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Currently showing posts tagged Fairy Tale

  • 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

       

  • 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.

  • Pete's Dragon (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Pete’s Dragon (2016)

    Director: David Lowery

    Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban & Robert Redford

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining the classic 1977 original, Pete’s Dragon finds the titular child (Oakes Fegley, This Is Where I Leave You) fending for himself in the wilderness following the tragic death of his parents.  Befriending an enormous green dragon, Pete’s unconventional upbringing is interrupted by fearful lumberjacks and the prospect of being apart of a family once again.  Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Wes Bentley (Interstellar), Karl Urban (Star Trek Beyond) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) co-star.

    Substituting the musical DNA of its Mickey Rooney starring predecessor, Pete’s Dragon refocuses its whimsical tale as an intimate family-driven drama concerning loss, love and magic.  Set in the 1980s while maintaining an otherwise timeless tone, Director David Lowery’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) story about a boy and his dragon charmingly tugs at the heart strings of viewers from young Pete’s initial introduction to the lovable Elliot through their shattering separation following local lumberjacks fearfully capturing the winged creature.  After several years of living off the land side by side his fantastical companion, Pete encounters Park Ranger Grace Meacham (Howard) who, after a failed escape from local wilderness men, is retrieved from the sprawling woods and cared for in the neighboring town.  Anxious to reunite with Elliot, Pete is embraced by Grace, her boyfriend Jack and soon-to-be stepdaughter Natalie (Oona Laurence, Southpaw) while, Jack’s disgruntled brother Gavin (Urban) seeks to capture the creature he’s certain he saw.  Conflicted by the support offered by Grace’s family and his love for Elliot, Pete is emotionally tested once more after Gavin’s ruthless recovery of the dragon into town forces him to question his standing amongst the frantic townspeople.  Aided by those closest to him including Grace’s dragon believing father (Redford), the resourceful boy embarks on a spirited mission to free his best friend.

    Exceptionally achieved through the computer-generated wizardry of Weta Digital (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar), Elliot’s furry and big-eyed presence is breathtakingly realistic, allowing viewers young and old to easily suspend any and all disbelief.  Taking much creative license with its source material, Pete’s Dragon adheres to the general structure of what came before with its dramatically heavier narrative, winsome performances and picturesque New Zealand shooting locations enhancing its more magical touches.  Provided with a wonderfully earthy score by Composer Daniel Hart (Tumbledown), Pete’s Dragon, although a comparatively quieter effort next to Disney’s other tentpole summer blockbusters, is enchantingly saccharine and ably continues the quality of the Mouse House’s other reinterpreted features.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pete’s Dragon with a healthy 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural skin tones and highlighting the luscious greenery of its New Zealand filming locations, black levels seen in shadowy shades and Elliot’s dark cave are impressively inky while, the digital rendering of Pete’s dragon is exceptionally detailed allowing viewers to fully appreciate the intricacies of his green fur.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is handsomely handled with the utmost clarity while, the ambiance of the wilderness provides subtle yet effecting statements.  In addition, the powerful whips of wind from Elliot’s wings give appropriate rise to the film’s many flying sequences while, the ethereal sounds of Daniel Hart’s music blankets the feature in glorious fantasy bliss.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director David Lowery, Co-Writer Toby Halbrooks and Actors Oakes Fegley & Oona Laurence, Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary (7:31) offers a personal look into Lowery’s intimate passages kept throughout production, intertwined with onset footage and interviews from the cast.  Furthermore, Making Magic (2:12) is a brief featurette exploring the visual design and characteristics implemented in bringing Elliot to life while, “Disappearing” Moments: Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes (9:12) and Bloopers (1:28) are also included.  Finally, the “Nobody Knows” Music Video by The Lumineers (3:12), the “Something Wild” Music Video by Lindsey Stirling featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (3:45), a Welcome to New Zealand Promo (1:56) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), the Disney Conservation Fund (1:02), a Disney Vacations Promo (1:32), Elena of Avalor (0:32) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) conclude the disc’s supplemental package while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    A modest sleeper hit that enchanted audiences while moving many to tears, Pete’s Dragon is a magical coming-of-age tale that warmly continues Disney’s recent streak of reinterpretations for a new generation.  Charmed with a remarkable high-definition presentation and a moderate spread of bonus features including an audio commentary from the filmmakers and select cast members, Pete’s Dragon deserves to fly under many a Christmas trees this holiday season.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 29th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pete’s Dragon 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.

  • 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.

  • The Guardian (1990) Blu-ray Review

    The Guardian (1990)

    Director: William Friedkin

    Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown & Carey Lowell

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Dan Greenburg, The Guardian centers on young parents Phil (Dwier Brown, Field of Dreams) and Kate (Carey Lowell, License to Kill) welcoming the arrival of their newborn baby.  Shortly after hiring the ideal live-in babysitter, Phil and Kate’s worst nightmare comes true when Camilla’s (Jenny Seagrove, Local Hero) supernatural intentions for their child are revealed.  Brad Hall (Saturday Night Live), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop), Natalija Nogulich (Hoffa) and Gary Swanson (Vice Squad) co-star.

    Marketed as Academy Award winning director William Friedkin’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) return to the horror genre, The Guardian modernizes the dark origins of fairy tales with the deep-rooted fears of all parents for a uniquely-suited picture.  Adhering to the ancient druid worship of trees, an evil yet, convincingly caring nanny (Seagrove) connives her way into the lives of unsuspecting parents in order to sacrifice their newborn babies.  Disappearing only to resurface under a new identity as Camilla, Phil (Brown) and Kate (Lowell) hire the charmingly attractive woman to care for their newborn only to find themselves rattled by unsettling nightmares and the declining health of their baby.  While local friends fall victim to Camilla’s wicked ways courtesy of flesh-eating wolves, the couple’s suspicions are validated after a grieving former victim comes forward to warn the couple of the monster living under their roof.  Unsuccessfully convincing the authorities of the supernatural powers at play, Phil and Kate must trek to the source of the evil in order to protect their baby’s soul.

    Previously developed for Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) before jumping ship to helm Darkman, the project would suffer through several grueling rewrites once Friedkin joined the production.  With the foundation of a solid premise, The Guardian falters due to its noticeably shaky screenplay and Friedkin’s quick-cutting that capsizes any effect the film’s scarier moments intend.  Although sequences of homicidal trees dismembering three deserving thugs make for solid eye-candy, The Guardian’s dark fairy tale tone finds itself largely lost in the woods.  Failing to attract audiences or sizable box-office returns with Friedkin also distancing himself from the project, The Guardian has marginally grown in appreciation amongst cult cinema circles.  Hardly reaching the quality of Friedkin’s devil-possessing 1973 classic, The Guardian, with its occasionally striking moments of grim imagery, is neither entirely forgettable nor remarkably memorable.  

    Scream Factory presents The Guardian with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Amidst several instances of flakes and specks, skin tones appear well saturated and boasting natural appearances.  Meanwhile, colors are strongly enforced with greenery and moments of gore popping most nicely.  With countless sequences shrouded in darkness and shadow, black levels appear inky and well detailed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is prominently handled with audibility never an issue.  Furthermore, moments of suspenseful intensity including Ned’s savage assault from wolves and Phil’s chainsaw-wielding battle in the film’s final act are sharp and effective.  Packed with a varied assortment of new and vintage supplements, special features include, A Happy Coincidence with Dwier Brown (21:56), From Strasberg to The Guardian with Gary Swanson (10:10), A Mother’s Journey with Natalija Nogulich (11:33), Scoring the Guardian with Jack Hues (6:40) and Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian with Matthew Mungle (13:07) all produced by Aine Leicht’s dependable Cavetown Pictures.  Also included, Return to the Genre: An Interview with William Friedkin (17:25), The Nanny: An Interview with Jenny Seagrave (13:19) and Don’t Go in the Woods: An Interview with Stephen Volk (21:00).  Finally, a Still Gallery (1:19) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:34) round out the disc’s bonus content.

    Unfairly compared to one of the genre’s most enduring efforts, The Guardian is all but destined for failure.  That said, judged on its own merits, Friedkin’s grim fairy tale never quite lives up to its full potential with a problematic screenplay and stabs at suspense crumbling.  Although its narrative may appeal to some more than others, Scream Factory’s high-definition upgrade unanimously impresses with its technical grades checking out and its supplemental package being worth the price of admission alone.  Long out of print, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is prime for Friedkinphiles and others unfamiliar with the Academy Award winner’s horror followup.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 19th from Scream Factory, The Guardian can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, 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.

  • 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.

  • Dolls (1987) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Dolls (1987)

    Director: Stuart Gordon

    Starring: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams & Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the bowels of Empire Pictures‘ vast library, Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) puppeteers a dark fantasy of pint-sized playmates with a sinister side.  Executive Produced by Charles Band (Ghoulies, Crawlspace), Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Dolls Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray for the first time ever!  Adorned with plentiful bonus content and newly designed cover art by Nathan Thomas Milliner, Dolls is bone-chilling fun.  

    After a violent storm derails their travels, a precocious little girl and her mean-spirited parents seek shelter at a gothic mansion.  Home to an elderly couple of doll makers, a childlike salesman and two punk-rockers also find their way to the gloomy residence to avoid the harsh weather.  Littered with countless hand-carved toys, something foreboding awaits in the shadows of this ominous home for those causing mischief.  Stephen Lee (Robocop 2), Guy Rolfe (Mr. Sardonicus), Hilary Mason (Don’t Look Now), Ian Patrick Williams (TerrorVision), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Robot Jox) and Carrie Lorraine (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) star.

    MOVIE:

    Lacking the excessive gore of Gordon’s Lovecraftian efforts, Dolls works beautifully as a dark rooted fairy tale with an important comment on childhood.  Serving up tried and true horror tropes including a haunted house, brutal thunderstorms and eerie characters, Dolls feels removed from the bloody decadence of other 1980s offerings.  The talented cast hit all their marks with Guy Rolfe as the kind and equally menacing doll maker injecting an added touch of class to the film.  In addition, the late Stephen Lee shines as the youthful salesman Ralph who is conflicted with embracing his childhood.  Lee conjures up wonderful pathos when reminiscing about his boyhood toys and his late father’s jovial spirit.  Carrie Lorraine does well as the imaginative little girl Judy, who forms a bond with Ralph and the magical yet, deadly dolls.  Shot entirely on Italian sound stages, Dolls offers up wildly effective production design with a decrepit manor hosting the film’s entire tale.  No stranger to recycling their efforts, Empire Pictures would redress the set for use in Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.  

    Clocking in under 80 minutes, Dolls‘ breezy runtime allows its simple narrative to be told without sacrifice.  Characters are nicely developed and tedious stop-motion animation brings to life the deadly playmates with wonderful results.  Bloody when necessary, Dolls never loses sight of its horror genre label but, is best remembered for its classically gothic tone, soaked in fairy tale lore.  Produced by Brian Yuzna (Society) with a screenplay by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Dolls predates the short statured slayings of Child’s Play and Puppetmaster while, capturing a spirit of horror from a bygone era.  Suspenseful and humorous, Dolls is an Empire Pictures highlight and stands as one of Gordon’s finest directorial achievements.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Dolls arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor flakes and speckles popping up occasionally and a slight softness during stop-motion sequences, Dolls is a delight in high-definition.  Boasting natural and nicely detailed skin tones, colors pop wonderfully in wardrobe and the various outfits of the highly decorated dolls.  Shrouded in darkness and candle light, black levels are a marvel with no crushing on display and rich visibility observed.  Simply put, Dolls makes a stunning splash with its Blu-ray debut!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dolls has minor difficulties early on maintaining high dialogue levels.  Luckily, the mix quickly improves allowing speech to flourish with clarity and no other intrusions.  Fuzzbee Morse’s (Ghoulies II) music injects a synth-heavy, jack in the box composition that arrives robustly and further cements the film’s dark fairy tale tone.  Effectively balanced with only brief anomalies, Dolls is a satisfying listening experience.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon & Writer Ed Naha: Ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Audio Commentary with Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine and Ian Patrick Williams: Also ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls (38:22): Red Shirt Pictures presents this detailed retrospective covering Empire Pictures‘ early theatrical releases, their success in the home video market and the lengthy animation techniques utilized in accomplishing Dolls‘ creepier moments.  Executive Producer Charles Band, Director Stuart Gordon, Producer Brian Yuzna, Writer Ed Naha as well as, Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams and Special Make-Up Effects Artists Gabe Bartalos and John Vulich all offer their insights on this thorough look back on Dolls, dedicated to the memory of the late Stephen Lee.

    • Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

    • Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (8:21): Three scenes, Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive and Punch’s Little Secret are presented.

    • Still Gallery: 50 in total.

    • More from Scream Factory: Trailers include Pumpkinhead, Phantom of the Paradise and Sleepaway Camp.

    • Reversible cover art: Bearing the memorable VHS artwork of a doll holding its eyeballs.

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Kickstarting Executive Producer Charles Band’s obsession with pint-sized killers, Dolls is an effectively dark fairy tale surrounded by gothic horror movie set pieces.  Classier than most summer camp slasher offerings at the time, Dolls is an entertaining romp of haunted house thrills and things that go bump in the night.  Headlined by a memorable cast and painstaking animation techniques, Writer Ed Naha and Director Stuart Gordon’s tale of terrorizing toys remains an Empire Pictures standout.  Looking better than ever, Scream Factory has pulled the right strings in delivering a worthy collector’s edition of one of Gordon’s most loved films.  Sporting a splendid transfer and a newly produced retrospective from Red Shirt Pictures, Dolls Collector’s Edition is yet another must-have shriekfest for Scream Factory enthusiasts.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 11thDolls Collector's Edition can be purchased via Shout! Factory, 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.