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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.