meanwhile, black levels found in the film’s many space battles and Kylo Ren’s costume are brilliantly inky with no disruptions.  A remarkable accomplishment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ transfer is the epitome of perfection.  Equipped with an equally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is exacting and crisp while, the whizzing noises of high-flying TIE Fighters, X-Wings and of course, the Millennium Falcon make thunderous impressions on your speakers.  In addition, explosions, laser blasts and the thrashing of lightsabers provide ample activity in their respective scenes with the mix only enriching their impact.  Presented on their own Blu-ray disc, special features include, Secrets of the Force: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14), a four-part overview of the making of The Force Awakens from pre-production to its completion with interviews from cast and crew, The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01) finds the cast reflecting on the first group reading of the script with footage from the actual day, Crafting Creatures (9:34) showcases how the various creatures were brought to life using a multitude of different techniques, Building BB-8 (6:03) documents the complicated process of realizing the franchise’s favorite new droid, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02) explores the making of the film’s climactic lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren while, ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force (7:55) dives into the film’s magnificent digital effects work.  In addition, John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51) spotlights the iconic composer as he reflects on his enduring involvement with the Star Wars saga, six Deleted Scenes (4:15) of trivial value and Force For Change (3:22) exploring the series’ humanitarian initiative across the globe round out the healthy assortment of bonus features.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    A marvelous journey back to a familiar world plagued with new dangers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sends viewers on an exhilarating ride that reignites a 30 year old magic like never before.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment awards the box-office juggernaut with pitch perfect technical grades and an equally pleasing spread of bonus content which, although not entirely definitive and sure to be expanded in future rereleases, still offer tons of enjoyment.  Easily the standout feature of last year and a shoe-in for one of this year’s most impressive home video releases, Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieves our highest recommendation!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available April 5th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • My Boyfriend's Back (1993) Blu-ray Review

    My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Andrew Lowery, Traci Lind, Matthew Fox, Edward Herrmann & Mary Beth Hurt

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), My Boyfriend’s Back centers on high school senior Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery, School Ties) as he builds up the courage to ask class hottie Missy McCloud (Traci Lind, Fright Night Part 2) to the prom.  Unfortunately, a fatal setback claims Johnny’s life resulting in his comical return from the grave to his keep his dream date on schedule.  Helmed by noted actor and director Bob Balaban (Parents), this offbeat horror/comedy is an entertainingly cheesy romp that adheres to the basic tropes of teen films while, its cast juggles its silly plot of prom queens and zombie infatuation with big, goofy smiles.  Incapable of taking itself seriously, My Boyfriend’s Back juxtaposes its narrative with comic-like panel transitions as Johnny’s undead existence in suburbia is met with equal parts acceptance by his loving parents (Edward Herrmann, The Lost Boys and Mary Beth Hurt, Young Adult) while, Missy’s ex-boyfriend Buck (Matthew Fox in his film debut) is less than enthusiastic.  Decaying by the day as limbs fall off his body and his hunger for human flesh grows, Johnny and Missy’s romance is tested when gun-toting townspeople want their local zombie buried for good.  Combatting a greedy doctor that seeks Johnny for his own experimentations and swaying the approval of Missy’s sheriff father (Jay O. Sanders, JFK), the living and the undead make the most of their magical evening in their fog-entrenched school gymnasium.  Released in 1993 yet, containing the colorful gaudiness of 80s productions, My Boyfriend’s Back notably introduces the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in an early role as one of Johnny’s unfortunate meals and Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) in a blink-and-you-miss him appearance.  While the genre-blending black comedy may have arrived a few years behind the curve, My Boyfriend’s Back remains an unsophisticatedly screwy good time ripe for digging up.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents My Boyfriend’s Back with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With mild speckling on display, skin tones are surprisingly well-handled with only occasional hints of oversaturation.  Otherwise nicely detailed and relaying rather strong doses of color in blood spread across Johnny’s mouth, interiors of the high school’s locker-filled halls and the EC Comic-like transitions, My Boyfriend’s Back may have occasional hiccups but, remains a generally satisfying watch.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently, if not unimpressively, relayed while, the film’s musical selections and intendedly dynamic sound effects are largely flat and disappointing.  No special features have been included on this release.

    Fun and welcomingly out there, My Boyfriend’s Back takes a zombified teenager’s desire for his crush to hilarious heights where undead prejudice and a hunger for limbs are their biggest threats.  Littered with a surprisingly well known cast in early roles, Mill Creek Entertainment ushers this Disney owned skeleton from their Touchstone Pictures banner with a well-handled, filmic transfer while, its audio mix leaves much to be desired.  Admittedly looking better than ever, My Boyfriend’s Back returns from the grave (again) in a manner that should leave fans quite pleased.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, My Boyfriend’s Back can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015) DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015)

    Director(s): Michael Hegner & Martin Skov

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the pint-sized adventures of the galaxy’s finest heroes, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is the exciting five-part mini-series centered around C-3PO and R2-D2’s many exploits.  As the gold protocol droid retells their tales to various listeners, his faithful companion is abducted by a mysterious figure prompting him to save his short, spunky friend.

    Taking place after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales finds the celebrating rebels gathering together as their dependable droids C-3PO and R2-D2 recall their many adventures dating back to the Clone Wars.  Voiced once more by Anthony Daniels, C-3PO engages listeners with the events unfolded in the prequels The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones before R2-D2 is stolen away by a hooded figure.  Struggling with his own fears, the timid droid pursues the mysterious individual in order to reclaim his closest friend while, continuing to tell more of their many escapades to anyone who will listen.  Chocked full of hilarious commentaries on the films and never shying from flinging Jar Jar Binks into space for laughs, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales coasts too closely to events fans have long been accustomed to, making unique storytelling opportunities limited.  Fortunately, an early encounter with Kanan and the Ghost crew of Star Wars Rebels makes for some of the series’ finest moments while, the final episode leading C-3PO to the planet of Geonosis and a confrontation with General Veers makes for a fun sendoff to a mini-series that may lack originality but excels as usual with comedy and delightful animation.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales digitally mastered in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although not nearly as sharp or defined as high-definition, colors are plentiful and pop nicely while, black levels are quite respectable and lack any intrusions of crush.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally clear but may require increases in volume to capture their full extent.  Furthermore, Composer John Williams’ original music, along with his iconic reused themes, offer sizable boosts to the track’s limited capabilities.  Although scant, special features include Sneak Peeks (5:00) at Star Wars Rebels, Zootopia and Disney Movie Rewards.  In addition, an Exclusive Trading Card Set is included inside the packaging.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar (2015) DVD Review

    The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar (2015)

    Director: Howdy Parkins

    Starring: Max Charles, Rob Lowe, Eden Riegel, Joshua Rush, Dusan Brown, Diamond White, Atticus Shaffer & James Earl Jones

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the adventures begun in The Lion King franchise, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar centers on Kion (Max Charles, Mr. Peabody & Sherman), second-born cub of Simba and Nala.  Bestowed with the power of the roar and assuming the role of leader of The Lion Guard, Kion must assemble a team of uniquely suited heroes to protect the Pride Lands and maintain balance within the Circle of Life.  Rob Lowe (The Grinder), Edgen Riegel (All My Children), Joshua Rush (Parental Guidance), Dusan Brown (42), Diamond White (Transformers: Rescue Bots), Atticus Shaffer (The Middle) and James Earl Jones (The Sandlot) also lend their vocal talents.

    Serving as the pilot film for Disney Junior’s latest animated series, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar returns to the Pride Lands of Africa where Simba (Lowe) and Nala (Gabrielle Union, Bring It On) continue to raise their children in harmony.  After their young son Kion defends his honey badger best friend Bunga against a pack of dangerous hyenas, the power of the roar takes hold of the small cub marking him the leader of the long dormant Lion Guard.  Tasked with defending their lands and ensuring the Circle of Life is balanced, Kion looks to Bunga, fast cheetah Fuli, powerful hippopotamus Beshte and keen-sighted cattle egret Ono to uphold the honorable tasks of The Lion Guard.  While Kion doubts his capabilities heading the new team after Simba voices his disapproval over his non-lion selections, the spirit of his deceased grandfather Mufasa (Jones) gives him the encouragement needed to lead.  Determined to seek revenge against the Pride Lands, the ravenous hyenas descend on a herd of gazelle with Kion’s older sister Kiara caught in the crossfire.  Using their unique skills and teamwork, The Lion Guard ward off the predators and save Kiara from certain danger, earning the approval and respect of Simba.

    Littered with a new generation of colorful characters, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar welcomes back the beloved Timon, Pumbaa (voiced once again by Ernie Sabella) and Rafiki in supporting roles.  Honoring the infamous “hakuna matata” catchphrase fans have come to love, Timon and Pumbaa’s adopted nephew Bunga coins his own term with “zuka zama”, presented in a catchy song number that viewers will instantly be humming to.  Beautifully animated for a small screen effort of its caliber, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar returns audiences to the Pride Lands as if they never left while, the humor and heartfelt messages of family and conservation are well intact.  Told through the power of music and adventurous storytelling, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is a thoroughly entertaining starting point for Disney Junior’s newest series that fans, young and old, will appreciate.

    Digitally mastered and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, colors are bright and plentiful with detail looking appreciatively healthy in closeups of the African animals.  While not quite as crisp as a high-definition release, Disney’s DVD edition is perfectly serviceable for its intended audience.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible and free of distortion with the film’s song numbers offering a wider presence.  Although limited, special features include, a “Here Comes the Lion Guard” Music Video by Beau Black and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Zootopia (1:38) and The Good Dinosaur (1:38).  Finally, a special Talking Backpack Pull is included inside the packaging.

    Unlike other revived properties that fail to live up to expectations, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is the surprisingly rare exception that captures the essential elements of its predecessor.  Headed by a pack of new, wildly fun characters while, carrying over other fan favorites to the festivities, Disney Junior’s handling of The Lion King property appears to be off to a strong start leaving original fans and newcomers to the Pride Land equally entertained by its charming humor and enthusiastic soundtrack.  Hakuna matata indeed!

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Good Dinosaur (2015)

    Director: Peter Sohn

    Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand & Steve Zahn

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an alternate timeline where the astroid that forever altered life on Earth missed, The Good Dinosaur centers on scaredy cat apatosaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa, Mars Needs Moms) who after suffering a personal tragedy is lost in the far reaches of the wilderness.  Joined by an unlikely companion in rambunctious cave boy Spot (newcomer Jack Bright), Arlo must confront his deepest fears while journeying back to his family.  Sam Elliot (Grandma), Anna Paquin (X-Men: Days of Future Past), A.J. Buckley (CSI: NY), Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), Frances McDormand (Fargo) and Steve Zahn (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) comprise the film’s additional vocal talent.

    Plagued with directorial switches, story overhauls and cast changes, The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s second feature of 2015 following the universally loved Inside Out, found itself against near-insurmountable odds and a ticking clock to adhere to the expected quality of past Pixar productions.  Admittedly possessing themes familiar from past efforts, The Good Dinosaur’s coming-of-age tale of soul searching and fear facing still packs the emotional mark audiences have come to rely on with Pixar’s narrative whimsy.  Following the loss of his father, undersized apatosaurus Arlo is whisked away by nature’s ferocious elements, far away from the farm he calls home.  Alone and fearing for his life, Arlo, much to his initial dismay, finds himself in the company of the nonverbal cave boy Spot, leading the two to become co-travelers.  Spot’s unwavering loyalty and fearlessness to protect his new friend opens Arlo’s eyes to a new understanding and acceptance on their long journey home.  Withstanding dangerous weather conditions, Arlo and Spot find themselves in the good graces of a trio of T-rex as they battle velociraptors to protect their herd of longhorn.  With his confidence boosted and spirits raised, Arlo and his human companion face greater struggles when carnivorous pterodactyls capture Spot to quench their appetite.  Inspired by the spirit of his Poppa (Wright), Arlo will stop at nothing to rescue his best friend and return home to his mother and siblings.

    While perhaps lacking the originality audiences have come to expect annually from the animation studio, The Good Dinosaur is unquestionably Pixar’s most stunning looking production to date with its photorealistic environments setting a new standard high.  In addition, the heartwarming friendship and adventures shared between Arlo and Spot are equally as emotional and thrilling as anything Pixar has achieved before.  Furthermore, humor is plentiful as Arlo’s fear of critters is demonstrated while, the two companions’ psychedelic trip after feasting on unusual berries boasts bizzaro animation and absurd facial features of the characters.  Although slightly off-color during initial viewings, the sequence grows funnier with repeated watches.  In their first year producing two features, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur may have had difficulty following its other “emotional” picture while, its own narrative arguably lacks pizzazz.  That said, Arlo’s journey of self discovery matched with the film’s awe-inspiring animation makes The Good Dinosaur Pixar’s greatest underdog that will leave viewers teary-eyed several times over.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Good Dinosaur with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Set in impressive photo-real environments where greenery, blue skies and mountain vistas appear natural and richly detailed, Pixar’s prehistoric feature is nothing short of breathtaking.  In addition, bolder colors found in Arlo’s green skin, the reddish textures of his T-rex friends and the illuminating glow of fireflies pop magnificently while, the shadows of the night skies boast perfectly inky black levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is consummately relayed while, Jeff (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) and Mychael (Life of Pi) Danna’s earthy, bluegrass score is beautifully balanced.  Furthermore, the ambiance of the wilderness and the capturing of splashing waves and thunderous rainstorms offer great effectiveness.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Peter Sohn, Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann, Animation Supervisor Mike Venturini, Director of Photography and Lighting Sharon Calahan & Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi.  Also included, Sanjay’s Super Team (7:07), Pixar’s latest Academy Award nominated short from Sanjay Patel, True Lies About Dinosaurs (1:56) where humorous notes are made regarding the film’s fictional liberties, Recyclosaurus (6:19) showcases Pixar employees as they embark on a competition to fashion dinosaurs with left over goods, The Filmmakers’ Journey (7:54) is a brief yet, effective look into the making of the production from first time director Sohn.  Furthermore, Every Part of the Dinosaur (6:08) details the visual development of the film’s dinos, Following the T-Rex Trail (6:58) showcases the filmmakers studying a cattle ranch for research purposes, Deleted Scenes (10:41), Dino Bites (4:15), Hide and Seek (0:59) and Trailers for Moment: North American Trailer 2 (2:25), Courage: Russian Trailer (2:30) and Different: German Trailer (2:03) are also available.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at the state of Wyoming (3:41), Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (0:32), Disney Store (0:32), Finding Dory (1:43) and Zootopia (1:38) round out the supplements with a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code also included.

    Although casting familiar narrative shades from other Pixar features, The Good Dinosaur still manages to pack ample emotion with its grandiose animation leading the pack as the studio’s most gorgeous achievement yet.  Faced with many production obstacles, Pixar’s latest may not have resonated immediately with audiences yet, demands praise for its beauty and heartwarming friendship between its lovable leads.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Good Dinosaur with high-definition perfection and a generous spread of supplements including, an informative commentary, Pixar’s latest short film and several other making-of featurettes.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 23rd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Good Dinosaur can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

    Director(s): William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce & Ben Sharpsteen

    Starring: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen & Stuart Buchanan

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Disney’s first feature-length animated production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs tells the timeless tale of pure and innocent Snow White who fears for her life when her vile stepmother the Queen, seeks to eliminate her from becoming the fairest in the land.  In order to evade capture, Snow White falls in the kind company of seven mining dwarfs who open their hearts to the young girl.  Falling for a charming prince and combatting the evil Queen, love conquers all in this seminal classic.

    Garnering worldwide acclaim for his Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies short subjects, forward-thinking Walt Disney was determined to push his studio’s abilities further into uncharted territories.  Developed over an astounding four year period and predicted by many skeptics to be “Disney’s Folly”, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would cost the thriving studio nearly $1.5 million on a project with unproven potential.  Inspired by Disney’s earliest cinematic encounters, the risky fairy tale adaptation would prompt Disney to mortgage his house and disregard the concerns of his wife Lillian and brother Roy in order to fully realize his vision.  Exploring new possibilities in the realm of animation and pushing his artists to the challenge of creating convincingly human characters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a daily struggle with its completion being the embodiment of groundbreaking artistry.  

    Simplifying its narrative and dazzling viewers with its storybook opening into the Queen’s lair, achieved by the newly created multiplane camera system, sets a fantastical tone ensuring a journey of indubitable beauty.  From its awe-inspiring backgrounds to the scope of the Queen’s castle and the quaint comforts of the dwarfs cottage, the animated debut feature equally serves as a moving piece of high art as it does a compelling tale.  As Disney’s inaugural princess, Snow White is the definition of purity with her jovial spirit and harmonious singing of “I’m Wishing” melting the hearts of viewers.  Memorably joined by the colorful personalities of the short statured miners, the seven dwarfs, whether digging for diamonds and whistling while they work or questioning the benefits of washing up before mealtime, comprise the film’s many adorable sight gags.  In addition to Snow White’s scary dash through the forest, the Queen and her wicked ways deliver other such effectively dark sequences including, the infamous apple eating moment cementing the evildoers cold heart while, Snow White’s courageous love interest, the Prince, feels noticeably one-dimensional in a production bursting with unforgettable characters.  Spellbinding in all its gorgeous technicolor and sending audiences through a gamut of emotions, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains Disney’s unprecedented achievement that captured the hearts of millions nearly eight decades ago with its magic still firmly intact.  Nearly perfect (Disney’s sophomore effort, Pinocchio, being his true masterpiece), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an artistic marvel that will forever stand the test of time.

    Repurposing its gorgeous transfer from the previously available Diamond Edition, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1080p, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any age-related scuffs or other such damage, Disney’s first fairy tale exudes perfection with bright colors leaping off the screen and handsome detail allowing viewers to further appreciate the glorious backgrounds.  In addition, black levels found in the Queen’s cape, the mischievous vultures and Snow White’s dash through the dreary forest are exceptionally inky.  Although no alterations are detected from its previous release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs can appropriately be filed under the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” category.  Furthermore, DisneyView is once again included to optionally view the film with Toby Bluth’s (The Tigger Movie) artwork replacing the vertical black bars.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is prominently positioned with no distortion on hand.  Music is richly soothing while, the film’s climatic finale succeeds in drumming up appropriate excitement.  

    Newly included special features contain, In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (4:22), culled from archive recording interviews from 1956, Iconography (7:16) finds modern artists discussing the impact of the film’s long-lasting imagery and powerful symbolism.  In addition, @DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess (5:16) hosts Animator Mark Henn (Pocahontas), Art Directors Michael Giaimo (Frozen), Bill Schwab (Wreck-It Ralph) and Lorelay Bové (Big Hero 6) on the evolution of the film’s titular character and its striking design choices that continue to influence today, The Fairest Facts of Them All: All 7 Things You May Not Know About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (4:37) hosted by Sofia Carson of Disney’s Descendants, Snow White in Seventy Seconds (1:12), Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White (3:39) and Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (33:15) serving as an extended version of a previously available featurette conclude the release’s latest offerings.  Meanwhile, vintage supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Roy E. Disney and Historian John Canemaker with recordings by Walt Disney, Bringing Snow White to Life (11:35), Hyperion Studios Tour (30:36), Decoding the Exposure Sheet (6:49), Story Meetings: The Dwarfs (5:51), Story Meetings: The Huntsman (3:55), Deleted Scene: Soup Eating Sequence (6:28) and Animation Voice Talent (6:20).  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), The Disney Store (0:32), Disney Parks (0:32), Zootopia (1:38) and The Good Dinosaur (1:38) are included with a DVD edition of the release and, for the first time ever, a Digital HD Code.

    Appropriately kickstarting Disney’s new Signature Collection, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the defining tale that gave immediate acceptance to the animated feature.  Magical, frightening and heartwarming, the endearing classic not only stands as one of the mediums finest achievements but, also one of cinema’s most prized efforts.  Boasting its same spectacular presentation from its 2009 Diamond Edition release, newly included supplements join a plethora of vintage content for a satisfyingly packed high-def sophomore outing.  Mirror, mirror on the wall, Disney appreciators and lovers of all cinema should not fathom being without Disney’s essential first feature.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 2nd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Ant-Man 3D (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Ant-Man (2015)

    Director: Peyton Reed

    Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña & Michael Douglas

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kicking off Phase Three of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man centers on master cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, Role Models) who joins forces with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) in order to protect the secrets of his breakthrough technology from falling into villainous hands.  Equipped with Pym’s powerful shrinking suit, Scott must pull off the heist of a lifetime before those closest to him and the rest of the world suffer the consequences.  Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris), Bobby Cannavale (Win Win) and Michael Peña (End of Watch) co-star.

    Following countless years of development and fan-favorite director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) departing during pre-production in lieu of creative differences, Ant-Man was plagued with endless obstacles and more uncertainty than any other previous Marvel production.  Replaced by the unusually selected Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and additional screenplay contributions by Rudd and Adam McKay (Step Brothers, The Other Guys), Marvel’s pint-sized hero would debut strongly, albeit with minor warts, along the way.  Determined to start anew with its latest phase, Marvel’s Ant-Man brings together the heroes elderly originator (Douglas) with a later iteration of the character (Rudd) in order to pull of a challenging heist for the protection of the world.  Cracking his former mentors formula, Darren Cross (Stoll) crafts his own design of the powerful suit to become the evil Yellowjacket with plans of selling the weaponry to the familiar Hydra organization.  Aided by Pym and his daughter Hope (Lilly), Scott, turning his back on his previous lifestyle and caring only for his young daughter, dons the Ant-Man suit to recover Hank’s technology and battle the Yellowjacket on small scales with explosively large stakes.

    Considering its less than smooth road to completion, Ant-Man is an admirable addition to the Marvel Universe with the charismatically funny Rudd leading the pack.  In addition, Evangeline Lilly provides ample support as the film’s strong female lead, ensuring a more heroically-fitted role in later adventures.  Furthermore, Michael Douglas offers an excellent performance as the elder Pym with easily identifiable chemistry with Rudd and Lilly that showcases the sheer fun Douglas had with the role.  Meanwhile, Michael Peña consistently steals scenes with his comedic-timing and hilarious retellings of stories plagued with unimportant details.  Although the film’s fight sequences impress as Ant-Man and Yellowjacket battle amongst toy train sets and inside briefcases with immersive scale and exciting effects work, Darren Cross’ villainous plan feels largely clichéd with his motivations left foggy and underdeveloped.  In addition, Lang’s commitment to his daughter is sweet but, could have benefitted from a stronger push to make Scott’s journey more emotional.  While minor setbacks are apparent in its finished product, Ant-Man remains serviceably entertaining with top-notch action and charming performances that will most definitely continue to blossom in future installments.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Ant-Man with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Given the character’s scaled-down size, the film’s 3D presentation soars with immersive depth and excellent detail that makes viewers feel like they are in the action.  Not shy of injecting more popping effects work, Ant-Man’s fight sequences offer many in-your-face moments of laser blasts and Thomas the Tank Engine leaping off the screen.  Furthermore, the film’s 2D presentation is nothing short of pristine with natural skin tones, vibrantly detailed colors and wonderfully presented black levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is effortlessly projected while, the film’s score and bombastic action sequences elevate the mix to a first-rate effort.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Peyton Reed & Star Paul Rudd, the Making of An Ant-Sized Heist: A-How-to Guide (14:34) featuerette, Let’s Go the Macroverse (8:06) detailing the macro photography utilized in capturing Ant-Man’s scaled-down tale, WHIH NewsFront (9:12) hosts a series of faux news clips while, Deleted & Extended Scenes with optional commentary from Reed and Rudd (8:39), a Gag Reel (3:25) and Sneak Peeks for Avengers: Age of Ultron (1:36), Agent Carter (2:42), Ultimate Spider-Man VS. The Sinister 6 (2:15), Avengers: Ultron Revolution (2:25) and Playmation Marvel Avengers (0:32) are also included.  Finally, in addition to separate standard Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D discs, a Digital HD Code has also been provided.

    While it may fall short next to the politically charged Captain America: The Winter Solider or the breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s Ant-Man makes an enjoyable debut on a smaller scale than his Avengers brethren.  With its humor mostly hitting and its impressive effects work standing out, Ant-Man still stumbles with a case of predictable originitis and an underdeveloped antagonist.  Fearing for certain disaster following auteur Edgar Wright’s departure, Ant-Man manages to entertain where it counts with an even brighter future on the horizon.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers Marvel’s latest with glorious high-definition video quality, wildly immersive 3D and a satisfyingly booming sound mix.  Also accompanied by a suitable spread of supplements, Ant-Man infests home video with a powerful punch that Marvel enthusiasts will not swat away.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available December 8th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Ant-Man can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

    presents

    THE 2015 HOLIDAY GIFT

    • The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition: While the tikes of today rightly associate the artistry of stop-motion animation with the works of Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie) and Laika Studios (Coraline, Paranorman), The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition presents viewers of all ages with timeless holiday entertainment from the influential Rankin/Bass Productions.  With such Christmas cartoon classics as UPA’s Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Cricket on the Hearth, Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns, this must-have collection also includes Rankin/Bass’ most beloved holiday-themed specials including, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.  Joined by additional special features such as sing-alongs and how-to tutorials on drawing your own Rudolph or Frosty, The Original Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition comes highly recommended and will undoubtedly enjoy heavy rotation by viewers this holiday season.  Available now!

    • Home Alone 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Celebrating its unbelievable 25th anniversary, the original John Hughes produced classic returns to Blu-ray boasting a new superior-looking 4K restoration.  Collected in a paint can familiar to fans of the films, this excellently timed collector’s edition includes other treats such as, a collectible ornament, rubber spider, Battle Plan reproduction and a Wanted poster looking for the Wet Bandits.  While its equally beloved sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, is also included on Blu-ray, purists will be slightly disappointed that later installments, Home Alone 3, Home Alone: Taking Back the House and Home Alone: The Holiday Heist arrive only on DVD.  Although the lack of a complete high-definition collection is unfortunate, the original film’s highly improved transfer and conversation starting packaging makes Home Alone’s 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition well worth upgrading this Christmas.  Available now! 

    • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Similar to Home Alone’s previous outings on high-definition, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has been the victim of dated masters leaving viewers with more to be visually desired.  Thankfully, Warner Bros. have heard fans’ calls and appropriately rescanned this Chevy Chase favorite in 2K from a brand-new interpositive.  Boasting a more filmic appearance and stronger skin tones, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, carrying all previous supplements from its past releases, finally arrives in the presentation fans of the Griswolds rightfully deserve.  Available now!

    • Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy: Marking Marty and Doc’s infamous journey into the distant future of 2015, Universal Studios proudly celebrates the occasion with an exceptional high-definition repackaging of the historic time traveling trilogy.  With all three films looking and sounding stellar, the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy comes overwhelmingly packed with vintage supplements as well as other goodies including, Doc Brown Saves the World! with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doctor Emmett Brown in this newly-produced short film.  In addition, diehard fans will be overjoyed with Universal Studios’ alternate limited edition release of Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures.  Housed in a light-up faux flux capacitor, this must-have set contains the film trilogy, a 64-page collectible booklet and all 26 episodes of the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon on DVD for the first time ever.  Hailed as one of the greatest franchises of all time, Christmas morning won’t be complete without journeying into the past with these ageless adventures.  Available now!

     

    • Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: Continuing the popular exploits of IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) returns to the explosive franchise for his most dangerous mission yet.  When the IMF is shut down by the CIA, a dangerous network known as the Syndicate, comprised of former agents gone rogue, threatens the safety of the globe.  Wanted by their own government, Ethan and his loyal team, along with a mysterious double agent (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), must combine their limited efforts to bring the Syndicate down and restore their names.  Helmed by Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher), Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation combines death-deifying stunts, intense action and a suspenseful narrative that stands proudly with Ghost Protocol’s universally hailed installment.  Arriving with reference worthy high-definition specs and countless special features including, an Audio Commentary with Director Christopher McQuarrie and Star Tom Cruise plus, several making-of featurettes, the fifth installment of Cruise’s exciting series is a mission all viewers should choose to accept this holiday season.  Available December 15th!

     

    • The Purple Rose of Cairo: Limited to just 3,000 units, Writer/Director Woody Allen’s (Annie Hall, Manhattan) love letter to cinema is an achingly moving achievement comprised of magic and romance.  Perfectly casted, Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby) and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) star in this Great Depression-set tale about a movie obsessed dreamer enchanted by the arrival of her movie star crush who leaps off the screen to woo her.  A bonafide gem in Allen’s rich catalog of classics, The Purple Rose of Cairo casts an enchanting spell on viewers while, Film Historian Julie Kirgo’s enthralling liner notes increase ones appreciation for the content.  Available now!

    • The End of the Tour: Based on David Lipsky’s best-seller, this probing character study of Lipsky’s journalistic road-trip interviewing Author David Foster Wallace in the wake of his successful novel is one of the year’s smartest and genuine features.  Jason Segel (The Muppets) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) are excellently matched as two intelligent creatives, butting heads as they explore fame and the desire for normalcy on a journey of unexpected friendship and understanding.  Humorous and heartbreaking, this indie favorite arrives with an Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, a Conversation with Composer Danny Elfman and more.  Critically applauded, The End of the Tour is a moving piece of drama well worth taking the journey with.  Available now! 

    • Inside Out 3D Ultimate Collector’s Edition: From the creative minds of Pixar, Inside Out marks their most unique tale to date centering on the many emotions of an 11-year-old girl as she copes with her unexpected move to San Francisco.  Starring an eclectically hilarious voice cast including, Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Phyllis Smith (The Office), Bill Hader (Trainwreck), Lewis Black (The Daily Show) and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Director Pete Docter’s (Monsters Inc., Up) deeply personal exploration of the mind is endlessly charming with audiences young and old finding themselves profoundly moved by its  conclusion.  Presented with immersive 3D and countless bonus features, Inside Out is the animated gem of the year perfect for acquisition this holiday season.  Available now!

     

    • Aladdin Diamond Edition: Highly anticipated and finally unleashed from the Disney vault, Aladdin makes its domestic high-definition debut with jaw-droppingly colorful clarity and countless special features including, the desirable and never-before-seen Genie outtakes performed by the late Robin Williams.  A magical tour de force, Aladdin remains one of Disney’s most beloved features and a wish come true for all street rats and riff raffs this Christmas.  Available now!   

    • Minions 3D: In Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me prequel, the yellow colored tribe find themselves deeply depressed following the accidental losses of their last several evil leaders.  Set in the progressive 1960s and determined to find their next kingpin, optimistic Minion Kevin, along with Stuart and Bob, road trip to Villain Con International to join forces with evil diva Scarlett Overkill.  After traveling to England to overthrow the Queen, the Minions must devise a way to correct their deeds in order to save their fellow friends and the world.  Accompanied by vocal work from Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Michael Keaton (Toy Story 3) and Geoffrey Rush (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Minions slapstick scenarios and soundtrack of rockin’ hits from The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix make for a thoroughly entertaining ride.  Packed with eye-popping 3D and three brand-new mini movies, Minions is the animated release making audiences go bananas.  Available December 8th! 

    • Cinderella: Continuing their successful string of live-action features based on their esteemed animated classics, Disney brings the whimsy of Cinderella to a new generation.  Bursting with magic and elegance, Director Kenneth Branagh’s (Hamlet, Thor) modernization pays homage while, surpassing its 1950 counterpart with its grandiose production design and exceptional performances from Lily James (Downton Abbey) in the titular role and Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as her wicked stepmother.  One of the finest films of the year, Disney’s Cinderella is the glass slipper that should be under everyone’s Christmas tree this year.  Available now!

    • 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition: Although unhappy with the film’s visual outcome, Walt Disney’s dazzling London-based tale has long been cherished by adoring audiences since its debut in 1961.  Stylistically unique to the delicate precision of other Disney efforts, 101 Dalmatians offers an adventurous tale accompanied by memorable songs and one of Disney’s most beloved antagonists Cruella De Vil.  Shining brighter than ever on Blu-ray, reasons for scooping up 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition this season far exceeds the number of its lovable polka-dotted puppies.  Available now! 

    • Mr. Bean - The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection: A quarter century since its debut, Rowan Atkinson’s hilariously dimwitted character returns with all 14 episodes of his memorable television show.  Presented by Fabulous Films, in association with Shout! Factory, Mr. Bean - The Whole Bean 25th Anniversary Collection provides viewers with suitable supplemental content while, the sheer silliness and physical hijinks of Atkinson’s predominately mum character in all his timeless sketches will most definitely tickle the funny bones of all viewers.  Available now! 

    • Star Wars Rebels - Complete Season One: With less than a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes hold of audiences worldwide, Disney’s first attempts at reestablishing the brand ensures that the Force is in very capable hands.  Taking place before the events of the original film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a ragtag crew of do-gooders determined to take down the Galactic Empire.  With guest appearances from Star Wars alumni such as, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2 and Yoda, this computer-generated Disney XD series packs high-octane action and exciting new characters that have quickly become fan favorites.  With season two airing now, catching up with the crew of the Ghost in their first 15 adventures is the perfect training for young Padawans and Jedi Masters alike.  Available now! 

    • Manimal - The Complete Series: Airing for only a short-lived eight episodes, Fabulous Films and Shout! Factory welcome the animalistic adventures of Manimal: The Complete Series to DVD for the first time ever in the U.S.!  Centering on the wealthy and dashing Dr. Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale, Jaws 3-D), Manimal finds Chase using his abilities to morph into any animal of his choosing to aid the authorities in solving crimes.  Scheduled against the soap opera titan Dallas, Manimal found itself quickly extinct due to low ratings but, has maintained a cult appeal for its over the top premise and impressive transformation sequences.  Wickedly fun, Manimal: The Complete Series also arrives with an interview with Series Creator Co-Creator Glen A. Larson (Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I.), Concept & Production Notes, an episode booklet and more.  With Will Ferrel (Elf) and Adam McKay (Step Brothers) actively developing a film version, reliving its goofy originator this holiday season will serve as an ideal journey down memory lane.  Available now!

    • Automan - The Complete Series: From the creative minds behind Tron and Knight Rider, Automan unashamedly melds the two contrasting concepts for this long lost gem of Generation X.  Including all 13 episodes and countless bonus content including, an all-new 42 minute retrospective, Automan centers on computer nerd Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnez Jr., House of the Long Shadows) as he minds his desk work at the local police department.  Using his programming skills, Walter develops an artificial hologram that can exist in the real world.  Accompanied by the computer engineered Automan and a small droid, Walter hits the streets to battle crime.  Cancelled prematurely, Automan: The Complete Series is a sci-fi spectacle of 80s technology and street crime that has thankfully resurfaced in its entirety for the first time in America.  Available now!

    • Agent Carter - The Complete First Season: Reprising her role from Captain America: The First Avenger, Hayley Atwell stars as secret agent Peggy Carter as she attempts to cope with the loss of Steve Rogers and juggle her position in the male-dominated workforce of the 1940s.  After learning her friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) has been framed for supplying weapons to the enemy, Agent Carter must fight to clear his name and recover the stolen goods.  Delivering one of television’s stronger and well-written female characters, Marvel’s Agent Carter is an engaging, tightly paced mini-series that  fans of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe will find themselves instantly hooked on.  Available now!

    • Blood and Lace: Long desired and finally available for the first time on home video, Blood and Lace serves as a bizarre precursor to what would become the slasher boom of the late 70s and early 80s.  Following the grizzly murder of her prostituting mother, Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson, F Troop) is placed in an orphanage, fearful that she will become the next target of her mother’s hammer-wielding assailant.  With orphanage head Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame, It’s a Wonderful Life) and her seedy handyman concealing their share of disturbing secrets, Ellie’s safety becomes even more uncertain.  Filled with an uncomfortable atmosphere and a disturbing twist ending, Blood and Lace is joined by an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith, an alternate opening title, its theatrical trailer and reversible cover art.  In a year of seemingly endless titles from Scream Factory, Blood and Lace stands out as one of their most coveted.  Available now! 

    • The Car: Powered by high-octane evil, this cult classic from Director Elliot Silverstein (Nightmare Honeymoon) stars James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) as a newly appointed sheriff in a desert town disturbed by a devilish automobile hellbent on destroying anyone in its path.  Joined by new interviews with its director and Actors Melody Thomas Scott and Geraldine Keams, a theatrical trailer, a newly designed cover art by Scream Factory favorite Justin Osbourn and more, The Car races to Blu-ray just in time for viewers to hitch a ride this Christmas.  Available December 15th! 

    • Eaten Alive: Continuing to impress domestic audiences with their diverse output, Arrow Video delivers another first-rate effort with Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) Eaten Alive.  Set in the Louisiana wetlands at the seedy Starlight Hotel, owner Judd’s (Neville Brand, The Police Connection) homicidal tendencies run amuck as he feeds unsuspecting guests to his hungry alligator.  Bloody and bizarre, Hooper’s underrated gem arrives restored in 2K from the OCN while, bonus content runs deep with endless featurettes and an impressive 22-page booklet.  As if anymore bait were needed to lure viewers, Eaten Alive is one of the exploitation genres top releases of the year.  Available now!

    • Ghost Story: Based on the novel by Peter Straub, four elderly friends are haunted by a ghostly apparition in their wintry New England town.  Headlined by seasoned icons including, Fred Astaire (Swing Time), Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Little Caesar) and John Houseman (Rollerball), Ghost Story oozes atmosphere and supernatural tension.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory delivers this perfectly timed release with a filmic presentation and a slew of special features from an Audio Commentary with Director John Irvin and new interviews with key cast and crew to vintage trailers and a spooky reversible cover art.  Chilling and stylistically paced, Ghost Story makes for a frightening addition into your horror library this winter season.  Available now!

    • Goodnight Mommy: Hailing from Austria, twin brothers Elias and Lukas are troubled when their mother returns home from surgery, heavily bandaged and acting differently.  Growing more unconvinced of the woman who claims to be their mother, the twins take drastic measures to uncover the terrifying truth.  Similar to an unnerving fever dream, Goodnight Mommy seeps under viewers’ skin with an unsettling tone and an even more frightening finale.  Accompanied with a conversational interview with Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy is a shocking slice of foreign cinema that easily stands as one of the year’s standout contemporary horror releases.  Available now!

    • White of the Eye: All is not as it seems in 1987’s White of the Eye when an attractive woman falls victims to a demented killer of housewives who uses Indian rituals in his murders.  Helmed by Donald Cammell (Performance, Demon Seed) and starring David Keith (Firestarter) and Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), this suspenseful thriller will keep viewers’ blood thoroughly chilled.  Repurposing U.K. distributor Arrow Video’s superb transfer, Scream Factory compliments its release with an Audio Commentary with Director Donald Cammell and Biographer Sam Umland, deleted scenes, an interview with Actor Alan Rosenberg, reversible cover art and more.  Available now!

    • Society: Nightmarish and bold, Brian Yuzna’s (Bride of Re-Animator) directorial debut arrives in a definitive high-definition release from Arrow Video.  Suspecting his wealth family and privileged peers are hiding sinister secrets, paranoid teen Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Days of Our Lives) uncovers a twisted subculture for the richies of Beverly Hills.  Sporting a virtually flawless presentation bursting with bold colors and exceptional clarity, Society comes dripping with newly crafted bonus content that leaves no stone left unturned.  Although its original flesh-covered packaging edition has since sold out, Arrow Video’s standard release of Society is unquestionably one of the best horror releases of 2015!  Available now!

    • Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman: Celebrating its 75th anniversary, J.B. Kaufman’s definitive overview of Walt Disney’s animated followup to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a marvel to behold.  Containing over 200 pieces of art and culled from various interviews and recorded conferences, Kaufman’s expertly researched achievement is the finest of its kind and stands as our book of the year!  Available now! 

    • Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk: Complimenting the 30th anniversary re-release of the famed trilogy, Klastorin and Atamniuk’s literary companion is a treasure trove for dedicated fans.  Packed with overwhelming insight into each film’s extensive shooting schedule and incredible imagery of production art, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History also treats readers to several removable posters and reproduction pieces.  Further documenting Back to the Future’s short-lived Saturday morning cartoon and their exciting attraction at Universal Studios’ theme parks, Klastorin and Atamaniuk’s passion project is essential reading for all Back to the Future devotees.  Available now!

    • John Hughes: A Life in Film by Kirk Honeycutt: Highlighting the eternally youthful enthusiasm of Writer/Director John Hughes, Honeycutt’s career spanning work contains interviews with Hughes collaborators including, Matthew Broderick (Ferris Buller’s Day Off), Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club), Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club), Steve Martin (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and more.  Providing insight into Hughes’ family life and heartwarming friendship with the late John Candy, Honeycutt’s humanizing and photograph-filled coverage of Hughes is one you won’t soon forget.  Available now!

    • The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie by Jerry Schmitz: Making their cinematic return this year, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang comes alive in their first CG-animated 3D feature.  Adapting the simplistic yet, treasured designs and wit of Schulz’s beloved creations was no easy task as covered in Schmitz’s enthralling read.  With a foreword by Director Steve Martino, The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie describes the painstaking detail in bringing Charlie Brown and friends into a 3D realm while, cracking a story that would faithfully honor their 50-plus year legacy.  Unquestionably one of the year’s best making-of books, The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie is an invaluable resource for one of the year’s finest films.  Available now!

    • Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents - The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films by Douglas Brode: Chronologically ordered, Brode’s historical journey through science-fiction’s latest and greatest cinematic achievements are compiled in one passionate collection.  From 1927’s influential Metropolis to the many gems consisting of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion wizardry, Brode’s analysis also awards George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Pixar’s Wall-E and Marvel Studio’s most recent Guardians of the Galaxy as sci-fi’s most remarkable efforts.  Accompanied with rare photographs, ratings and background information on each production, Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents - The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films will make a suitable stocking-stuffer for all sci-fi fans.  Available now!

    • Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness by Mark Salisbury: Considered one of our favorite films of the year, Mark Salisbury’s stunning look into Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance is breathtaking.  With inspired production art and intriguing character bios, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness also explores the practical and digital means in bringing the film’s ghostly creations to life.  With several takeaway items including, a miniature film poster, Salisbury’s guide to one of the year’s most eerily seductive films is an exceptional entryway into del Toro’s fantastical imagination.  Available now!

    • Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke: As Walt Disney looked beyond the success of his short films to the future of animated features, the educational efforts to perfect his artists’ abilities were increased.  Dormant for nearly 80 years, Hahn and Miller-Zarneke’s latest effort resurrects the countless lectures and transcribed classes Disney’s artists were educated in leading up to the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Animation enthusiasts will be fascinated by its indispensable lessons and extraordinary artwork making it one of Disney Editions’ most outstanding gems of the year.  Available now!

    • Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Cards Volume One with Commentary by Gary Gerani and Robert V. Conte: Serving as a bonafide nostalgia trip, Abrams Comicarts compiles all five collectible sets and stickers of Topps’ original Star Wars trading cards.  Presented in their entirety, first generation fans will be delighted to own the entire run in this wonderfully presented hardcover.  With welcome commentary from original cards editor Gary Gerani and four bonus trading cards included, Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Cards Volume One will return fans back to a childhood from a galaxy far, far away.  Available now!

    • Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History by Daniel Wallace: Akin to Harper Design’s Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, Insight Editions’ 30 year overview of the Ghostbusters franchise is a rewarding read that traces the pop culture phenomenon of the original two films, their animated television shows plus, the endless merchandise that exploded in their wake.  With interviews from key talent and filled with behind-the-scenes photos and other specialty items, bustin’ will make you feel good after reading Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual HistoryAvailable now!

     

     

  • Inside Out 3D Ultimate Collector's Edition (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Inside Out (2015)

    Director: Pete Docter

    Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black & Mindy Kaling

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out travels into the mind of 11-year-old Riley as she emotionally processes her move to a new city.  With the optimistic Joy (Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation) and her fellow emotions Sadness (Phyllis Smith, The Office), Fear (Bill Hader, Trainwreck), Anger (Lewis Black, The Daily Show) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project), the contrasting quintet brace themselves for an adventure of self discovery.  Richard Kind (Spin City), Diane Lane (Secretariat) and Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) provide additional vocal talent.

    Breaking new ground in the form of animated storytelling, Inside Out takes viewers on an ingenious journey through the inner workings of an emotionally evolving young girl.  Abruptly whisked away from her idyllic home in Minnesota to the unfamiliar San Francisco, Riley’s once happy existence is traumatically challenged.  Processing the life-changing events are Riley’s gamut of emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust as the colorful characters strive to stabilize Riley’s rocky feelings.  Determined to right the ship, Joy and her fellow cohorts find themselves overwhelmed by the always gloomy Sadness as their control center begins rapidly changing with Riley’s increasing unhappiness.  As chaos ensues and previously happy memories are compromised, Joy’s frantic attempts at repair results in her and Sadness transplanted to the complex dwellings of Riley’s long-term memories.  While the remaining emotions only cause Riley to grow more distant from her parents, Joy and Sadness navigate the labyrinth of her subconscious and encounter imaginative characters while, learning invaluable information about their feelings in order for Riley to be whole once again.

    Complimented by a perfectly selected voice cast, Inside Out gives life to the ever-changing quirks that make us tick with knee-slapping humor and immense heart.  From Fear’s hilariously paranoid personality and Anger’s constant desire to curse to the film’s wickedly smart explanations behind our ability to retain selected memories, Inside Out explores the bowels of the human psyche unlike any film before.  Simultaneously absorbing Riley’s personal journey and her emotions own epic misadventure, audiences’ hearts are consistently tugged between characters they care the world for.  Following Joy and Sadnesses encounter with Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong (Kind) and his selfless fate, viewers will be unquestionably left teary-eyed.  Remarkably constructed and emotionally captivating, Director Pete Docter’s imaginative investigation of our feelings is a visual triumph and the latest in Pixar’s modern day masterpieces.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Inside Out with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the boldly defined colors of its emotional characters and their sprawling control center, picture quality is immaculate.  Detail found in the illuminating glow of Joy and the lightly fuzzy skin of her co-stars is astounding while, black levels, most appreciatively during Joy and Bing Bong’s escape from the Memory Dump, are deeply inky and free of any crushing artifacts.  Echoing the high standards of previously released Pixar productions, Inside Out look flawless.  In addition, its 3D counterpart located on Disc 2 is beautifully immersive, inviting viewers into its unique world with remarkable depth easily making it one of the year’s finest examples of 3D entertainment.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is excellently prioritized with strong fidelity throughout.  The delicate key strokes of Composer Michael Giacchino’s score are beautifully relayed while, the crumbling sounds of Riley’s personality islands maintain a thunderous presence resulting in a universally applauded mix.  Special features located on Disc 1 include, an Audio Commentary with Director Pete Docter & Co-Director Ronnie Del Carmen, Lava (7:12), Director James Ford Murphy’s short film about a lovesick volcano that preceded Inside Out theatrically looks lovely and contains a hauntingly beautiful ukulele tune but, lacks the memorability of past shorts.  In addition, the all-new short Riley’s First Date? (4:40) finds Inside Out’s human star embarking on possibly her first date much to the uneasiness of her father who hysterically bonds with her date over AC/DC.  Also included, Path to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out (11:22) is an inspirational look at the female artists and voice talent who share their childhood ambitions and sage advice with viewers.  Finally, Mixed Emotions (7:17) focuses on the intensive research developing the film’s emotional characters and their appearances while, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney: Infinity 3.0, Aulani - Disney Resort & Spa (0:32), Disney Movies Anywhere (0:40), The Good Dinosaur (1:14), Toy Story That Time Forgot (0:59) and Tomorrowland (0:50) round out the disc’s supplements.  

    Additionally, more special features located on Disc 3 include, a multi-part Behind the Scenes series comprised of Story of the Story (10:30), Mapping the Mind (8:24), Our Dad, the Filmmakers (7:25), Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out (7:09), The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing (4:43) and Mind Candy (14:26).  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (16:53), Trailers for Remember (1:38), Experience (2:19) and the Japan Trailer (2:30) can also be found with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code rounding out the remaining extras.

    Following their timeless classics of talking toys and virtually speechless robots, Inside Out joins the ranks of Pixar’s most endearing and deeply original concepts.  Starring and conjuring a variety of emotions for viewers, Director Pete Docter’s most daring effort to date is a masterful accomplishment that blends imagination and heart effortlessly.  Exceptionally presented, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers Inside Out with pristine technical grades, top-quality 3D and a handsome dose of additional bonus content.  Distinct and powerfully moving, Inside Out is the animated gem of the year!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Inside Out can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)

    Director: Steve Purcell

    Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kristen Schaal, Kevin McKidd, Wallace Shawn & Emily Hahn

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a post-Christmas playdate, Toy Story That Time Forgot finds Bonnie’s toys in a prehistoric predicament when they encounter the hilariously delusional Battlesaurs action figure line.  Entangled in gladiator-like battles and their safe return to Bonnie’s room looking grim, Trixie the triceratops is the gang’s only hope at survival.  Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Tim Allen (Last Man Standing), Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers), Kevin McKidd (Brave), Wallace Shawn (Clueless) and Emily Hahn (Toy Story 3) provide the vocal talent.  

    Debuting on ABC as a holiday-themed television special, Toy Story That Time Forgot finds Pixar’s finest, Woody (Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Allen), Rex (Shawn) and Toy Story 3’s Trixie (Schaal) in a land like no other during Bonnie’s playdate.  Surrounded by the deadly serious Battlesaurs action figure line, the gang are originally embraced by their fellow toys with Trixie taking a particular liking to the leader of the pack Reptillus Maximus (McKidd).  Before long, Trixie and Rex are equipped with battle-mode enhancements and forced to combat with their own friends to prove their loyalty to their fellow dinos.  While fan favorites Woody and Buzz take a noticeable backseat in this latest adventure, Toy Story That Time Forgot gives the adorably bubbly Trixie her time to shine as the heroine of the tale.  Introducing Reptillus and his fellow Battlesaurs to their awareness as toys, Trixie, along with an equally cute Angel Kitty ornament, reverses their apocalyptic way of thinking to allow joy into their hearts.  Excellently conceived, the Battlesaurs and their epic dwellings fit in wonderfully with the Toy Story gang while, Reptillus Maximus’ attraction to Trixie is heartwarmingly sweet.  Although visually stunning, Toy Story That Time Forgot feels too familiar to Buzz Lightyear’s own delusions in the original film to appear wholly unique.  Admittedly not as memorable as their Halloween-themed outing, 2013’s Toy Story of Terror!, Toy Story That Time Forgot still entertains and generously adds to the beloved characters enduring appearances.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Toy Story That Time Forgot with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Astoundingly crisp and vibrant, bright colors found in the toys’ outfits and the deep reds of the Battlesaurs make an impactful presence.  In addition, detail is immaculate with chipped paint in Trixie’s plastic and the various joints of the many prehistoric warriors appearing most clearly.  Awarded the same care as Pixar’s theatrical efforts, Toy Story That Time Forgot looks magnificent.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is always audible while, Composer Michael Giacchino’s (Tomorrowland, Inside Out) score greatly impresses.  More forceful moments of action give a splendid rise to the mix with Rex’s powerful stomps providing effective bass sounds.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Steve Purcell & Head of Story Derek Thompson, Reptillus! (10:51) finds many of the artists discussing the extensive background of the Battlesaurs, their visual development and the vocal recording sessions for their head dinosaur.  In addition, Toy Story Goes to Comic-Con (3:39), Karaoke: “My Unexpected Friend” (3:59) with Reptillus Sings/You Sing options, Battlesaurs - Animated Opening (0:50) and Deleted Scenes (9:25) with intros by Director Steve Purcell are also included.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), The Good Dinosaur (1:14) and Inside Out (1:27) are joined by a Digital HD Code.

    Warming the hearts of viewers with yet another television special, Toy Story That Time Forgot finds Bonnie’s more prominent toys taking a breather while, the Kristen Schaal voiced Trixie takes center stage.  Introducing the barbarically cool Battlesaurs, the gang’s latest mini adventure may not be the most original but still offers ample entertainment during its short runtime.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment sprinkles their pixie dust to deliver a first-rate transfer, striking sound mix and serviceable supplements.  Unlike its suggested title, Toy Story That Time Forgot is hardly forgettable and a welcome addition to everyone’s favorite toy tales.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Toy Story That Time Forgot can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

     

  • Tomorrowland (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Tomorrowland (2015)

    Director: Brad Bird

    Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson & Raffey Cassidy

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The Incredibles and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Tomorrowland brings former boy-genius Frank Walker (George Clooney, Up in the Air) and curious teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) together for a mission to uncover a mysterious utopian realm that can salvage their own world’s future.  Hugh Laurie (House M.D.), Raffey Cassidy (Dark Shadows), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words), Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side) co-star.

    Inspired by the limitless possibilities of a better tomorrow and Walt Disney’s own conceptual views for an innovative utopia, Tomorrowland brings viewers back to a simpler, more optimistic time where a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson, Harvey Beaks) brings his intelligent enthusiasm to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Although dismissed for his inventions impractical functionalities, Frank is charmed by Athena (Cassidy) who bestows upon him a mysterious pin leading him to a futuristic world unlike anything seen before.  With hope and promise within reach, present day optimist Casey Newton (Robertson) refuses to accept the declining climate of her world littered with global warming, wars and starvation while, searching for the answers to correct it.  Also granted with a similarly mysterious pin, Casey is given a glimpse into the euphoric world of tomorrow only to be pursued by crazed robots intent on eliminating her.  Joining forces with the eternally youthful-looking Athena and an elder Frank (Clooney), the trio travel to Tomorrowland to learn of an impending apocalyptic disaster claiming their world and must devise a way to change their futures.

    Cloaked in mystery and coyly promoted with a less is more approach, Tomorrowland is a refreshingly original concept that confronts today’s overly cynical audiences with a much needed dose of adventurous buoyancy.  A visual delight of futuristic landscapes and technological advancements, Director Brad Bird’s sci-fi opus delivers strong performances from the always dependable Clooney and his talented young co-stars Robertson and Cassidy.  In addition, Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of the cold-hearted Nix is accomplished with glee and well-executed dry humor.  Co-scripted by Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus), structural issues unfortunately plague Tomorrowland’s action-packed pace with an abrupt halt that nearly severs its momentum.  Critically divided and failing to impress at the box-office, Tomorrowland remains a wondrous achievement that dares to be unique and generally succeeds.  While it may not be immune to imperfections, Tomorrowland will enchant audiences with repeated viewings and most assuredly grow in appreciation as the future nears.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tomorrowland with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.20:1 aspect ratio.  Presenting a wide canvas of natural skin tones, space age vistas and flawless detail in costumes and exceptionally crisp black levels, Tomorrowland is a sight of perfection that deserves the moniker of high-definition reference material.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is excellently prioritized while the effective sound design and Composer Michael Giacchino’s (Super 8, Jurassic World) rousing score, which ranks as one of the year’s best, pushes the mix to exciting bounds.  Special features include, a Plus Ultra Short (3:18) to be played optionally before the feature, Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland with Brad Bird (7:09), Casting Tomorrowland (7:27), A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session (6:03), The World of Tomorrow Science Hour - Hosted by Futurologist David Nix (5:08) and an Animated Short: The Origins of Plus Ultra (3:36) which serves as a slightly extended version of its counterpart.  In addition, Brad Bird Production Diaries (4:34), a Blast from the Past Commercial (0:41), Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions (23:28) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (0:32), K.C. Undercover (0:32), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52) and Inside Out are also included.  Furthermore, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code round out the release’s supplemental offerings.

    Escorted to a great big beautiful adventure, Tomorrowland impresses upon viewers the magical possibilities of a brighter future while bearing in mind the harsh conditions affecting our world today.  Bursting with originality and imagination, Director Brad Bird’s live-action sophomore effort is not without its faults but, ultimately triumphs.  Blasting to home video, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment awards Tomorrowland with reference worthy technical merits creating an out of this world viewing experience.  Transported to a world of unparalleled wonder, Tomorrowland will leave lasting impressions on those considered dreamers.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available October 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tomorrowland can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Aladdin Diamond Edition (1992) Blu-ray Review

    Aladdin (1992)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements

    Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman & Gilbert Gottfried

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on a local street thief in the Arabian city of Agrabah, Aladdin finds its title character falling hopelessly in love with the Princess Jasmine while utilizing wishes from a powerful genie to transform him into a prized suitor.  Hunted by the devilish Jafar for possession of the genie’s lamp, Aladdin must learn to accept his true self in order to win the heart of Jasmine and protect the kingdom from the evil sorcerer’s dark forces.  Scott Weinger (Full House), Robin Williams (Good Morning, Vietnam), Linda Larkin (Joshua), Jonathan Freeman (The Ice Storm) and Gilbert Gottfried (Problem Child) comprise the film’s vocal talent.

    In the wake of celebrated hits including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin would continue to whisk audiences away to new, exotic locales and exciting adventures while elevating the era known as the Disney Renaissance to soaring new heights.  Originally pitched by the late Lyricist Howard Ashman (Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid), Aladdin perfectly blends fantasy and romance with a stunning array of beautifully rendered characters each bursting with personality and humor.  From the frantic marketplace sequences of Aladdin evading pursuing guards to the high-octane, computer-generated journey through the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin and Jasmine’s enchanting carpet ride among the stars, Aladdin dazzles with magnificent artistry.  Complimented by gifted voice performances, the late Robin Williams’ turn as the beloved blue Genie eternally tickles audiences funny bones with his quick-witted energy and hilarious, if not slightly dated, impressions of celebrity personalities including, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arsenio Hall, Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre.  

    Earning two Academy Awards for Best Music (original song and score respectively), Composer Alan Menken and Lyricist Tim Rice’s enchanting melodies and irresistible songs for “A Whole New World” and “One Jump Ahead” cement the film’s legacy as one of Disney’s most cherished achievements.  Enormously praised and credited as the most successful film of 1992, Aladdin continues to bring joy to a new generation of viewers with its immense heart and highly regarded animation demonstrating the very best of Disney’s seemingly endless talents.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Aladdin into its illustrious Diamond line with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with bold colors that erupt on screen while black levels read exquisitely inky, the results are most satisfying.  Furthermore, detail is top-notch while the computer-generated workings of the Cave of Wonders offer exceptional depth and clarity.  Long awaited for its domestic high-definition debut, Aladdin’s appearance is a wish come true.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is excellently delivered with the delicacies of Menken’s score expertly prioritized while song numbers provide powerful punches leaving listeners singing in their seats.  Newly crafted special features include, The Genie Outtakes (8:53), Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic (18:53), Unboxing Aladdin (4:40), Genie 101 (3:59) and Ron & John: You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me (5:36).  In addition, vintage supplements include, Deleted Songs (13:57), Deleted Scenes (5:43), Music Videos for “Proud of Your Boy” Performed by Clay Aiken (2:20) joined by its Original Story Reel (2:18) and a Behind the Scenes of the Music Video (3:20) plus, “A Whole New World” Performed by Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey (4:14), a Behind the Scenes of the Music Video (3:46) and “A Whole New World” Performed by Regina Belle & Peabo Bryson (4:07).  Additionally, Disney Song Selection (11:28), Inside the Genie’s Lamp: Guided Tour (6:13), The Genie World Tour (3:14), an Audio Commentary with Producers/Directors John Musker and Ron Clements & Co-Producer Amy Pell as well as an Audio Commentary with Supervising Animators Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg and Glen Keane are also included.  Finally, A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin (1:10:52), Alan Menken: Musical Renaissance Man (19:55), The Art of Aladdin: Art Review with Filmmakers’ Commentary (8:45), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), The Return of Jafar Trailer (0:43), Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (0:32), The Muppets (0:32), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52), The Good Dinosaur (1:14), Inside Out (1:27) and Tomorrowland (0:50) along with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code conclude the extensive extras.

    Beloved more than ever by audiences of all ages, Aladdin is a magical tour de force that stands out as one of Disney’s most respected and crowd-pleasing efforts of the 1990s.  After much time, Disney’s overdue Diamond Edition release is well worth its wait with gorgeous sights, grandiose sound and sizable supplements to satisfy all street rats and riff raffs.  Desires for a high-definition magic carpet ride will have their wish granted with this essential release.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available October 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Aladdin can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #6: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Spaced Invaders (1990) & Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #6

    Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

    Director: Leigh Whannell

    Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell (Saw, Dead Silence), Insidious: Chapter 3 travels back in time to the early origins of spiritualist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye, Ouija) as grieving teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, A.N.T. Farm) seeks her assistance to contact her late mother.  Living a fragile existence, Elise has sworn off her psychic practices until Quinn finds herself the victim of a supernatural entity.  With assistance from amateur ghost chasers Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specks (Whannell), Elise must venture once more into The Further to save Quinn’s life.  Following its financially successful predecessor that tended to over-explain and tarnish the mystique of its supernatural antagonists, Insidious: Chapter 3 moves backward for a prequel based tale that packs several effective jump scares while lacking the originality of its franchise starter.  Shining a welcome spotlight on spiritual expert Elise and to an unfortunately lesser extent, the fan-favorite duo of Tucker and Specks, the paranormal happenings of the film are far too generic to stand out.  Donning multiple creative roles in front and behind the camera, Whannell’s first directorial outing is hardly a wasted affair with an admirable performance from Shaye and unique make-up designs of the film’s ghostly apparitions.  While its competently constructed and occasionally succeeds at building tension, Insidious: Chapter 3 never rises above mediocrity.  

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Insidious: Chapter 3 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a crystal clear picture, skin tones are always natural-looking while, detail in costumes and set decoration are splendid.  From excellently saturated colors to the dark explorations of The Further, black levels are astoundingly inky and free of any digital noise.  With no anomalies on display, Insidious: Chapter 3 appears hauntingly perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is exceptionally crisp while music cues and startling jump scares offer a shrieking depth that greatly impresses the entire runtime.  Special features include, Origin Story: Making Chapter 3 (19:04), Stunts: The Car Crash (9:35), Macabre Creations (8:58), Cherry Glazerr: Tiptoe Through the Tulips (5:16), Being Haunted: A Psychic Medium Speaks (11:34) and Deleted Scenes (5:16).  Additionally, Previews for The Final Girls (2:48), Air (2:12), Risen (1:31), Extinction (1:59), Lake Placid VS. Anaconda (1:37) and Broken Horses (2:35) are included along with a Digital HD Code.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Insidious: Chapter 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Spaced Invaders (1990)

    Director: Patrick Read Johnson

    Starring: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Gregg Berger & Ariana Richards

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Co-produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label and Smart Egg Pictures (Critters), Spaced Invaders finds a quiet midwestern community uprooted on Halloween night by a crew of misguided martians mistaking Orson Welles’ infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast as a call for hostile takeover of the human infested planet.  Hip yet wet behind the ears, the mini martians find themselves on a series of unexpected misadventures as they attempt to return to their home planet safely.  Marking the inaugural feature of Director Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out, Angus), Spaced Invaders takes the zaniness of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and sci-fi shenanigans of Howard the Duck to deliver an over the top space comedy for preteens.  While attempting to invade Earth, the five dimwitted martians quickly realize their nonthreatening, Halloween costume appearances doesn’t bode well for them as new kid in town Kathy (Ariana Richards, Jurassic Park), dressed in full Alien garb, befriends the green visitors.  As Kathy’s sheriff father (Douglas Barr, Deadly Blessing) and the elderly Mr. Wrenchmuller (Royal Dano, The Dark Half) eventually suspect invaders from Mars are in town, the young girl seeks to help her new friends return home much to the dismay of their ship’s Enforcer Drone committed to seeing Earth in ruins and the martians pay for their failures.  Silly although rarely humorous, Spaced Invaders makes attempts to appear hip to its then audience but, stumbles at every turn.  While its animatronic effects are generally pleasing and reminds viewers of a more charming time for movie magic, Spaced Invaders tends to overstay its welcome by its final act, dragging its feet to see the martians make their expected getaway back to Mars. 

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Spaced Invaders with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably dated, flakes, speckles and occasional vertical lines are on display while skin tones are decently relayed with mediocre detail.  Bolder colors such as bright reds pop reasonably well although others appear rather drab.  Meanwhile, black levels possess their share of speckling and fail to bolster more pleasing, inkier results.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, sound is largely dull and unimpressive while dialogue is at least audible and free of any severely intruding factors.  Expectedly, no special features are included.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Spaced Invaders can be purchased via MillCreekDirect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins & Keanu Reeves

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blending the narrative of Bram Stoker’s iconic tale and the factual history of Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s Dracula centers on the tragic Transylvanian prince (Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy) as he travels to 19th-century London in search of love.  After an encounter with the radiant Mina (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, Count Dracula’s overwhelming passion brings darkness and horror to those who care for Mina.  Drenched in gothic atmosphere with an acute sense of detail, Director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) exceptional adaptation successfully paints its antagonist less as a bloodsucking monster but more a tragic Shakespearean figure audiences empathize with.  Brilliantly performed by Gary Oldman, Count Dracula’s unique costume designs and deliciously offbeat makeup brings to life a one of a kind interpretation of the grim character.  In addition, the supporting thespians including, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric Van Helsing and Tom Waits as the deranged Renfield deliver excellent performances while Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker serves as the sole casting miscalculation.  Although considered cliché today, Reeves poor English accent and flat performance consistently removes audiences from the otherwise mesmerizing film.  Insistent on utilizing practical effects from luscious matte paintings to various in-camera techniques, Director Francis Ford Coppola achieves an array of visual splendor that captivates audiences.  Deservedly earning itself three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing, Coppola’s erotically charged and frighteningly surreal adaptation has aged considerably well, living on as one of the more ambitious retellings of the Count’s fateful saga.

    Following its previously subpar release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly mastered in 4K, the results are night are day with impressive textures, excellently inky black levels and naturally fitting skin tones.  While a minor framing adjustment is present on the release, it’s hardly deal breaking to excuse the overwhelmingly positive attributes to the transfer.  Further complimented by sharper detail and beautifully relayed colors to better highlight the various costume designs and ever-changing lighting effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never looked better.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, audio is pitch perfect with flawless dialogue levels and Composer Wojciech Kilar’s (The Ninth Gate) empowering score enthralling listeners.  In addition, hushed tones, thunderous sound effects and eerie ambiance all excel with proper balance and effectiveness.  The bountiful special features include, an Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola (3:55), a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effects Director Roman Coppola & Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom as well as a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola.  Additionally, newly included featurettes Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (29:11) and Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son (20:07) are joined by previously available supplements The Blood is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (27:48), The Costumes are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (14:02), In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects (18:46), Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (12:06), Deleted & Extended Scenes (28:14) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36).  Lastly, a Digital HD Code closes out the release’s gratifying supplemental package.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Cinderella (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Cinderella (2015)

    Director: Kenneth Branagh

    Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård & Helena Bonham Carter

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the timeless fairy tale, Cinderella centers on kind-hearted Ella (Lily James, Downton Abbey) whose world is turned upside down following the passing of her father.  Reduced to the equivalent of a servant by her cruel stepmother and her dimwitted daughters, a chance encounter with the prince and a touch of magic restores hope to the enchanting young lady’s life.  Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) co-star.

    In the successful wake of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, Disney reaches new heights with their latest live-action revisionist tale of Cinderella.  Providing slightly more background on its title character than its 1950 animated counterpart, a young Ella is seen surrounded by her loving parents and picturesque household.  In a brief but charming appearance, Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) as Cinderella’s mother urges her daughter to keep courage and kindness forever in her heart as she lie on her deathbed.  As years pass and Ella’s father learns to love anew, Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and her two gaudy daughters move in, bringing with them a noticeable coldness towards Ella.  Away on business and falling ill, Ella’s father tragically passes away leaving his only daughter in the trenches of the now widowed Lady Tremaine.  Unloading an unspeakable wave of cruelty on her stepdaughter, Ella becomes the sole servant of the household, forced to wait on her wicked stepmother and selfish stepsisters.  Maintaining her promise to her late mother, Ella attempts to keep her spirits high while caring for friendly mice and always thinking of others first.  Overwhelmed with taunts by her new family leads Ella to a chance encounter with a dashing prince, known only as Kit (Madden).  Enraptured by her presence and urged by his father to wed a princess, Kit vows to see her again by inviting all citizens to the royal ball.  With the assistance of her magical Fairy Godmother (Bonham Carter), the newly nicknamed Cinderella enjoys a romantic evening with Kit, solidifying their love for one another.  With her royal-like appearance available for so long and fearing Kit’s reaction to her peasant status, Cinderella flees the castle as the definitive search for the prince’s true love unfolds.

    Beautifully realized, Director Kenneth Branagh’s captivating adaptation takes the simplistic fairy tale and enriches its narrative with majesty and rich visual grandeur.  Perfectly selected, Lily James casts a spell on viewers with her dizzying elegance as Cinderella while Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett offers humanizing new depth to the detestable Lady Tremaine.  Complimented by lush costume design by Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator) and gorgeous production design by Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Hugo), Cinderella is the nearest example of a fairy tale come true.  Abundantly faithful to its animated predecessor, Cinderella manages to weave its own identity that can safely be praised and cherished as Disney’s finest reimagining to date.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cinderella with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Much like its protagonist, picture quality is perfect in virtually every way.  Skin tones are warm and inviting while, the wide spectrum of colors found in costumes, most noticeably in Cinderella’s sparkling blue gown, pop beautifully.  Meanwhile, detail from settings to computer-generated creations are crisp with black levels always appearing deep and inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is flawless while more intense moments involving horseback chases and Composer Patrick Doyle’s (Brave) rousing score gives listeners a most exceptional soundscape.  Special features include, A Fairy Tale Comes to Life (9:23) where key talent including Producer Simon Kinberg, Director Kenneth Branagh, Screenwriter Chris Weitz and the cast discuss the impact of the timeless tale and the opportunities their adaptation has to add to its legacy.  In addition, Costume Test Fun (2:39), Staging the Ball (11:27), where the various creative departments discuss their roles in realizing the film’s key sequence, an Alternate Opening: Ella’s Childhood (3:02), Ella’s Fury Friends (3:43) and Frozen Fever (7:56), the Frozen inspired short film attached to the film during its theatrical release are also included.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (1:02), Once Upon A Time (0:31), Monkey Kingdom (1:02), Born in China (1:14) and Inside Out (1:27) round out the supplements while, a DVD edition of the film and Digital HD Code also accompany the release.

    Bursting with magic and whimsy, Cinderella, while adjusting minor components, pays homage to Disney’s iconic animated masterpiece to deliver an even finer film.  Masterfully casted and beautifully designed, Disney’s latest live-action redo is a splendid accomplishment that will leave viewers entranced.  Exceptional looking with a vigorous sound mix, Cinderella sparkles in high-definition confidently leaving viewers of all ages happily ever after.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Cinderella can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Monkey Kingdom (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Monkey Kingdom (2015)

    Director(s): Mark Linfield & Alastair Fothergill

    Starring: Tina Fey

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the ancient ruins of Sri Lanka, Disneynature warmly invites viewers to Monkey Kingdom.  Centering on Maya, a toque macaque monkey, whose world is turned upside down with the addition of her son Kip.  Struggling in her low social class, the single mother strives to grant her new baby the best advantages in life.  Sending Maya and her extended family through countless adventures along the way, many of nature’s exotic magic is wonderfully captured.

    Shot over an impressive three year period, Monkey Kingdom guides audiences through the exotic region of South Asia where a tribe of toque macaque reside.  With a class system of sorts established amongst the monkeys, bottom-dweller Maya juggles raising and protecting her newborn son Kip while catering to alpha male Raja and a trio of high-ranking females known as The Sisterhood.  With her beau Kumar chased off by tribe members for an extended period, Maya is left alone to care for their baby with little assistance and minimal chance of advancing in the group.  When a dastardly rival pack of monkeys overtake their home, Maya and her extended family are forced to scour for new shelter and food, growing closer and developing greater respect for one another.  With a compelling narrative and heartfelt humor seamlessly weaved together, Monkey Kingdom educates and dazzles with its stunning photography.

    Narrated by Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted), Monkey Kingdom is Disneynature’s eighth effort that continues to push conservation for all of nature’s animals and the planet’s overall well-being.  Critically praised and invoking the essence of Disney’s Academy Award-winning True-Life Adventures, Monkey Kingdom spotlights a unique tribe of monkeys that learn valuable lessons along their dangerous encounters, allowing them to better appreciate the family they have without the disdain of classism.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Monkey Kingdom with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Captured with Sony F65 cameras, images are breathtaking with lush jungle greenery and the reddish-brown fur of its stars looking exquisite.  Detail is vivid with underwater sequences captured in all their aquatic beauty.  From the ruins of its Sri Lankan locations to its gorgeous time-lapse photography, Monkey Kingdom looks flawless.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Fey’s narration is crisp and free of any anomalies while jungle ambiance, the slightest ruffling of leaves and the monkey’s verbal calls are excellently relayed.  Special features include, Tales from the Kingdom (12:11) detailing the rocky road capturing Disneynature’s latest production, On the Set of Monkey Kingdom with Jane Goodall and Wolfgang Dittus (5:49), Disneynature Monkey Kingdom: The Conservation Story (7:54) explains how conservation efforts are making a difference across the globe, “It’s Our World” Music Video Performed by Jacquie Lee (3:15), A Special Thank You from Disneynature (2:48) and Sneak Peeks (2:48) for Disney Movie Rewards, Disneynature’s Born in China and Aladdin Diamond Edition.  In addition, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    Educating viewers with an intimate look at the lives of the exotic toque macaque, Monkey Kingdom merges heart and humor for another celebrated journey through the lens of Disneynature.  Enriching viewers with a picture-perfect transfer and special features that delve further into the arduous making of its production, Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom is yet another astounding accomplishment ripe for all nature lovers.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Monkey Kingdom can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • American Experience: Walt Disney (2015) DVD Review

    American Experience: Walt Disney (2015)

    Director: Sarah Colt

    Starring: Various

    Released by: PBS Distribution

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In PBS’ exhaustive documentary of their long-running series, American Experience: Walt Disney centers on the polarizing man who dared to wish upon a dream and built an empire of magic and timeless entertainment.  From his early beginnings in the midwest to the development of his own successful studio and beyond, Disney’s complexities and enduring legacy are discussed through countless interviews with biographers, animators and historians in this detailed document of one of the greatest visionaries of all-time.  

    Narrated by Oliver Platt (Bicentennial Man), American Experience: Walt Disney takes viewers back to the cherished midwest origins of Disney where his initial attraction to animation and filmmaking began.  Boldly teaching himself how to crudely animate, Disney, along with noted animation veteran Ub Iwerks, opened his own moderately successful studio before making the leap to Tinseltown.  Joining forces with elder brother Roy, the Disney brothers opened their own new studio leading to the successful Alice’s Adventures shorts before his most popular creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was swindled away from him by a blindsiding producer.  Driven by determination and sticktoitiveness, Disney’s creation of the rebelliously good-natured Mickey Mouse would become an icon to the public with popularity of the character’s technologically advanced sound cartoons booming.  Obsessed with pushing the boundaries of the art form, the Disney Studios quickly became a haven for hungry talent yearning to create within the walls of this unprecedented imagination factory.  As his Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies shorts infused color and other techniques, Disney continued to look towards the future.  Once considered not real art by critics, Disney and his talented stable of artists dazzled audiences worldwide with the first feature-length animated film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Following up his landmark opus, Disney’s studio churned out other golden age classics including, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo, each with vastly different styles but, all equally gorgeous representations of the now respected animated narrative.  

    While Disney’s many accomplishments are profiled in detail, Producer/Director Sarah Colt’s intimate look takes closer examination of the man himself and his strained relationship with his father, the financial woes struck by the studio during wartime and the animator’s strike of 1941 that Disney saw as a personal betrayal.  Crafting a humanizing portrait of the man many simply referred to as Walt, American Experience: Walt Disney delivers a deeply honest retelling of a brilliant yet, flawed individual told through interviews with Biographer Neal Gabler, Composer Richard Sherman, Veteran Imagineer Marty Sklar, Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller and more.  As decades past, Disney’s ability to continuously revolutionize never waned in his later years as the legendary tycoon brought his whimsy to television screens across the country while crafting his most ambitious project of all, Disneyland.  Always delighted at the prospect of creating, Disney longed to develop an environment for families where fantasy ruled and the worries of reality were left behind.  Much like his impact in film and television, Disney changed the aspect of vacationing that continues to be felt nearly 50 years after his death.  Enthralling and inspiring, American Experience: Walt Disney stands as one of the most balanced and comprehensive examinations of Disney, allowing viewers to not only hold his many accomplishments in higher regard but, gain a stronger understanding of the American icon like never before.

    Presented in its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, American Experience: Walt Disney presents its newly shot interviews with a genuine sharpness that satisfies.  Although vintage footage of its subject alters in quality, clips from Disney’s many animated features arrive with nicely represented colors.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is clean and audible during interview sequences while, sound clips of Disney from decades past can be mildly hissy but, surprisingly still in fine shape for their age.  In addition, no special features have been included on this release.

    Cherished and complex, Walt Disney’s ideals and achievements continue to shape a culture still enamored by the game-changing genius.  Amidst criticism of over-sentimentality, Disney’s legacy thrives with new generations charmed by his revolutionary works and immersive worlds of fantasy.  Nearly four hours long and standing proudly with Bob Thomas’ “Walt Disney: An American Original”, American Experience: Walt Disney is an expertly crafted document juggling the flaws and unwavering optimism of one of history’s most creative minds.  Fascinating and personal, American Experience: Walt Disney is an essential work of striking depth for devoted Disney enthusiasts.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Premiering on PBS September 14th-15th and available on DVD September 15th, American Experience: Walt Disney can be purchased via ShopPBS.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles

    Director: Michael Hegner

    Starring: Eric Bauza, Michael Dangerfield, Anthony Daniels, Trevor Devall, Heather Doerksen & Tom Kane

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the Lego-centric adventures of a galaxy far, far away, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles finds young Luke Skywalker carelessly pitting his friends into the clutches of the Empire.  In order to strengthen Luke’s training, Master Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi unearth the Holocrons which possess the secrets of the Jedi.  With the Dark Side not far behind, Darth Vader seeks to claim them.  Assisted by superclone Jek-14 and Luke’s faithful friends, the Rebels will stop at nothing to outwit the Empire.

    Following the prequel set episodes of its first season, the newly titled Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles takes place during the Galactic Empire welcoming Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and other memorable characters from George Lucas’ original trilogy into the fold.  Unproven in his abilities, Luke Skywalker and his friends narrowly escape certain doom signaling Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi to strengthen Luke’s Jedi training.  With the previously hidden Holocrons withholding the secrets of the Jedi now unearthed to guide Luke, Darth Vader and his endless troops make their retrieval a top priority.  Traveling to the familiar locales of Tatooine and Hoth, Luke, Han, Leia and their loyal droids are assisted by superclone Jek-14 to ensure the Empire never possess the sacred Holocrons.  With exciting battle sequences and its tongue firmly planted in cheek, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles provides viewers with an engaging four episode saga pitting Skywalker’s from both sides of the Force on a quest for a desired MacGuffin.

    Charmingly animated in the style of beloved Lego blocks and a jovial sense of humor allowing itself to poke fun at Star Wars fandom, the sophomore season surpasses its predecessor in story and laughs.  While the entire four episode season is accounted for, viewers will be disappointed with the lack of the program’s third episode, “Attack of the Jedi”, also noticeably absent in season one’s home video release.  Based in the prequel era and hardly disrupting the continuity of season two’s episodes, the disappearance of “Attack of the Jedi” still stings for fans longing to own the complete series.  Technicalities aside, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles remains a comically crafted effort that young Padawans will appreciate most.

    Digitally Mastered and preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles packs bold colors and impressive detail in textures as well as the reflective surfaces of its droid characters.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is always crisp while Composer John Williams’ thrilling music and the show’s wide variety of sound effects never disappointing.  Special features include, an Alternate Ending: “Clash of the Skywalkers” (1:50) and Sneak Peeks (3:37) at upcoming home video releases for Tomorrowland, Aladdin Diamond Edition and Inside Out.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set before the events of the original 1977 film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a crew, each individually affected by the Galactic Empire, but determined to change things for the better.  Led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr., Scooby-Doo), the crew befriends Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray, Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures), a teenage con artist with abilities of the Force to aid them in their rebellion against The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs, Peter Pan) and the Empire.  Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice), Steve Blum (Transformers: Rescue Bots) & Tiya Sircar (The Internship) also comprise the vocal talent.  

    Capturing the excitement and thrills of George Lucas’ original saga, Star Wars Rebels finds the galaxy disrupted following the rise of the Empire.  Focusing on the earliest origins of the Rebel Alliance, a crew, led by Kanan Jarrus (Prinze Jr.), does what they can to disrupt any further damage committed by the Empire.  Circulating the galaxy aboard their starship known as the Ghost, Kanan, along with Hera (Marshall), Zeb (Blum), Sabine (Sircar) and their spunky droid Chopper, crosses paths with the orphaned Ezra Bridger (Gray) struggling to survive, before welcoming him into their motley crew.  Stealing from the Empire in order to aid civilians, the low-profile crew quickly find themselves targeted by The Inquisitor (Issacs), a soulless henchmen of the Empire tasked with hunting surviving Jedi’s.  Conflicted with keeping his Jedi status a secret while training Ezra in the ways of the Force, Kanan must confront his destiny in order to restore balance to the galaxy.  

    With iconic characters including, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda and Lando Calrissian making guest appearances, Star Wars Rebels propels Disney’s first tackling of the franchise into a hyperspace of adventure and nonstop action.  Highlighting a period of the saga never cinematically seen before, the debut season delights viewers with topnotch CG animation and well crafted tales that develop characters of continuously growing appeal.  Co-created by Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Carrie Beck, Star Wars Rebels takes the very best elements of the sci-fi phenomenon fans have come to love and developed a new chapter of weekly adventures of equal worth.  Returning viewers to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels is an animated spectacle giving audiences young and old restored hope that the Force is very much back.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars Rebels with 1080p transfers, each bearing 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  On par with Disney’s respected animated releases, Star Wars Rebels greatly impresses with vibrant colors and nicely detailed textures while, black levels remain inky and pleasing throughout.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is audible and consistent, if not slightly underwhelming.  Meanwhile, action sequences with tried and true lightsaber sound effects and starship blasts along with the show’s Williams-esque music provides suitable boosts to the soundscape.  While not quite as impactful for such an adventurous show of its ilk, the mix is more than sufficient.  Located on Disc 1, special features include, Rebels Recon (36:10) providing behind the scenes insight into several episodes of the season and Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52) and Aladdin Diamond Edition (1:19).  In addition, Disc 2’s supplements include, Rebels Recon (45:02) providing more in depth looks at the remaining episodes of the show’s debut season while, Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (4:03) gives viewers a brief look at the events hosted this past year in Anaheim, CA in this Blu-ray exclusive featurette.  Furthermore, Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22:05), Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead (7:06) and four promotional shorts - The Machine in the Ghost (3:02), Art Attack (3:02), Entanglement (3:02) and Property of Ezra Bridger (3:02) - round out the season’s bonus features.

    In Disney’s first attempts at restoring balance to the Force, Star Wars Rebels succeeds in delivering enthralling new tales centered around original characters that have quickly become fan favorites amongst Star Wars enthusiasts.  Matched with high-octane action and stellar animation, this prequel series has deservedly morphed into Disney XD’s must watch program.  Arriving with all 15 episodes of its inaugural season and a respectable batch of bonus features, Star Wars Rebels shines on Blu-ray proving the Force has indeed been awoken for the best.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Descendants (2015) DVD Review

    Descendants (2015)

    Director: Kenny Ortega

    Starring: Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart & Sofia Carson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost along with their villainous parents, Descendants focuses on the teenage offspring of Maleficent’s daughter Mal (Dove Cameron, Liv and Maddie), Cruella de Vil’s son Carlos (Cameron Boyce, Jessie), Jafar’s son Jay (Booboo Stewart, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and the Evil Queen’s daughter Evie (Sofia Carson, Faking It) as they are invited to the serene prep school of Auradon for a new beginning.  Joined by the children of Disney heroes and princesses, the troublesome four are determined to help their parents regain domination but, become conflicted when they begin embracing the lighter side of their personalities.  Kenny Ortega (Newsies, High School Musical) directs and choreographs this Disney Channel Original Movie event.

    Continuing their successful streak of bringing their memorable animated characters into live-action, Descendants spotlights the teenage exploits of Disney’s next generation of antagonists.  As Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of Beast and Belle, nears his rightful place on the throne, the young teen offers a second chance to a select few from the Isle of the Lost to attend Auradon’s prestigious prep school.  With strict orders to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand by their parents, the four descendants of infamous Disney villains agree to attend Auardon Prep.  Uncomfortable in their new surroundings and continuously unsuccessful in obtaining the wand, the rebellious teens slowly develop a change of heart towards Auardon.  As Ben and Mal form an unlikely attraction towards one another, Jay thrives in the school’s competitive athletic program while, Carlos learns to love a pet dog and Evie proves she’s more than just a pretty face.  The more comfortable Mal and her friends become at their new school, aiding their evil parents’ wicked plans grows increasingly difficult.  Although not all of Auardon’s citizens are pleased with the offspring of their most dreaded villains, Mal and the gang must overcome oppression and ultimately look inside their hearts to make a new future for themselves.

    Bursting with musical energy and well-executed dance sequences, Descendants arrives with several mildly entertaining tunes with the exception of a dreadful, hip-hop influenced redux of “Be Our Guest”.  In addition, although the villainous parents are secondary to the tale, Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) as Maleficent and Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus) as the Evil Queen make entertaining appearances while, the talented Keegan Connor Tracy’s (Bates Motel) Belle fails to leave a lasting impression in her brief screen time.  Formulaic but fun, Descendants utilizes some of the network’s brightest young stars for an original concept soaked in the folklore of Disney’s most beloved fantasies.  Entertaining enough, Descendants is built for Disney’s tween audience and younger who will get the most mileage out of this musical television movie.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Descendants in widescreen with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Colors are mostly bold and effective with skin tones relayed clearly and lifelike.  Although lacking a richer sharpness, Descendants appears satisfactory.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is always clear and free of any distortion while, the film’s musical numbers offer an added boost in authority that is evident and pleasing.  Special features include, #Mal (4:30) showcasing the lead character’s journey via social media, Backstage Dance Rehearsals (7:31), Bloopers (2:16), Sneak Peek: Descendants Wicked World (0:19) providing a quick snippet at the new animated series coming this Fall.  In addition, Sneak Peeks (4:39) for Disney Movie Rewards, K.C. Undercover, Girl Meets World, Disney Movies Anywhere, Disneynature’s Born in China and Aladdin Diamond Edition are included along with a free “Isle of the Lost” bracelet.

    Catered for Disney Channel’s young audience, Descendants is a magical blend of fantasy and music through the eyes of angsty teenage characters.  With an emphasis on understanding and young love, Disney’s spirited TV movie has fun playing with its treasured characters while introducing a team of fresh-faced newbies for modern audiences.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film with sufficient technical merits but, scant special features that should still appease young viewers.  Although some of its characters are rotten to the core, Descendants will taste sweet to Disney Channel’s most dedicated watchers.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Descendants can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) Blu-ray Review

    The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)

    Director: William A. Fraker

    Starring: Klinton Spilsbury, Michael Horse, Christopher Lloyd, Juanin Clay & Jason Robards

    Released by: Timeless Media Group

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the iconic American character, The Legend of the Lone Ranger tells the adventurous tale of John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury in his feature film debut) as he accompanies the Texas Rangers to capture the devious bandit Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future).  After being savagely ambushed and left for dead, Reid is rescued by childhood friend and Native American Tonto (Michael Horse, Twin Peaks).  Nursed back to health and determined to deliver justice, Reid dons a mask as The Lone Ranger to restore balance to the American frontier.  Juanin Clay (WarGames) and Academy Award winner Jason Robards (Philadelphia) co-star. 

    As a fixture of popular culture for decades with success in radio, comics and a long-lasting television series, countless attempts to cinematically reintroduce The Lone Ranger to a new generation were finally ripe in 1981.  Remaining true to the character’s spirit while, making minor alterations for his big-screen debut, The Legend of the Lone Ranger finds educated lawyer John Reid (Spilsbury) aiding the Texas Rangers in capturing the ruthless Butch Cavendish (Lloyd).  After a fatal ambush is staged, seemingly leaving all the Rangers including, Reid’s elder brother dead, Reid is rescued by his childhood friend Tonto (Horse) to rise another day.  Fueled by justice and concealed by a mask, Reid emerges to defend the innocent as The Lone Ranger with Tonto and his faithful horse Silver by his side.  When Cavendish and his troop of thugs ambitiously capture President Ulysses S. Grant (Robards) to gain control of Texas, The Lone Ranger and Tonto will stop at nothing to put an end to his heinous crimes.  

    Unfavorably remembered for a disastrous lawsuit barring original Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore from donning his memorable mask at public appearances, The Legend of the Lone Ranger failed to make an impact on youthful audiences unimpressed with the Western genre.  While the film shines with beautiful camerawork by Laszlo Kovacs (Ghostbusters, Radio Flyer) of the predominately New Mexican locales, the film feels far older than imagined due to its hokey narration trapping the film in its previous years of former glory.  In addition, with no less than four credited writers attached, all the performances feel mostly wooden with little excitement or memorable chemistry on display.  Sadly, even the skillful Christopher Lloyd as Cavendish feels wholly wasted with limited screen time and barely sufficient material to paint him as the film’s vile antagonist.  Furthermore, action sequences are incredibly far and few while, a romantic subplot involving Reid and the lovely Amy Striker (Clay) is suggested but never fully delivered.  For all its missteps, The Legend of the Lone Ranger is not nearly as intolerable as suggested with its earnest attempts to retain old school theatrics capturing a mild charm.  Tanking at the box-office before being awarded with several Golden Raspberry Awards, The Legend of the Lone Ranger would ultimately cause its lead actor to ditch the limelight after the film’s negative reaction.  While Disney attempted and stumbled to once again reignite the excitement of the character with their criminally underrated 2013 effort, The Legend of the Lone Ranger may be overwhelmingly bland in comparison but not entirely forgettable.

    Timeless Media Group presents The Legend of the Lone Ranger with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Casting an inherently soft, dreamlike appearance and virtually free of scratches, the film relays its western environments and earth tone colors with ease while skin tones appear generally pleasing if not, slightly less detailed due to the film’s smoggy setting.  In addition, whites tend to look slightly overblown with black levels delivering modest visibility with occasional instances of murkiness.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and nicely prioritized with the film’s score and instances of speedy horses and rapid gunfire effective, if not slightly restrained.  Although scarce, special features include, the Theatrical Trailer (2:27) and a Reversible Cover Art.

    From its dated attempts to modernize the character to the film’s horrendously reoccurring ballad by Merle Haggard, The Legend of the Lone Ranger still managed to become a staple of many viewers’ upbringing due to its heavy rotation on cable and respective movie channels.  With stale writing preventing the masked hero to do what he does best until the film’s final moments, Director William A. Fraker’s (Monte Walsh) last feature film has few redeeming qualities but, can hardly be considered a total dud, just not a very eventful one.  Meanwhile, Timeless Media Group retains the natural integrity of the film’s softer looking appearance with satisfying results.  Nearly 35 years after its original release, The Legend of the Lone Ranger remains in many ways a dated relic although, nostalgia will easily entice longtime viewers to saddle up once more.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Timeless Media Group, The Legend of the Lone Ranger can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Spirited Away (2001) / The Cat Returns (2002) Blu-ray Reviews

    Spirited Away (2001) / The Cat Returns (2002)

    Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki / Hiroyuki Morita

    Starring: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Susan Egan & David Ogden Stiers / Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Kristen Bell & Tim Curry

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their proud partnership, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes two more of Studio Ghibli’s animated spectacles.  First up, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo) Spirited Away focuses on a young girl named Chihiro as she journeys to her new home with her parents.  One wrong turn finds Chihiro trapped in a surreal world of spirits while her parents are mysteriously transformed into pigs.  Scared and longing to return to her own world, Chihiro discovers a profound courage as she navigates her way through countless adventures.  Daveigh Chase (Lilo & Stitch), Jason Marsden (Transformers: Rescue Bots), Suzanne Pleshette (The Birds), Susan Egan (Hercules) and David Ogden Stiers (Beauty and the Beast) comprise the film’s English vocal talent.  Next up, The Cat Returns centers on clumsy schoolgirl Haru whose ordinary routine is turned upside when she saves the life of a cat.  and Whisked away to an unusual world of speaking felines, Haru must learn to believe in herself in order to evade an unwanted fate.  Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Peter Boyle (Everybody Loves Raymond), Elliot Gould (MASH), Kristen Bell (Frozen) and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) provide the film’s English vocal talent.   

    Long considered to be Director Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away finds spoiled ten-year-old Chihiro (Chase) uncomfortable about her family’s move to their new house.  After taking a slight detour to what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, Chihiro’s parents are quickly overtaken by the sight of endless food that transforms them into sloppy pigs.  Meanwhile, the frightened Chihiro is whisked away to a supernatural realm, home to a lavish bathhouse for spirits to replenish themselves.  Befriended by Haku (Marsden), a young male spirit, Chihiro is advised to find work within her new surroundings in order to devise a way to free her family.  After conforming to the world’s rules set forth by the wicked Yubaba (Pleshette), Chihiro nearly forgets her name, narrowly escaping a permanent stay in the fantastical environment.  As her work ethic grows and her independence develops, encounters with a notably stinky spirit and the mysterious No-Face take place.  When Haku, in dragon form, is severely injured following the theft of a magical seal, Chihiro embarks on a dangerous journey to return the stolen item in order save her friend’s life.  For all its magical mainstays, Spirited Away beautifully captures a child’s discovery of independence and transition into maturity.  Littered with wildly original creatures and a genuine sense of wonder, Chihiro’s transformation from frightened child to courageous young woman is an epic fantasy adventure with social commentaries on youth and society.  While its many characters may overwhelm viewers at times and their otherworldly abilities will undoubtedly fly over the heads of youngsters, Spirited Away remains a dazzling feast of animated majesty and compelling drama.  Becoming the most successful film in Japanese history and deservedly winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away is one of Studio Ghibli’s most renowned pictures that effortlessly transports viewers to a dreamlike world like no other.

    A spin-off of 1995’s Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns centers on the ordinary life of quiet schoolgirl Haru (Hathaway).  When Haru saves an innocent cat from a deadly fate, the ditzy teenager learns the feline is anything but ordinary when he begins to speak.  Introduced as Lune, the Prince of the Cat Kingdom, Haru is overwhelmed when his kingdom praises her with gifts and the opportunity to marry the future King.  Cautiously contemplating the offer, Haru is advised from a whisper in the wind to seek support from the Cat Bureau.  Welcomed by the sophisticated Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Elwes), the hefty Muta (Boyle) and the kind raven Toto (Gould), Haru is assured safety until she and Muta are abducted to the Cat Kingdom for a royal ball.  As the Baron and Toto rush to save their human friend, Haru begins to transform into a cat, further sealing her future as Princess.  Shamefully toting his superiority, The Cat King (Curry) is convinced his bridal selection for his son is a wise one until the Baron crashes the party leading to an adventurous final act.  Understanding the need to discover her true self to revert back to her human appearance, Haru and her friends navigate an intricate castle maze to return to the human world once and for all.  Considerably shorter than most Studio Ghibli efforts, The Cat Returns maintains the studio’s high animation standards while, its characters, although charming and humorous, lack a noticeable depth.  In addition, the film’s theme of believing in oneself is adequately conveyed but, never scratches beyond its surface for deeper subtext commonly seen in previous Ghibli efforts.  Set in yet another otherworldly realm inhabited this time by talking cats, The Cat Returns manages to deliver several moments of thrills complimented by worthwhile laughs courtesy of Muta and Toto’s constant bickering.  Although lacking a deeper emotional palette, The Cat Returns delivers top-notch visuals in its limited runtime that will resonate with dedicated Ghibli enthusiasts.                      

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment ushers both Spirited Away and The Cat Returns with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Bursting with bright colors, both films arrive with blemish free transfers that allow viewers to fully appreciate the grand environments and uniquely crafted characters.  Black levels appear inky and absent of any crushing levels while, saturation is remarkably pleasing and depth, most noticeably in Spirited Away’s flying sequences, are nicely handled.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue is always audible and crisp while, sound effects and each film’s respective scores are relayed with excellent clarity.  In addition to each film’s English version, the original Japanese mixes with English subtitles are also included.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, Spirited Away’s special features include, an Introduction by John Lasseter (1:09), The Art of Spirited Away (15:12), Behind the Microphone (5:42) where the English cast and crew share their experiences working on the acclaimed film.  Plus, Original Japanese Storyboards (2:04:31), a Nippon Television Special (41:53), Original Japanese Trailers (18:26), Original Japanese TV Spots (3:57) and Sneak Peeks (0:37) for Disney Movie Rewards and Disney’s Descendants are also included.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release round out the film’s supplements.  Also porting over its previously available supplements, The Cat Returns’ special features include, Original Japanese Storyboards (1:14:58), Behind the Microphone (8:59), The Making of The Cat Returns (34:11), Original Japanese Trailers (6:36), Original Japanese TV Spots (3:33) and Sneak Peeks (0:37) for Disney Movie Rewards and Disney’s Descendants.  In addition, a DVD edition of the release is also included.  

    Rewarding viewers with more of Studio Ghibili’s rich history, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Hayao Miyazaki’s long revered masterpiece to American shores.  Surreal and epically realized, Spirited Away’s examination of a young girl roaming a world of spirits is one of the master storyteller’s most impressive outings that stands as an animation milestone.  Meanwhile, Studio Ghibli’s shortest feature to date, The Cat Returns, introduces viewers to an equally peculiar world of talking felines and a young girl struggling to alter her fate.  Containing a heartfelt theme and impressive artistry, The Cat Returns lacks an emotional depth, trapping it in a state of unfortunate mediocrity.  Marking their domestic Blu-ray debuts, both films stun on high-definition with all their previously available special features ported over.  Eager to journey to magical worlds of wonder, Studio Ghibli’s efforts have left a profound impact on viewers that can now be gloriously recaptured on home video.

    Spirited Away RATING: 4.5/5

    The Cat Returns RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Spirited Away and The Cat Returns can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • McFarland, USA (2015) Blu-ray Review

    McFarland, USA (2015)

    Director: Niki Caro

    Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Carlos Pratts & Valente Rodriguez

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspirational true story, McFarland, USA stars Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams) as Coach Jim White.  After stumbling on hard times and relocating to a Latino populated community, White is determined to inspire his Mexican students after recognizing their incredible speed.  Forming a cross-country team, White and his determined bunch learn the value of each other as they strive to become state champions.  Maria Bello (Secret Window), Morgan Saylor (Homeland), Carlos Pratts (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and Valente Rodriguez (George Lopez) co-star.

    Set in the late 80s, McFarland, USA finds Coach Jim White (Costner) relocating his family to the small, predominately Latino town of McFarland, California after losing his previous teaching position.  With nowhere else to turn and expectedly feeling out of place, White begins taking notice of his Mexican students and their running abilities.  Determined to redeem himself, White organizes a cross-country team with no previous experience and attracts his students to come together to hone their skills.  Ridiculed for their ethnicity and struggling to provide for their families with backbreaking field work, the young boys begin to see White as their guiding light in achieving their dream of becoming state champions.  As the team continues to compete, White and his family are graciously welcomed into the McFarland community, giving further hope for the boys‘ to succeed.  Amidst family drama and personal struggles, Coach White and his team of Cougers prove to be a fast force to be reckoned with leading to a thrilling finale of heart and determination.

    No stranger to sports-related cinema, Kevin Costner delivers a heartwarming performance as Coach Jim White with the chops to evoke stern authority and inspirational guidance to his Mexican students.  Maria Bello (A History of Violence) is appreciated in her limited screen time as White’s loving wife while, Morgan Saylor (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant), appearing as White’s eldest daughter, fares well as a way to provide personal drama for her father.  Meanwhile, the cast of up and comers serving as White’s team shine in their respective roles with Carlos Pratts (The Bridge) as the troubled team captain a true standout.  With the exception of a clichéd gang-related incident for drama’s sake, McFarland, USA is another fine Disney example of inspirational sports stories done right.  Admittedly formulaic, McFarland, USA continues the golden tradition of underdogs rising above the odds to accomplish the impossible with exciting results.  Guided under the watchful eye of Director Niki Caro (North Country), Disney’s latest uplifting drama will charm viewers and leave them choked up with emotion by its conclusion.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents McFarland, USA with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Impressing with natural skin tones and exceptional detail, bold colors, most appreciatively in the Cougers’ red track suits, burst off the screen.  Gorgeous vistas and mountain landscapes are also beautifully captured during competition sequences while black levels are presented cleanly with no discernible crushing on display.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is relayed clearly and effectively leaving no room for disappointment.  Although, nothing of merit ever truly pushes the mix, the character driven piece does its job well.  Special features include, McFarland Reflections (8:29) with Kevin Costner, his real-life counterpart and the original 1987 track team sharing their insight on their remarkable true story.  In addition, “Juntos” Music Video (3:25), Inspiring McFarland (2:02) with Director Kiki Caro discussing her attraction to the project, Deleted & Extended Scenes (8:10), Sneak Peeks (4:07) for Disney Movie Rewards, Fusion, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Star War: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions plus, a Digital HD Code round out the supplements.

    Critically praised and continuing the respected tradition of Disney’s sports-related efforts, McFarland, USA joins the legacy as another moving achievement that defies the odds and allows the underdogs to deservedly achieve their dreams.  Equally rewarding, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers the film with top quality, hi-def treatment and a decent array of special features to charge into.  Emotional and exciting, viewers will be on their feet in anticipation as McFarland, USA takes its final lap.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 2nd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, McFarland, USA can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Into the Woods (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Into the Woods (2014)

    Director: Rob Marshall

    Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Johnny Depp

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Into the Woods centers on iconic fairy tale characters including, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, young Jack (and his beanstalk) and Rapunzel as their stories intertwine with a childless baker and his wife, tasked to reverse a witch’s curse put upon them.  The impressive ensemble cast includes, Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), James Corden (The Three Musketeers), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Tracey Ullman (The Tracey Ullman Show) and Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger).

    Beloved for its sensational music and risqué interpretations of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes certain liberties with its big-screen adaptation while, remaining true to the spirit of its stage production.  With all changes and revisions approved by its original creators, Disney’s modestly budgeted spectacle charms viewers with Dennis Gassner’s (Big Fish) rich production design and eclectic cast that all manage to carry Sondheim’s music with ease.  Incorporating characters from several Brothers Grimm tales, Into the Woods centers on a husband and wife baking team (Corden and Blunt), unable to have children due to a wicked witch’s (Streep) curse.  In order to break the spell, the couple must fetch various items belonging to fellow characters including, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Cinderella’s shoe, Rapunzel’s hair and Jack’s cow.  Accustomed to each character and their respective stories, Into the Woods turns audience expectation on its head with twists that playfully poke fun at the sappy and clichéd tales.  While, more adult content and heavier violence may be softened, suggestive sequences involving Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford in her film debut) and The Wolf, in a minor role by Johnny Depp re-teaming with his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director, remain intact and inject a splash of innuendo.

    No stranger to the musical world, Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) delivers a fantasy world of wonder and fear that takes viewers‘ breath away.  Unsurprisingly loaded with musical sequences, Into the Woods bewitches with its rich soundtrack including, the film’s catchy prologue and the hilariously passionate “Agony” performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.  While, its on-screen talent never lacks, the film’s standout performance belongs to Emily Blunt whose comedic timing and beautiful singing voice elevate the picture to even higher standards.  Although, captivating and gorgeous, Into the Woods experiences pacing issues in its final act that tend to drag the picture down.  Whilst, “happily ever after” doesn’t exactly apply as one would expect, characters dissatisfied with their fates seek to rectify them as danger looms from a violent female giant threatening the villagers of the woods.  A mild setback but, one that attempts to cram too much into a timeframe that would have benefitted from more breathing room.  Regardless of these mishaps, Into the Woods is a magical journey based on the fairy tales you thought you knew but, tweaked on a grand scale with astounding production detail and exhilarating musical performances.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Into the Woods with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Although, doused in dimly lit, fog-entranced settings, Into the Woods astonishes with inky black levels that reveal no crushing and crystal clear visibility.  Skin tones register naturally and remarkably detailed while, more prominent colors found in Little Red Riding Hood’s cape and Cinderella’s gold gown pop and sparkle magnificently.  In addition, mildly used but, wildly effective, Into the Woods  visual effects sequences light up the screen with zero imperfections on display.  Simply put, Into the Woods casts a perfect spell of a transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Into the Woods sings perfect harmonies with exceptional dialogue levels that project with sheer crispness.  Meanwhile, the plentiful musical sequences excite the mix with solid depth and range that will leave viewers enraptured by the powerful sound.  In one of Disney’s more recently packed releases, special features run aplenty including, an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall, Streep Sings Sondheim - “She’ll Be Back” (4:48).  Introduced by Marshall, this newly crafted song was shot for the film but ultimately cut.  Also included, There’s Something About the Woods (13:23), The Cast As Good As Gold (10:10), Deeper Into the Woods, a four-part featurette covering From Stage to Screen (8:33), The Magic of the Woods (7:24), Designing the Woods (7:07) and The Costumes of the Woods (6:53).  Finally, Music & Lyrics allows viewers to jump directly to their favorite songs of the film or watch the entire film with optional lyrics while, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:32), Once Upon A Time (0:32), The Lion King Broadway Musical (0:32) and Disney’s Descendants (0:17) are included with a Digital HD Code of the release rounding out the supplemental material.

    Capturing the wondrous and fantastical realms of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes the familiar and delivers an entirely unique, slightly adult-oriented revision of happily ever after.  Richly conceived and supporting one of the most talented ensemble casts put forth in a musical, Disney’s big-screen adaptation does justice to its original production, giving movie audiences an effort well worth venturing into.  In addition, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is unquestionably perfect with an informative and ample amount of supplements.  Wishing upon a star, Disney enthusiasts and the musically-minded will find magical delight journeying Into the Woods.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available today from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Into the Woods can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Big Hero 6 (2014) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Big Hero 6 (2014)

    Director(s): Don Hall & Chris Williams

    Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining the action and adventure of Marvel Comics with the heart and style of Disney animation, Big Hero 6 focuses on the young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter, Senior Project) after a devastating accident costs his older brother’s life.  Comforted by Baymax, a lovable robotic health companion, Hiro, with the help of his loyal friends, become an unlikely group of superheroes, determined to bring a diabolical villain to justice.  Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch), Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl), Genesis Rodriguez (Tusk), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Alan Tudyk (Frozen) and James Cromwell (The Green Mile) provide voice talent.

    Following up on the massive success of Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studios would take full advantage of the recently acquired Marvel Comics for inspiration.  Deviating from its comic book source material, Big Hero 6 would become the first animated Disney production to incorporate Marvel characters into its timeless tradition that has birthed such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the more recent Wreck-It Ralph.  Carving out a tale with a strong emphasis on brotherly relationships, child prodigy Hiro Hamada mourns the death of his older brother, Tadashi, with the help and comfort of Baymax, a robotic nurse developed by Tadashi before his passing.  After learning of a kabuki mask-wearing villain who is violating Hiro’s own groundbreaking technology, the young genius is certain his brother’s death was no accident.  Upgrading Baymax and himself with state of the art armor, Hiro drafts Tadashi’s college friends to aid him in bringing the masked man down.  Encompassing a unique group of individuals including, speed demon Go Go (Chung), safety cautious Wasabi (Wayans Jr.), chemistry ditz Honey Lemon (Rodriguez) and comic nerd Fred (Miller), Hiro forms a team of six unlike any other before.  Filled with hilarious humor and emotional depth, Big Hero 6 flies with soaring colors in virtually every department.  The loss of Tadashi and Hiro’s immediate melancholy tugs at viewers before melting their hearts away at the introduction of the cuddly Baymax.  Adorably clumsy and endlessly caring, Baymax is the breakout character of the film that will leave audiences delighted for knowing him.  

    With solid characters and top-notch action sequences, Big Hero 6 may be slightly predictable in its narrative but, never quits entertaining.  From the cocktail blending setting of San Fransokyo to the brightly colored eye-candy costume designs, the film’s visuals leave a lasting impression and undeniable mark of the highest quality that Disney animation is accustomed to.  Critically acclaimed and taking the best of both Marvel and Disney’s imaginative worlds, Big Hero 6 is a resounding success that takes viewers on a sky high ride of excitement and fun.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment debuts Big Hero 6 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Expectedly, vibrant colors burst off the screen in every shot with picture perfect clarity always on display.  Showcasing exceptional inky black levels in Hiro’s microbot creations and its antagonists‘ black attire, Big Hero 6 is nothing short of perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film’s soundtrack is yet another work of flawlessness with crisp dialogue levels, explosive action sequences handled accordingly and music, including Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals” title track, offering a solid bass sound that will leave you bopping to the beat.  Special features included are the Oscar nominated theatrical short Feast (6:13).  Marking the directorial debut of Patrick Osbourne (Tangled, Paperman), this uplifting tale focuses on the relationship of an adorable puppy and his owner throughout the years.  Without question one of the finest Disney shorts to emerge in recent years, Feast will leave you teary-eyed and longing to hold your own K9 best friend.  Furthermore, The Origin of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey (15:10), hosted by Jamie Chung (Go Go), finds Directors Don Williams & Chris Williams, Producer Roy Conli and other creative talent discussing the film’s early beginnings and the long road to its completion.  Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters (6:39) sits down with the animation team as they discuss their earliest passions for animation and their specific roles in the production.  In addition, Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Directors Don Hall & Chris Williams (13:10), a Big Hero 6 Theatrical Teaser (1:41) and a Sneak Peeks reel including promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Infinity 2.0, Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions are included with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code rounding out the supplemental features.

    Yet another knockout effort for Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 packs heart, humor and action with outstanding results.  Crafting an important focus on brothers and friendship, the Marvel Comics adaptation is an often touching piece of stunning animation, sealed by its well-received characters.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment issues their Oscar nominated opus with impeccable technical features and a decent lineup of bonus content including, the also Oscar nominated and highly recommend short, Feast.  Released theatrically in 3D, Big Hero 6 is unfortunately the latest contemporary Disney release to not carry its extra dimensions over for home viewing, much to the dismay of enthusiastic fans.  Regardless, the strength and sheer entertainment factor of Big Hero 6 and its fabulous presentation on Blu-ray allows it to pack a solid punch for the whole family.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 24th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Big Hero 6 can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 101 Dalmatians (1961) Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

    101 Dalmatians (1961)

    Director(s): Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman

    Starring: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, J. Pat O’Malley, Betty Lou Gerson & Ben Wright

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Dodie Smith’s beloved 1956 children’s novel, 101 Dalmatians centers on an adorable litter of dalmatian puppies as they are kidnapped by the bumbling accomplices of the wicked, fur-obsessed Cruella De Vil.  Determined to retrieve their children, Pongo and Perdita, with the assistance of other fellow city animals, brave their London surroundings before the puppies fall victim to Cruella’s cruel fashion fixation.  Rod Taylor (The Time Machine), Cate Bauer (The Third Man), J. Pat O’Malley (The Jungle Book), Betty Lou Gerson (The Fly), Ben Wright (The Sound of Music) & Lisa David (Queen of Outer Space) provide vocal talent.

    Struggling after the box-office failure of Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney heavily considered shutting down his animation division fearing its increased expenses would destroy the studio.  Nevertheless, Disney rebuffed the idea, remaining loyal to the artistry that his very empire was founded on and righteously continued to move forward.  After falling in love with Smith’s original novel, Disney quickly snatched up the rights, finding the property a perfect fit for his studio to weave their animated wizardry.  Cost conscience as ever, Ub Iwerks, in charge of special processes, modified a Xerox camera allowing drawings to be transferred directly to cels, saving immeasurable time and capital for the studio.  Able to capture the spontaneity of the animators work, 101 Dalmatians has more in common visually with the loose, free-spirited style of Dumbo than the delicate precision of Cinderella.  Told through the perspective of dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, 101 Dalmatians charms the viewer with cuddly characters and yet another memorable antagonist in Cruella De Vil.  Skeletal-looking and draped in a gaudy fur coat with a slimline cigarette holder always in hand, Cruella De Vil is the genius of Disney Legend Marc Davis whose endless talents brought such characters as Snow White, Alice, Tinker Bell and of course, Maleficent to life.  In addition, the film’s contemporary London setting, gorgeously realized by Production Designer Ken Anderson (Sleeping Beauty, The Aristocats), is a stunning sight, once again stylistically different from previous animated Disney productions but, perfectly fitting.  Aided by the support of several other local animals, the puppies are able to evade their dimwitted captors via hilarious, slap-sticking means retaining the heart and humor audiences have come to expect from a Walt Disney production.

    While, the film would prove to be a smashing success becoming the highest grossing film of 1961, Disney was apparently unhappy with the look and style of the finished product.  Meanwhile, audiences have adored the film for its noticeably unique animation, humorous characters and memorable songs, most famously “Cruella De Vil”, from famed songwriter Mel Leven.  Serving as one of the final animated films released under Walt Disney’s supervision before his untimely death in 1966, 101 Dalmatians has stood the test of time as a bonafide Disney classic where it will most assuredly remain for another 101 years and beyond.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents 101 Dalmatians with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Admittedly, there is minor digital tinkering at hand on the transfer, removing instances of natural grain making way for an intendedly squeaky clean presentation.  Far from deal-breaking, 101 Dalmatians still stuns in high-definition with bold colors, inky black levels, most appreciatively in Cruella’s hair and of course, the dalmatians‘ endless spots, along with fine detail allowing the viewer to appreciate the animators looser than usual pencil lines.  A solid sight from start to finish, 101 Dalmatians has never looked quite as vibrant before.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, 101 Dalmatians satisfies once again with crisp dialogue levels and the film’s soothing jazzy score nicely handled throughout its runtime.  No noticeable instances of hiss or distortion were heard throughout this well-handled mix.  In addition, the film’s original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Celebrating its Diamond Edition status, newly added special features include viewing the film in optional DisneyView which incorporates artsy panels to fill out the otherwise black bars as the film plays, The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, a brief episode of the Thunderbolt television show the puppies view in the actual film (1:46), Lucky Dogs interviews several Disney alumni including Floyd Norman, Lisa Davis, Burny Mattinson, Carmen Sanderson and more as they discuss what working at the studio was like (9:08), Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Royce finds Royce, star of The Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants as he counts down the top five coolest anecdotes about 101 Dalmatians (5:20).  In addition, the best treat of the new supplements is Walt Disney Presents: “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” (1961 Version), a vintage episode of the memorable television series presented in HD (51:05).  Finally, the Diamond Edition ports over the following classic bonus features from its previous DVD release with Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians (33:55), Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (7:10), Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney (12:48), several Trailers and TV Spots (7:80), Promotional Radio Spots (1:40) and Music & More (33:46).  Finally, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Dog With a Blog, Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions, Big Hero 6 and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast round out the bonus content.

    Long considered a Disney classic, 101 Dalmatians is unquestionably one of the finest efforts the Disney Studio produced in the 1960s, cementing its appeal with later generations through successful re-releases, a live-action remake, an animated television series and a belated direct-to-video animated sequel.  Possessing a stylistic departure from animated efforts before it, 101 Dalmatians is a dazzling sight with a story filled with charm and substance to match.  101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition makes its long-anticipated domestic Blu-ray debut with a colorfully bursting transfer, quaint sound mix and a robust spread of special features, both newly produced and vintage, that total over two hours worth of content.  Heart-filled and humorous, 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition is essential for Disney devotees and animation aficionados alike.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 10th, 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #4 - STUDIO GHIBLI EDITION: Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997) & The Wind Rises (2013) Blu-ray Reviews

    Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman & Debbie Reynolds

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the creative mind of Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), his timeless coming-of-age tale about a young witch celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Kik’s Delivery Service on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Newly remastered and accompanied with countless special features, this magical adventure invites you to take flight once again.

    Kiki’s Delivery Service centers on a young witch who on her 13th birthday must follow tradition and venture out into the world for a year of training and adventure.  Along with her faithful black cat, Jiji, Kiki lands in a beautiful new city where she forms her own personal delivery service while, learning responsibility and building confidence.  Kirsten Dunst (Small Soldiers), Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites), Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live), Matthew Lawrence (Mrs. Doubtfire) and Debbie Reynolds (Singin‘ in the Rain) provide vocal talent in this English translation.  

    Based on the novel by Eiko Kadono, Miyazaki’s fantastic animated adaptation is bursting with colors and gorgeous production design.  Straying from common depictions of witches as evildoers, Kiki’s Delivery Service offers a charming adolescent witch that audiences can relate to and sympathize with.  In true coming-of-age-fashion, the young Kiki travels to a far away city where she can perfect her skills and develop her independence.  Intendedly unusual, Miyazaki took influences from Ireland, Sweden and San Francisco to craft a city of beautiful uniqueness and familiarity.  As she forms a friendship with a local baker and establishes her own delivery service, Kiki matures while, lacking self confidence.  After much hesitation, Kiki develops a friendship with Tombo allowing her to experience adventures unlike ever before.  Brewing with homesickness and struggling with her new environment, Kiki finds herself losing the ability to fly.  Miyazaki relays Kiki’s loneliness in gorgeous fashion, tapping into the pain all audiences experience while growing up.  Straying from the source material, Miyazaki incorporates an intense airship accident in the final act that finds Tombo in danger.  With no choice, Kiki builds her confidence to fly into action and save her friend from certain doom, allowing the young witch to shine again.  While, the relatable tale of growing up and finding your place in the world works on nearly every level, the alluring animation and paradise-like city setting are the film’s sharpest attributes.  In addition, the English-dubbed performances are lively and comedic.  Sadly, Phil Hartman’s contributions as Jiji would mark his final voice-performance before his tragic death in 1998.  Critically and financially adored, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a delightful effort that visually stuns and connects to those forever young at heart.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Kiki’s Delivery Service with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Vibrant and dashing, Kiki’s Delivery Service makes its Blu-ray debut with flourishing colors and rich detail, allowing the viewer to better appreciate the city landscape of the film.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Kiki’s Delivery Service comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is crystal clear while, Composer Joe Hisaishi’s romantic and adventurous score is relayed with splendor.  Special features are aplenty with a newly included Ursula’s Painting (3:18) featurette joining classic DVD features such as, an introduction by John Lasseter (0:51), original Japanese storyboards (1:43:01), original Japanese trailers (8:06), Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service (2:26), where Miyazaki details his approach to creating the unique setting of the movie, Producer Toshio Suzuki offers insight on Kiki’s influences in Kiki & Jiji (3:27), Flying with Kiki & Beyond (2:50), Producer’s Prospective: Collaborating with Miyazaki (1:47) allows Miyazaki’s longtime producer Toshio Suzuki to shed light on their collaborative process.  In addition, The Locations of Kiki (29:11), reveals the real world locations that shape many of Miyazaki’s films, Scoring Miyazaki (7:18), Behind the Microphone (5:00), with English cast members Dunst, Hartman, Garofalo and Lawrence commenting on the dubbing process along, with a DVD edition of the film round out the impressive supplemental package.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming tale of self discovery and independence.  A gorgeous sight of pastel colors and magnificently detailed settings, this coming-of-age story deeply connects with young audiences and those still young at heart.  Flawlessly remastered, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have ushered Kiki’s Delivery Service with a Blu-ray debut fans won’t be disappointed with.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thKiki's Delivery Service can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Princess Mononoke (1997)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton & Jada Pinkett Smith

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Becoming one of the highest-grossing films in Japan’s history, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s vision of a fantasy world of gods would garner Studio Ghibli vast attention from the Western world.  Awarded Best Picture winner of the Japan Academy Prize, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Princess Mononoke, newly remastered on Blu-ray.

    After contracting a deadly curse, Ashitaka, a young warrior, embarks on a journey through the forests in search of a cure.  Through his travels, Ashitaka becomes entangled in a fierce battle between Lady Eboshi and her loyal humans against Princess Mononoke, a brave woman, aided by animal gods.  Billy Crudup (Big Fish), Claire Danes (Homeland), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Billy Bob Thornton (Fargo), Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Keith David (The Princess and the Frog) provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Throwing out the rules of movie making, Miyazaki blends the worlds of historical drama and fantasy on a grand scale.  Epic in its scope and runtime, Princess Mononoke emphasizes several themes including the environment and lost innocence.  Filled with mythical creatures and armies of warriors, Princess Mononoke enforces noticeably more violent imagery, compared to some of Miyazaki’s more lighthearted fare.  Showcasing chopped off limbs and decapitations, the mature content and dramatic storytelling serves as Miyazaki’s response to the horrors of the real world.  Throughout his search for a cure to his deadly curse, Ashitaka encounters several groups of characters all with their own desires and selfish agendas.  Surrounded by hostility and slowly being consumed by death, Ashitaka hopes to forge peace between Lady Eboshi’s human army and Princess Mononoke’s clan of animal gods.  Countlessly risking his life to see a better tomorrow for others, Ashitaka begins to fall in love with the Princess while, the hateful instincts of others begins to take hold.  Gorgeously animated with several computer rendered moments, Princess Mononoke is an astonishing sight that ranks as one of Miyazaki’s finest artistic achievements.  Complex and at times, convoluted, Princess Mononoke demands its strictest attention as its narrative is densely structured and difficult to follow for younger viewers.  Incorporating many characters who come and go, Princess Mononoke experiences pacing issues in its final act that tends to drag longer than necessary.  While, not exactly a narrative knockout, Princess Mononoke is a breathtaking event in animation history with character designs and battle sequences that amaze.  Clocking in at over two hours, Princess Mononoke is a consuming viewing experience and one that will most likely grow in appreciation with repeated viewings.

    Arriving with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Princess Mononoke is yet another gorgeous example of Miyazaki in high-definition.  Relaying crisp colors and a clear picture free of flakes or speckles, Princess Mononoke is a stunner that will make viewers marvel at the sweeping battle sequences found within.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Princess Mononoke comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Presented with always audible dialogue, the violent battles and animal stampedes offer a considerable boost in the mix that will surely benefit the viewing experience.  Porting over previously available bonus features, Princess Mononoke provides viewers with original Japanese storyboards (2:13:21), original Japanese and English trailers (14:20), original TV spots (11:33) and the original English theatrical trailer (2:03).  In addition, a brief featurette with Jada Pinkett Smith, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Neil Gaiman and other creative talent offering insight on the English dub of the film is provided (5:05) along with, Princess Mononoke in the USA (19:57), a video record of Miyazaki’s US and Canadian travels to promote the film in 1999.  Finally, a DVD edition of the film rounds out the supplemental package.

    Masterfully animated and inhabited with deep themes, Princess Mononoke is an intensely epic animated film with few others like it.  Astonishing in its scope, Princess Mononoke challenges the viewers with characters who are not simply good or evil but, very much human in their layered personalities.  Complex and at times, difficult to follow, Miyazaki’s environmentally conscience picture can be a tough pill to swallow but, one that will surely benefit from additional viewings throughout the years.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment does domestic Miyazaki fans proud with another splendid transfer that preserves the elegance of this critically-acclaimed effort.  While, scant on newly produced content, the existing supplements suffice with Princess Mononoke in the USA being the package highlight.  Not quite Miyazaki’s finest effort, Princess Mononoke remains an animated epic with visuals ranking as some of Japan’s best from the last 20 years.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 18thPrincess Mononoke can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Wind Rises (2013)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci & William H. Macy

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hailed as Miyazaki’s final film before announcing his retirement, a wondrous tale of a brilliant airplane designer would become the Academy Award-winner’s swan song.  Loosely influenced by actual designer Jiro Horikoshi and Miyazaki’s own manga of the same name, this inspiring story ends a five year silence since Miyazaki’s 2008 effort, Ponyo.  Touchstone Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents The Wind Rises on breathtaking Blu-ray.

    The Wind Rises centers on the young Jiro Horikoshi who longs to become a pilot.  After realizing his poor eyesight will prevent him from doing so, Jiro is determined to become an aeronautical engineer and design the most beautiful airplanes.  Visualizing his goals through his dreams and working tirelessly for years, Jiro reconnects with a woman from his past and falls in love.  Conflicted by what his efforts have produced, Jiro looks within his thoughts for his hero, Giovanni Caproni, to guide him.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), John Krasinski (The Office), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), William H. Macy (Shameless) and Werner Herzog (Jack Reacher) all provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Recently admitting he will continue making anime until his death, Hayao Miyazaki’s possible final feature film is yet another visual slice of perfection.  Set at the turn of the century, The Wind Rises casts a light on Jiro Horikoshi whose determined to make his goals a reality.  Brilliant and friendly, Jiro is reminiscent of every young soul who wishes to change the world with their ideas.  Crosscutting between Jiro’s daydreams where he meets his mentor, fellow engineer Giovanni Caproni, Jiro can visualize his ideas and see their pros and cons.  These dream sequences are not only beautiful but, offer insight into the creative mind of Miyazaki and how his genius operates.  With close friend Kiro Honjo at his side, Jiro works through the years to make a difference in his overwhelmingly poor and dated country.  After reconnecting with a woman from his past, Jiro asks for her hand in marriage, against somber circumstances.  Never giving up, Jiro continues his efforts and is conflicted with the results after witnessing the use his creations have been put to.  Coming under criticism for utilizing heavy smoking characters and a protagonist responsible for war machines, Miyazaki’s feelings are complex, much like the lives of his characters, and insists while he does not approve of the planes’ usage, they were one of the few creations the Japanese could be proud of.  Regardless of their wartime agenda, Jiro’s creation and passion is the central theme of the movie that urges viewers to follow their own dreams and find their happiness.  While, Jiro’s affection for his wife, Nahoko, tends to be dry and lacking in sincerity, Miyazaki crafts several sequences between the couple that are the very essence of romance.  Finding love and living life to its fullest are the defining messages viewers take away from this dreamlike journey into the mind of a creative soul.  Becoming Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2013, The Wind Rises is a captivating tale told through Miyazaki’s visually intoxicating imagery that define wonder and romance.

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents The Wind Rises with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  As Miyazaki’s most recent effort, colors are thunderously bold and consistent throughout the runtime.  No anomalies of any sort intrude on the gorgeous imagery, allowing viewers to appreciate the countless flying sequences and early 20th century surroundings.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Wind Rises comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is rich and clear with the roar of airplane engines soaring through your speakers.  Composer Joe Hisaishi’s Italian influenced score comes across with wonderful elegance, setting the mood for the film.  In addition, a startling earthquake sequence offers a suitable rumble to the mix that adds nice emphasis to the visuals.  For what is considered to be Miyazaki’s final effort, special features are rather light but, still worthwhile.  The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone (10:46) finds English Version Director Gary Rydstrom discussing the project along with fellow cast members Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stanely Tucci, William H. Macy, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski offering their flattering opinions on Miyazaki’s work.  In addition, storyboards (2:06:29), original Japanese trailers and TV spots (9:07), an announcement of the completion of the film (1:22:46) featurette which documents a press conference with Miyazaki, Voice Actor Hideaki Anno and Singer/Songwriter Yumi Matsutoya along with, a DVD edition of the film round out the supplemental package.

    Universally acclaimed, The Wind Rises is a gorgeously realized effort from Miyazaki’s never-ending imagination.  Brought to life by complex and layered characters, The Wind Rises is a dreamlike tale of chasing your goals and injecting beauty back into the world.  Touchstone Home Entertainment sends Miyazaki’s final work off on a high note with stunning picture, crisp audio and decent, if not, slightly light special features.  True to his inspiration, Miyazaki not only accomplished making something beautiful with The Wind Rises, but leaves viewers with a sense of determination to make their own dreams come alive.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thThe Wind Rises can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Maleficent (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Maleficent (2014)

    Director: Robert Stromberg

    Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple & Sam Riley

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Paying homage to their own legacy, the Mouse House invites you to take a closer look at one of its most vile antagonists.  Marking the directorial debut of Academy Award-winning Art Director Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland), experience the fairy tale you thought you knew.  With a screenplay by Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) and a magnificently sinister performance from Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes you to the evil beginning of Maleficent.

    Reimagining the 1959 Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, Angelina Jolie stars as the scorned fairy Maleficent.  Bestowing an evil curse on the king’s newborn daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8), Maleficent finds herself conflicted among rival kingdoms as the young princess matures.  Before long, she realizes Aurora may be the key in a life-altering course of action for both of their worlds.  Sharlto Copley (District 9), Juno Temple (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Sam Riley (Control) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Retaining several moments of the iconic animated film, Maleficent strives and succeeds in becoming its own beast.  Providing a thorough backstory for the famed villain, the viewer is granted access into the tragic events that would propel Maleficent on her downward spiral.  Once a beautiful, winged fairy, Maleficent is betrayed by Stefan (Copley), her sole human friend with whom she grew to love.  Fueled by greed and the succession of the king, Stefan robs Maleficent of her prized possessions, causing a dark cloud of despair to emerge between their kingdoms.  Echoing the classic setup of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, now riled with hate, casts an unbreakable curse on King Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora (Fanning), to compensate for what was taken from her.  While, the three good fairies tasked with keeping Aurora safe appear, albeit by different names, they are far more clumsy and neglectful than their animated counterparts.  Meanwhile, Maleficent, along with her raven-morphing servant Diaval (Riley), keep a watchful eye on the young child, inadvertently becoming her unofficial fairy godmother and develop an unexpected relationship.  Channeling the demeanor of Eleanor Audley’s performance, Angelina Jolie stuns as the horned fairy, adding a new layer of sympathy and elegance to the role.  In addition, the natural beauty and charm of Elle Fanning raises the rather shallow Aurora to new heights, providing a genuine connection with the audience.  As King Stefan’s paranoia and fear escalates, a war between his kingdom and Maleficent is imminent.  Stunning visual effects and gorgeous art direction send the characters through intense battle sequences that rival those in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings franchise.  Continuing to evolve, Maleficent injects plenty of unique twists in its final act that will firmly separate itself from its predecessor.

    Hailing from an esteemed visual effects and art direction background, first time director Robert Stromberg successfully brings a fairy tale to life with rich colors and fanciful environments.  Disney alumni Linda Woolverton’s screenplay captures the essence of the original tale while, providing a whole new light on a mysteriously misunderstood character.  Exciting and magical, Maleficent gives new meaning to one of Disney’s most evil and equally beloved villainess’ with relatable themes and arresting performances.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Maleficent arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Engulfed in a fantasy world of lavish colors and computer-generated creatures, Maleficent casts an immediate spell of quality.  The cheery, warm complexion of Fanning to the pale, porcelain skin tone of Jolie comes through remarkably.  In addition, colorful details ranging from Jolie’s glowing green eyes and Copley’s prosthetic scars pop with clarity.  Maleficent, cloaked in inky black gowns and hidden in shadows, registers beautifully with no crushing or disruptive noise to be found.  Disney has graciously provided viewers with a bewitching visual experience that is nothing short of magnificent.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Maleficent sounds wickedly solid in all areas.  From Janet McTeer’s soft-spoken narration to the thunderous battle cries, dialogue is always crisp and well balanced.  The roaring sounds of Maleficent’s wings and blazes of inferno offer strong emphasis with a firm force.  From quieter, more character driven moments to the evil fairies roaring conjuring of spells, Maleficent hits every note perfectly.

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Aurora: Becoming a Beauty (4:53): Actress Elle Fanning offers her personal experiences growing up with Sleeping Beauty and her approaches to differentiate Aurora from the original film.  Star Angelina Jolie and Producer Joe Roth also provide insight.

    • From Fairy Tale to Feature Film (8:13): Angelica Jolie, Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, Executive Producer Palak Patel, Director Robert Stromberg and others address the challenges reinventing the classic fairy tale from the antagonists’ perspective.

    • Building An Epic Battle (5:48): Screenwriter Linda Woolverton and Producer Joe Roth discuss the staging and complexities of shooting the first act battle sequence with insight from Stunt Coordinator Eunice Huthart, SFX Supervisor Michael Dawson and Senior VFX Supervisor Carey Villegas.

    • Classic Couture (1:34): Millinery Designer Justin Smith provides voiceover, explaining the making of Maleficent’s head mask and various accessories.

    • Maleficent Revealed (4:45): A montage of several scenes from their onsite filming appearance to their finalized, effects heavy, completion.

    • Deleted Scenes: Stefan in King’s Chamber (2:34), Pixies Seek Asylum (1:51), Pixie Idiots (0:22), Diaval Asks about The Curse (1:00) and Suitor (0:51).

    • Sneak Peeks: Promos for Disney Parks, Star Wars Rebels, Once Upon a Time and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Complete First Season.

    • DVD Edition

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Containing the rough structure of Disney’s 1959 classic, Maleficent dared to be unique and succeeded, creating a box-office smash.  Perfectly cast, Angelina Jolie captures the beauty, mystery and suffering of the horned fairy with a wonderfully layered backstory.  Briskly told and gorgeously designed, Director Robert Stromberg along with Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, carry the magic of Disney animation into the live-action world.  As wonderful as the film itself, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have bestowed a gorgeous Blu-ray with flawless detail and strong audio specifications.  While, the included special features are decent, covering various degrees of the production, a domestic 3D Blu-ray release is unfortunately lacking for this visually delightful film.  Nonetheless, Maleficent is a wickedly fun time with compelling performances and brilliant production value that Disney enthusiasts will find enchanting.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available November 4thMaleficent can be purchased via Disney.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Million Dollar Arm (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Million Dollar Arm (2014)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

    Starring: Jon Hamm, Pitobash, Aasif Mandiv, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin & Bill Paxton 

    Released by: Disney

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    No stranger to fact-based sports dramas, Disney has once again turned to the headlines to spin a new tale of inspirational underdogs akin to Miracle and Invincible.  From Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night), two Indian teens whisked away from their native land by unbelievable circumstances is what dreams are made of.  Headlined by a diverse cast of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming talent, Million Dollar Arm will leave you uplifted and applauding.

    Million Dollar Arm stars Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as sports agent JB Bernstein.  Along with partner Ash (Aasif Mandiv, Premium Rush), their recently formed company is struggling to make ends meet.  In a desperate attempt to attract talent, Bernstein travels to India to stage a pitching contest in order to discover untapped athletes.  Embarking on an inspirational journey of self-discovery and teamwork, Bernstein returns to America with two Indian youths to transform them into Major League players.  Pitobash (Shanghai), Lake Bell (Childrens Hospital), Alan Arkin (Argo) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Sentimental and inspiring, Million Dollar Arm continues a long streak of successful true life sports tales Disney has perfected.  Based on the 2008 signing of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Million Dollar Arm traces their incredible road from their desolate Indian land to the United States.  Jon Hamm leads the film as business-obsessed sports agent, JB Bernstein, at odds with keeping his independent company afloat.  Hamm does well in the role as a wealthy, self-absorbed man with little regard to anything other than signing the deal.  With money and resources dwindling, Bernstein hatches an idea to scour the unexploited region of India to discover their first Major League ballplayers.  Aided by a local interpreter (Pitobash) and talent scout (Arkin), Bernstein hosts Million Dollar Arm, a pitching contest to locate the finest talent with financial benefits for those selected.  Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Treasure Island) portray the fish out of water winners with ease, invoking wonderful emotion and humor in their performances.  Brought to America to hone their techniques with pitching coach Tom House (Paxton), Rinku and Dinesh have difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings.  Preoccupied with other business and neglecting his pupils, Bernstein must reevaluate his life to better understand the value of teamwork.  In addition, striking up a charming romance with his tenant (Bell), Bernstein learns to put his heart and others before business, allowing his young friends to rise above adversity.

    Far from a sports enthusiasts, Million Dollar Arm is precisely the kind of uplifting drama that moves you emotionally.  Slightly formulaic and predictable, Million Dollar Arm is still a wonderful film possessing strong values all audiences can relate to.  Destined to leave viewers with a lump in their throats by its finale, Million Dollar Arm is another heartfelt home run for Disney.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Million Dollar Arm arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  From the hot, sandy climate of India to the flashy Los Angeles cityscape, colors consistently shine with detail nicely relayed.  Skin complexions are accurate and warm while, black levels are handled nicely falling only a few hairs shy of perfection.  Clear and vibrant, Million Dollar Arm is a pleasing sight.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Million Dollar Arm continues to work its magic.  Character-driven, dialogue is heavy and always relayed clearly with no issues.  The hustle and bustle of the Indian sequences supply the mix with various background noises of traffic and car horns that are nicely balanced.  Composer A.R. Rahman’s (Slumdog Millionaire) score of blending western and eastern cultures is the track’s highlight.  Empowering each sequence and providing added boosts in authority, Rahman’s musical queues always reward the viewer.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Training Camp (6:18): Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal share their experiences preparing for the film with various trainers and ballplayers.

    • Their Story (2:54): A much too brief featurette focusing on the real JB Bernstein, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel discussing their incredible true story.

    • Million Dollar Music by A.R. Rahman (2:34): Rahman shares anecdotes about his approaches to the material and the various songs crafted.

    • Deleted Scenes: A collection of three brief and forgettable scenes understandably left out of the final cut, JB’s Problem (0:44), Sold (0:55) and I’d Take 10 Dollars (0:40).

    • Alternate Ending (0:49)

    • Outtakes (2:04)

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

    Filled with heart and a story of dreams coming true, Million Dollar Arm is an inspirational effort accomplished by a terrific cast, gorgeous locations and an effective score.  Marking another rousing success with sports dramas, Disney’s Blu-ray treatment, although short on features, is sure to satisfy fans with beautiful visual and audio treatment.  Million Dollar Arm may not stray far from most fact based films of this ilk but, it’s effectively told and will undoubtedly encourage tears of joy for some.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now, Million Dollar Arm can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Adventure Planet (2012) DVD Review

    Adventure Planet (2012)

    Director: Kompin Kemgumnird

    Starring: Drake Bell, Bailee Madison, Jane Lynch, J.K. Simmons & Brooke Shields

    Released by: Arc Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a world overrun by endless technology and environmental carelessness, a trio of kids embark on an adventure to save it!  Set in the exotic reaches of Thailand, a tech-savvy boy scout is about to learn the beauty of nature and what must be done to ensure its safety.  From Bangkok’s Kantana Animation Studio, Arc Entertainment proudly presents Adventure Planet, an exciting tale about friendship and never underestimating the power of kids.

    Adventure Planet centers on Thailand based sister and brother, Norva (Bailee Madison, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) and Jorpe who have the unique abilities to communicate with nature.  After bumping into tech-obsessed boy scout and son of Capital City president, Sam (Drake Bell, Drake and Josh), during an expedition, the trios personalities clash.  With the threat of global warming at an all-time high, Sam’s gadgets fail leaving him to respect his new friends as flaming creatures descend from the skies.  The kids race to Capital City to warn the president of the planet’s energy consumption before disaster strikes everywhere.  Turning off all power on Earth in order to regenerate is the only option, as long as the three adventurous kids can convince everyone.  Jane Lynch (Wreck-It Ralph), J.K. Simmons (Juno) and Brooke Shields (The Boy Who Cried Werewolf) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Slightly more sophisticated but not nearly as fun as an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Adventure Planet attempts to carve an adventure tale with an environmentally conscience message.  While, the awareness of nature’s safety is an important one, this Thailand-produced, computer-generated effort is far too ambitious for its own good.  Directed by Kompin Kemgumnird, who previously contributed to Disney’s Tarzan and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Adventure Planet’s animation style feels stiff and dated compared to the highly-detailed and naturalistic quality of Dreamworks Animation and Pixar’s output.  Colors run rampant in the lush exotic landscapes with the camera respectably guided, but the characters’ dead pan, emotionless eyes offer little for the viewer to feel.  In addition, the preachy, personality clashing tale is as cliché as they come with a screenplay that is slightly overcomplicated and devoid of any humor.  Notable voice talent such as Drake Bell (Ultimate Spider-Man) and Jane Lynch (Glee) are all present and accounted for, but none offer anything memorable to this otherwise bland film.  Attempting to live up its name, Adventure Planet finds our heroes saving the day in the third act, underwhelming the viewer all the way to the end credits.

    With a tighter story and slicker animation, Adventure Planet could have been halfway decent.  Unfortunately, this independent effort bit off more than it could chew.  With the exception of a few wide shots of the Thailand vistas, Adventure Planet is not particularly well animated and suffers from a generic story that lacks excitement or a quality sense of humor.  Look elsewhere for true animated adventure.  

    RATING: 1.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Adventure Planet is presented widescreen preserving its 16:9 aspect ratio.  With colors bursting from the film, Adventure Planet tends to underwhelm in an HD dominated world where other animated films truly come alive.  Lacking superior detail or sharpness, the film looks as decent as can be with nothing notable to speak of in the transfer.  As bland as the film’s quality, the transfer matches nicely.

    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Adventure Planet sounds halfway decent with dialogue never encountering any issues and more climatic sequences offering a suitable increase in volume and bass.  In addition, a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is also included.  A marginal increase over its video transfer, Adventure Planet’s mix will suffice just fine.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Trailer

    • Vudu Digital Copy

    RATING: 1/5

    OVERALL:

    With a message audiences, young and old, could benefit from, Adventure Planet ultimately suffers from its stilted animation that prevents any emotional resonance for the viewer.  Furthermore, the story is uninspired and lacks much needed humor.  Arc Entertainment’s video and audio presentation is merely mediocre with only the inclusion of the film’s trailer and a Vudu digital copy code filling out the special features package.  In more capable hands, Adventure Planet could have lived up to its name of excitement and fun.  Sadly, this Bangkok-produced undertaking is best left for the recycling bin.

    RATING: 2/5  

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #10: Newhart, Escape from Tomorrow, The Demons, Vinegar Syndrome & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #10 includes:

    - The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio (1971) / A Clockwork Blue (1972) (0:39)
    Street Date: March 28, 2014
    Vinegar Syndrome: http://vinegarsyndrome.com/

    - Newhart The Complete Third Season (9:25)
    Street Date: April 22, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Godzilla: The Complete Animated Series (14:06)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Escape from Tomorrow (2013) (20:37)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Cinedigm: http://www.cinedigm.com/

    - The Demons (1973) (29:25)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Kino Lorber: http://www.kinolorber.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (34:20)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #8: Power Rangers, The Swimmer, August: Osage County, Beneath & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #8 includes:

    - Power Rangers Seasons 13-17 (0:44)
    Street Date: April 1, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - The Swimmer (1968) (10:52)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Grindhouse Releasing: http://www.grindhousereleasing.com/

    - No Holds Barred (1989) (18:24)
    Street Date: April 1, 2014
    Image Entertainment: http://www.watchimage.com/

    - Beneath (2013) (24:23)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - August: Osage County (2013) (31:53)
    Street Date: April 8, 2014
    Anchor Bay Entertainment: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Little House on the Prairie Season One (37:47)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Lionsgate: http://www.lionsgate.com/

    - The Jungle Book 2 (2003) (44:38)
    Street Date: March 18, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo (2004) (50:19)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Dennis the Menace Volume One (55:51)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (1:00:44)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #4: The Jungle Book, Arrow Video, Darkman, The Shadow & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #4 includes:

    - The Jungle Book (1967) Diamond Edition (0:34)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Rocky: The Heavyweight Collection (6:37)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    MGM: http://www.mgm.com/

    - Hellgate (1990) (13:27)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - Darkman (1990) Collector's Edition (20:48)
    Street Date: February 18, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) (28:09)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - The Shadow (1994) Collector's Edition (35:33)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/