WHV Finally Gets It Right On Its Latest Peanuts DVD Release

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

Warner Home Video has struggled quite a bit in the past year or so with its home releases. The 2013 releases of Tiny Toon Adventures Volume 4, Taz-Mania: Season 2 Part 1, and Hats Off To Dr. Seuss were all troubled with their own problems. 2014 hasn’t exactly been off to much of a better start thanks to the release of The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock. That release presented only the main Flintstone Kids shorts minus the companion Captain Caveman and Son and Dino shorts. That alone took off major points from that set. But now WHV has finally started to pick up the ball and get things back on the right track thanks to the brand new release of This is America, Charlie Brown. This brand new double-disc has officially made its own spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new DVDs and Blu-rays for families and children. The primary reason for that the features included in this set are both entertaining and educational. Another reason for the set’s enjoyment is the use of both hand drawn animation and historical photos to help illustrate each “lesson.” The last factor to examine in what makes This is America, Charlie Brown a success is its packaging. Each of the noted factors by themselves, play important roles in the success of the set. Together, they make this brand new release one of the year’s best new box sets for families and children.

The first and most important factor in the success of This is America, Charlie Brown is the combination of both entertainment and education. The eight features spread across the set’s two discs educate viewers in such fashion that it doesn’t even feel like viewers are being taught. Thanks to the legacy of the Peanuts gang, it feels more like viewers are going on a fun field trip through America’s history than just learning about history from another documentary. There are even some fun little pop culture references that parents will appreciate along the way. One of those references is to the command module of the Apollo 10 being named Charlie Brown. Lucy comments on this saying that she doesn’t know where such a name could have come from. The kids also see their own comic strip hanging in the Smithsonian Museum of Art. The little reference there is just as funny. On a more subtle level, audiences that know anything about animation history will appreciate Frank Welker (The Real Ghostbusters, Curious George, Garfield & Friends) as the voice of a number of characters here including Wilbur Wright in “The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.” Gregg Berger (Garfield & Friends, Aahhh!!! Real Monsters, G.I. Joe) joins Welker as the voice of Wilbur’s brother Orville. This isn’t the only feature to which Berger and Welker offer their talents, either. Lou Rawls joins them in “The Music and Heroes of America” and makes the journey all the more enjoyable even as being an educational journey. It serves as one more example of how the combination of education and entertainment is such an important factor in the success of this set. It isn’t the only important factor to the set, either.

The combination of entertainment and education in the features that make up This Is America, Charlie Brown is a solid foundation for the mini-series in whole. Just as important to the set’s success is the use of both hand drawn animation and historical photos to help illustrate and advance each story. Kids will be entertained by the hand drawn animation. And parents that grew up in the days of true animation will appreciate the original animation style of this Peanuts presentation. Those behind the mini-series balanced the animated segments with just enough historical photos to help drive home the stories in each feature. They even included some vintage video to help advance each “lesson,” too. And that video is just as balanced. The resultant effect is a presentation in each feature that will keep viewers of any age fully engaged from start to finish. It’s one more aspect of the whole mini-series that maintains the set’s value.

The visual presentation of the mini-series’ features and the ability of the features to entertain and educate without being too outright about their educational purpose are key to the success of This Is America, Charlie Brown. There is still one more factor to examine in the set in considering what makes it worth the purchase and the watch. That factor is the set’s overall packaging. Both of the discs in the set are placed on their own spindle inside the case. On one level, this protects the discs from scratching one another, thus increasing their life span. On another level, it minimizes the size of the box used to contain the discs. The bigger picture of this is that it conserves space on any viewer’s DVD rack. So not only is the mini-series in whole educational and entertaining, its case is ergonomic. Sure, there’s little else to the set whether extrinsic or even intrinsic. It’s a bare bones presentation. But these factors together make This Is America, Charlie Brown a much needed win for Warner Home Video and for fans that have waited so many years for this mini-series to get a proper release.

This Is America, Charlie Brown is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the WB Shop at http://www.wbshop.com/product/this+is+america%2C+charlie+brown-+the+complete+series+dvd+1000411223.do. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Danny Phantom Complete Series Set Is Loads Of Ghostly Fun For All

Courtesy:  Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

Nickelodeon’s programming today is comprised largely of live action sitcoms aimed at teen viewers.  However, from the early 1990s up until the mid-2000s, the network was known more for its vast array of cartoons.  It’s “Nicktoons” were its heart and soul.  While Nickelodeon does have some cartoons today, the network’s sole remaining real Nicktoon is Butch Hartman’s hugely successful series Fairly OddparentsFairly Oddparents is a standout series, too.  Interestingly enough, it isn’t his first series to have the honor of being added to Nickelodeon’s list of beloved Nicktoons.  His first notable “Nicktoon” was the short-lived supernatural series Danny Phantom.  Now thanks to Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon, fans of Danny Phantom will be able to own the complete series in one box later this month.  Danny Phantom only ran for three seasons.  In its defense, it could be argued that this was because it was ahead of its time.  That aside, series creator Butch Hartman and his writers crafted a number of enjoyable episodes throughout the show’s short run.  Just as worth noting about this new upcoming box set is that is alleviates some minor problems raised in the box sets containing the series’ second season.  Lastly, those that know their Nicktoons history will appreciate the voice talent that made up the series’ cast.  That who’s who of voice actors combined with the enjoyable stories, and the fact that they are all available together for the first time collectively make this upcoming set well worth picking up for any Danny Phantom fan.

Fans of Danny Phantom: The Complete Series  will appreciate this new complete series set first and foremost because it presents the series’ entire three-season run in one complete box set.  Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory have already released three complete series sets from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, and The Angry Beavers.  Those sets proved to actually take up far less space on DVD racks than the stand-alone season sets that had originally been released.  This set is no different.  All nine discs that make up all three seasons are included in this box.  Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon have sweetened the deal even more for fans in that they have maintained the established wise packaging that was used in the aforementioned complete series sets.  The discs are placed inside the box on either side of their own “insert” with the ninth and final disc being placed in its own spot inside the back of the case.  As with the previously noted box sets, this protects the discs and allows the episodes contained within each one to be enjoyed much longer.  It is the starting point of what audiences will appreciate about Danny Phantom: The Complete Series.

The packaging for Danny Phantom: The Complete Series is a good starting point in discussing everything that makes this box set well worth its price.  The episodes contained across the set’s nine total discs make the presentation as a whole even more enjoyable.  It would be easy to say that because its main characters were high school students, Danny Phantom was just another program aimed at audiences of the same age. To a point, it could be seen how teen audiences would take an interest in the series.  Case in point, one of the series’ story arcs involved a potential inter-racial romance between Danny and black classmate named Valerie Gray (voiced by Cree Summer—The Cosby Show, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Codename: Kids Next Door, etc.).  It really is a sign of the times that the show’s writers would include this without making a big fuss over it, either.  It is a subtle, but nice addition to the series.  There are also the constant struggles to balance trying to be a regular teen with being a superhero. But the jokes that are tossed in each episode aren’t above some younger viewers, either.  So while teens might have been the primary audience, younger viewers would have obviously enjoyed the show, too.  The same applies to today’s teens and pre-teens, too.

The packaging and writing that make up Danny Phantom’s episodes are collectively a big part of what makes the series so enjoyable even for today’s younger audiences.  There is at least one more aspect of the series’ new set that audiences will appreciate in examining the presentation as a whole.  That aspect is the series’ voice cast.  The series’ primary cast reads like a who’s who of voice acting.  It has already been noted that veteran voice actress Cree Summer is part of the primary cast (even though she doesn’t come into play until the second season).  Along with Ms. Summer, Grey DeLisle (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Clifford: The Puppy Years, Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends, etc.) Kath Soucie (Futurama, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, etc.) and a whole slate of others each play roles in the series.  Fans will also recognize the voices of Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim, Hellboy & Hellboy II), Martin Mull (Roseanne), and the man who is perhaps the busiest male voice actor in the business, one Frank Welker (Curious George, The Real Ghostbusters, Scooby-Doo Where Are You, etc.)  Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Taylor Lautner (the Twilight saga), and the late David Carradine even make appearances throughout the series among so many other big names.  If the massive list of A-listers that play roles in Danny Phantom isn’t reason enough to check out the new Danny Phantom: The Complete Series box set, then one need only set that alongside the enjoyable writing and the equally wise packaging to see just how worthwhile this set is for kids and kids at heart.  It will be available in stores and online Tuesday, January 28th.  It can be pre-ordered online now from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/danny-phantom-complete-series.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

CatDog Goes Out On Top In Its Final Season

Courtesy:  Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

The end is finally here for another classic Nicktoon courtesy of Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon.  The two companies have released CatDog: The Final Season to the masses at long last.  Unlike the show’s previously released season sets, this season contains only a single disc.  Even in just the one disc, viewers are treated to even more fun, zany adventures from everybody’s favorite canine feline, including the now beloved three-part mini-epic, “CatDog and the Great Parent Mystery.”  This episode was the cornerstone of Season Four.  It’s just one example of the continued top notch work from the show’s writers even four seasons into the show’s run.  The show’s writing isn’t all that audiences will appreciate from this final season.  Also worthy of note in CatDog’s final season is the return once more of Tom Kenny and Jim Cummings as the voices of CatDog.  Also to be noted in this season is the guest appearances by veteran actors Billy Bob Thornton and Jane Krakowsi along with one of the most famed of all voice actors, the one and only Frank Welker. All elements combined together, they make CatDog: The Final Season one more wonderful addition to the library of any true Nicktoons Nostalgic.

The writing in Seasons Four’s episodes is just as fun and zany as it has ever been throughout CatDog’s previous three seasons.  This season sees the boys have to convince Winslow to come back to their house after he’s kicked out by his own niece and nephew in “Harasslin’ Match.”  This is a tried and true storyline, given.  It’s been used in so many cartoons and sitcoms past and present.  But that makes it no less funny in this episode.  In another of this season’s best moments, CatDog’s parents make a return appearance.  And once again they are voiced by some very well-known names in the form of Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa, The Astronaut Farmer, Armageddon) and Jane Krakowsi (30 Rock, Ice Age, Ally McBeal).  The pair return in the episode titled, “Vexed of Kin.”  Having finally found their “parents”, CatDog deals with the issue of sibling rivalry in their own wacky way.  It makes for a very good tie in the season’s three-part premiere episode.  The two episodes together exhibit what is another of the positives carried from the show’s first three seasons into this season.  The positive in question is the writers’ ability to once again balance the show’s zaniness with its heart.

The writers responsible for bringing CatDog’s adventures to life have done an expert job of balancing the show’s funny side with its heart over the course of its past three seasons.  This season is no different as evidenced by Season Four’s three-part premiere episode.  The boys’ adventure and the final reveal about their past are both as zany as any previous episode.  On the other side, this episode shows more heart than previous episodes.  Who doesn’t want to feel love from a parent, regardless of whether or not that individual is one’s birth parent?  The love of a parent is the greatest love of all.  It’s that knowledge that makes this episode just as heartwarming as it is funny.  It is a tribute to the talents of the show’s writers, even four seasons in.  And along with the season’s remaining seven episodes, they all come together to make this season one more enjoyable collection for any Nicktoons Nostalgic.

CatDog: The Final Season is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online through Shout! Factory’s online store at http://www.shoutfactorystore.com.  And to keep up with all of the latest news from Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory, parents and kids and go online to http://www.facebook.com/nickelodeon, http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial, http://www.nick.com, and http://www.shoutfactory.com.

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Garfield’s New DVD A Fun Way To Celebrate The Flabby Feline’s Birthday

Courtesy:  Paws, Inc./Dargaud Media/Vivendi Entertainment

Courtesy: Paws, Inc./Dargaud Media/Vivendi Entertainment

Today is a big day in the world of pop culture.  That’s because one of the country’s favorite pop icons celebrates his birthday today.  The icon in question is everybody’s favorite flabby feline, Garfield.  The creation of cartoonist Jim Davis, Garfield celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday today.  As a belated birthday present to Garfield’s fans, Paws, Inc., Vivendi Entertainment, and Dargaud Media will release the latest collection of episodes from The Garfield Show next Tuesday, June 25th

The Garfield Show: Pizza Dreams sees six more episodes loaded with laughs come to viewers.  It also includes a handful of bonus Garfield shorts much in the vein of the “Quickies” shorts from Garfield & Friends.  The set opens with Jon trying once again to put Garfield on a diet on the orders of his veterinarian girlfriend, Liz.  Long-time fans of the Garfield franchises will love the subtle reference to Garfield & Friends when Garfield makes the comment, “Somebody get me an attorney named Murray!”  This same line was used in one episode of Garfield & Friends.  Fans might also notice quite the similarity to another classic Garfield & Friends episode in which Garfield pretends to mail himself off to Abu Dhabi as a prank on Jon and Odie.  This isn’t the first time that The Garfield Show has ever thrown back to Garfield & Friends.  And it likely won’t be the last time, either.  But that the writers behind this show have managed once again to make a relatively new story while paying homage to the show’s predecessor makes this an enjoyable addition to this compilation of episodes.

The Garfield Show pays homage to its predecessor throughout a number of episodes.  That’s shown yet again with this latest collection of episodes.  Though, it does have its share of original episodes, too.  One of the best of this compilation’s best original episodes sees Garfield seeking out a world famous chef that makes “the best lasagna in the world.”  Garfield proves in “Master Chef”, that he will go to any length—including dressing up as a baby—in order to get his paws on the highly desired pasta dish.  In the end, he learns a valuable lesson and secret about the lasagna that will have viewers of all ages laughing out loud.

For all of the laughs that Garfield offers throughout this new compilation, it also offers some very valuable shorts that parents will appreciate.  The shorts included in this set are like those in at least one previous set of episodes.  They are short fifteen to thirty second vignettes that promote important topics for young viewers in a way that will inform and entertain.  This time, the included shorts promote healthy eating, exercise, proper pet care, and other topics.  As short as they shorts are, they make discussing the topics in question easier for parents.  Even more worthy of praise is the fact that here audiences have the laziest of creatures promoting healthy eating and exercise to young viewers.  In its own way, this is hilarious.  But it also shows that those behind the show understand and appreciate the importance of preventing childhood obesity.  It makes this topic and the others broached that much easier for parents to jump into with far less anxiety.  It is for this reason and for the included enjoyable episodes that Garfield fans of any age will want to pick up this new single disc collection.  It will be available in stores and online next Tuesday, June 25th and can be ordered online direct from the official Garfield website at http://www.cafepress.com/garfield.853607724. Fans can also go to the official Garfield website at http://www.garfield.com to get the latest news on Garfield, to play games, and much more.  Fans can also keep up with all of the latest Garfield news on the official Garfield Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Garfield.

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The Garfield Show Shows More Promise On New DVD

Courtesy: Vivendi/Gaiam/Paws, Inc./Dargaud Media

Courtesy: Vivendi/Gaiam/Paws, Inc./Dargaud Media

The latest DVD release from The Garfield Show hits stores today.  The Garfield Show: Spring Fun Collection—the show’s seventh new DVD compilation–offers audiences six more adventures from the hit CG based show.  It also includes a handful of PSAs for kids that teach everything from the importance of exercise to proper pet care, and even accepting people’s differences.  The PSAs and the episodes all work together to make this latest release another enjoyable set of episodes for any Garfield fan of any age.

The Garfield Show: Spring Fun Collection opens with the episode, “The Big Sneeze.”  Long-time Garfield fans might recognize this episode as it is a subtle throwback to the Garfield & Friends episode, “Nothing to Sneeze At.”  Whereas that episode was centered on Jon’s less than fashionable wardrobe as the source of Garfield’s allergies, “The Big Sneeze” turns the tables.  This time out, it’s Jon who has sneezing problems.  What’s really causing them is left to audiences to discover. The answer to the mystery will have audiences laughing as will the episode’s subtle jokes.  The show’s writers take on the old joke about everything on the internet being true with a comment from Jon as he researches his symptoms.  In the same vein, the writers also take on a classic cartoon bit in the episode, “Stealing Home” which in itself is also a massive throwback to the original Garfield & Friends episode, “Pest of a Guest.”  The classic bit in question sees Garfield turning a trash dumpster into a “home” as a means to get a pesky cat out of his own house.  The use of a trash dumpster is just one variation of the classic cartoon bit.  But having the small confined space made up as if it’s something else goes as far back as certain classic Looney Tunes shorts.  That the writers would take the time to honor animation’s golden era is enough to make any viewer smile. 

The homage to animation’s early days is just one part of what makes “Stealing Home” so fun.  Adding in the reference to the classic “movie” Kung Fu Creatures on The Rampage is a double whammy for audiences.  Not only will old school audiences appreciate the reference to the original show here, but movie lovers will appreciate the somewhat biting commentary about Hollywood’s current fad of re-issuing classic movies to theaters in 3-D, too.  As one can already see, so much is going on in this episode alone.  But somehow, the show’s writers managed to assemble it all together in a script that audiences of all ages will appreciate.  It’s one more part of the whole that audiences will appreciate as they watch it any time they want when they pick up this new release.

The writers behind the episodes are to be commended for honoring Garfield’s roots in this collection of episodes.  They are to be just as commended for making new episodes, too in the form of “Farm Fresh Feline”, “The Bluebird of Happiness”, “The Mole Express” and “Parrot Blues.”  These episodes are more original and will entertain audiences just as much as the set’s throwback episodes.  The “Garfield Shorts” included in the set aren’t necessarily shorts.  They’re not the “quickies” from Garfield & Friends.  But parents will appreciate that they are PSAs intended to entertain and educate young audiences.  They are the icing on the cake that is this single disc compilation.  It’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online at the Paws, Inc. online store at http://garfield.com/shopping/dvd_collection/collection.html?cat=5.

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Animaniacs Volume Four A Fitting Sendoff For The Warners

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

All good things must come to an end…or must they?  Thanks to the good people at Warner Brothers Home Video, fans of the modern classic cartoon, Animaniacs, the laughs never have to come to an end now that the show’s fourth and final volume has finally seen the light of day.  This latest volume of episodes is just as entertaining as the show’s previous volumes.  The writers take no prisoners, going after everyone in pop culture from Disney and Hanna Barbera to Universal and even Fox.  They’re not the only victims of the show’s witty writing.  Even the best movies in Hollywood’s modern history  aren’t safe as the show goes after the likes of The Maltese Falcon, Mary Poppins, and even The Sound of music just to name a few.  And that’s just on the set’s first disc.  The second and third discs are just as top heavy with laughs.  Audiences will love that the show’s writers make a farce of all the serious TV specials out there with its very own “Very, Very, Very, Very Special Show.”  The set’s third disc even includes a little holiday flavor in “The Christmas Tree.”  Everyone’s favorite sour squirrel Slappy, takes center stage here.  Her constant delivery makes for so many laughs.    

The jokes are nonstop throughout all three discs of this outrageously hilarious cartoon.  They’re just part of the show’s continued enjoyment.  Along with nonstop laughs provided by the razor sharp comedy, the show also continues to show heart throughout various episodes as well as some educational content believe it or not.  “Multiplication Song” teaches math and pokes fun at how drawn out it can be in the same breath.  It’s that same brand of comedy established with shorts such as “Chalkboard Bungle”, “Planets Song” and “The Senses” (all from Season One).  Audiences will love this continued tradition just as much as the show’s other laughs provided throughout all three discs in this set.    

Animaniacs Volume Four offers audiences laughs from beginning to end in every short.  Those laughs wouldn’t have been possible without solid writing and equally solid performance by the show’s cast who return once again in this final set of twenty-four episodes.  Mauriche LaMarche (The Simpsons, Futurama) is back yet again as the voice of The Brain.  And fellow veteran voice actor Frank Welker (Scooby Doo, The Real Ghostbusters, Tiny Toon Adventures, etc.) returns yet again as the voice of the dopey security guard Ralph, the equally dopey dog Runt (whose spoof of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man character Raymond Babbitt is as hilarious as ever), and many others.  And even Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons, Futurama) is back once more.  Having the whole team back again is a huge win as the chemistry built between cast members is a big part of its ability to effectively interpret the scripts and make them entertaining both for kids and parents even years after the show’s end.

The voice acting, the jokes, and heart from the first three volumes of Animaniacs episodes all remain in Animaniacs Volume Four.  There is one other factor that makes this show timeless.  That last factor is its animation.  Yet again reference must be made to the difference in today’s computer generated “animation” and that done by hand from actual human animators.  The animation that was a trademark of Animaniacs in previous seasons is just as solid in this new release.  Save perhaps for Steven Spielberg’s other hit cartoon, Tiny Toon Adventures no other shows looked like this one.  It really served as one more factor in developing the show’s identity, unlike so much “animated” content out there today.  Combined with the show’s comedy and its heart, its animation goes into making this a wonderful way for this wacky show to go out.  It’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct from Warner Home Video’s online store at http://www.wbshop.com/product/steven+spielberg+presents+animaniacs+vol+4+1000023671.do?sortby=ourPicks&from=Search

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New Clifford DVD A True Celebration For Every Fan

Courtesy:  Lionsgate/Scholastic/PBS Kids

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Scholastic/PBS Kids

Clifford the Big Red Dog is turning fifty years old.  Unbelievable!  Everyone’s favorite oversized furry friend is celebrating his birthday with a brand new DVD release next month.  Celebrate with Clifford is the first new Clifford release in two years.  It will be available in stores and online February 5th.  The new release is a special double disc release loaded with lots of fun, family friendly adventures from Clifford, his fellow canine friends, and his owner, Emily Elizabeth.  The two discs in this new release boast fifteen episodes from the hit series.  The set’s first disc, Celebrate with Clifford has seven of the show’s episodes included in the set.  All of the aforementioned episodes included in the first disc are full of family friendly fun and important life lessons that ring true for audiences of all ages.

Audiences learn a number of important lessons throughout the first seven episodes included in the set.  In the episode, “Clifford on Parade”, Emily Elizabeth (Grey DeLisle—The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) and Charley (Gary Leroi Grey—The Cosby Show) both learn about working together and about compromise when they have to decide on an idea for the float that they’ll enter in the town’s annual parade.  Thanks to Clifford, they end up with one interesting float that even incorporates Clifford himself.  In another episode, “Team Sprit”, young viewers are introduced to the lesson of good sportsmanship and being kind to others.  The story here centers on young Vaz.  Vaz is friends with Emily Elizabeth and the other kids.  But he’s not the best soccer player.  And Jetta doesn’t help as she openly tells Vaz he’s not that great of a soccer player.  Of course she learns her lesson in the episode’s end.  Audiences can find out how she learns her lesson when they check out this new DVD set for themselves.

All seven episodes included in the set’s main disc offer plenty of enjoyment and lessons for viewers.  Luckily for viewers, they’re not all that viewers get in this new set. The eight bonus episodes included in the bonus disc also offer their own enjoyment.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, there’s even a Valentine’s Day themed episode in “Clifford’s Big Heart.”  In this episode, Clifford is trying to make a Valentine for Emily Elizabeth, but things don’t exactly go as planned.  That is until he finally realizes the best idea for a special Valentine just for her.  His special gift will warm the hearts of both kids and their parents.  Still not enough?  How about the birthday and party themed episodes included in the set?  “Clifford’s Big Surprise”  sees Clifford getting his very own birthday surprise from Emily Elizabeth, her parents and his canine friends.  At first it seems like everybody is avoiding Clifford.  It leaves Clifford bored since there’s no one to play with.  Luckily he finds a way to play by himself.  Ironically, it’s right about then that Emily Elizabeth comes looking for Clifford so she and the others can surprise him with his birthday party.  It’s just one of a handful of birthday themed episodes included in the set’s bonus second disc.  The complete double disc set will be available February 5th in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=28180&TitleParentId=8311.

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Futurama Vol. 7 Shows the “Future” is Bright For This Show

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Futurama is one of the best shows on Comedy Central today.  Thank goodness the network went out on a limb and listened to the fans of this little show that could.  After having been picked up and resurrected by Comedy Central, this hit show has shown time and again why it is the great show that it is.  Now with the release of its seventh volume, Futurama continues to show why it is one of the elite prime time animated sitcoms out there today.  In the show’s seventh volume, the show’s writers poke fun at the seemingly unending to do surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate in one episode.  In another episode, audiences see Fry and Leela rekindle their romance after Fry and Bender go in search of a frozen mammoth.  And in yet another, the show’s writers even poke fun at The Matrix when Fry goes to the Near Death Star to visit the professor’s parents.  These episodes make for just some of the laughs throughout this collection’s thirteen episodes largely for the jokes.  For those who really know their stuff, they’ll love just as much the inclusion of a pair of fellow veteran actors, as well as a reference to another late comic actor to this set.  Add in some hilarious commentary and some deleted scenes and audiences get another great set of episodes in the show’s seventh volume.  And all of that is just the beginning.  Viewers will find even more great references and jokes when they check out this new set for themselves.

One of the factors that have always made Futurama a great show is that while it does use topical humor in its episodes, it doesn’t bog itself down in that brand of comedy unlike certain other sitcoms.  However, when it does venture into the realm of topical humor, it still manages somehow to remain funny without trying to be too much above itself.  That’s proven in the episode, “Decision 3012.”  The show’s writers spoof the controversy raised by the “birthers” over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate in this episode.  In the place of the president, the writers use a character named Chris Travers, who is a Senator running for Earth President.  Long-time Futurama fans will appreciate the reference to the Futurama movie, Bender’s Big Score in this episode.  Even Matt Groening and David X. Cohen make light of it in the episode’s bonus commentary.  It’s that reference that ends up playing to the episode’s outcome, which viewers will have to find out for themselves when they pick up Futurama Vol. 7.

Futurama’s writers prove in Vol. 7 that they can tackle topical humor and still make funny episodes.  They have also proven again that they’re able to balance keeping the show successful with standalone episodes while also maintaining at least one ongoing storyline in the romance between Leela and Fry.  It would have been so easy for the show’s writers to let the show descend into a serial like so many others.  But thankfully it didn’t.  That’s evident in the episode, “Fun on a Bun.”  Having already broken up again before this episode, an accident with a sausage maker leads Leela to reveal her true feelings for Fry.  She shows her true feelings to Fry when the sausage maker accident leads to a revelation as to what really happened to Fry.  Again, the show’s writers are to be commended for this episode as it proves yet again their ability to maintain a specific storyline without letting the show become a serial.  Movie buffs and sci-fi buffs will especially appreciate the spoof of The Los World tossed into this episode.

As noted already, one of the biggest factors that has made Futurama so successful for so long is not just its ability to balance storylines and avoid becoming a serial, but also its ability to make completely outrageous random adventures for the Planet Express Crew.  In one of its funniest episodes yet, audiences learn a long held secret surrounding Professor Farnsworth after he visits his parents at the Near Death Star.  The writers take a playful stab at The Matrix trilogy both in dialogue and in visual form.  Any true sci-fi geek will love this little jab.    When the professor doesn’t show up at an awards ceremony that Fry is attending, Fry decides to go meet Hubert’s parents.  The result will leave audiences laughing as it kind of turns the whole concept of the “boomerang child” on its ear by reversing it.  This of course leads to a whole other revelation that will leave audiences laughing.  The secret is something that’s been used many times before in many other shows.  But the minimalist way in which it has been used here keeps it funny.

The episodes noted here are just samplings of the laughs audiences can expect to get from Futurama Volume Seven.  Every viewer will find their own laughs throughout the course of the double disc set.  It’s thanks to good writing and an equally able cast that every episode in this set is so enjoyable.  The main cast is profiled throughout each episode’s commentary.  Audiences will appreciate even more some of the bonus tidbits such as learning that fellow veteran voice actor Frank Welker (The Real Ghostbusters, What’s New Scooby Doo, etc.) joins the cast in a handful of episodes this time out.  Welker’s talent makes for even more enjoyment in the episodes in which his talents are profiled. 

The talent of the voice cast gives so much life to each episode.  What viewers get in the final product is proof that that.  That’s also just as evident in the deleted scenes included as bonuses to the set.  Regardless of whether or not the scenes would have fit into the final product, they are more examples of the talent and chemistry of the voice cast.  They serve to show how hard the cast and the writers alike work to offer viewers the best possible product, too so as to live up to the expectations of those audiences who helped so many years ago to show why this show deserved to be brought back.  And they more than do that, making for yet another great set of episodes for any long-time fan of Futurama or even for those who are new to this incredible animated sitcom.  One can only hope that considering this and everything else that makes this new set such a success, fans will see much more of this hit show in the very near “future.” 

Futurama Volume Seven is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered online direct via 20th Century Fox’s online store at http://www.foxconnect.com.  After fans order the new set, they can also check out all the latest Futurama news online at http://www.facebook.com/Futurama and http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/futurama.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Sequel Or Not, The Rescuers Down Under Is One “Wild” Watch

Courtesy: Disney

The Rescuers Down Under, as noted by the staff at Variety, is and isn’t necessarily a sequel.  In the purist sense, it is.  But that’s only because it’s a continued story of Bernard and Miss Bianca.  But in the grand scheme of things, it certainly is not a sequel to The Rescuers because of that.  This is for all intensive purposes, an entirely new story.  It just so happens that it stars Bernard and Miss Bianca again.  Other than that, it has zero links to the original movie that had been released nearly fifteen years prior.  Now keeping that in mind, The Rescuers Down Under would likely be better described as a stand alone movie. 

As a stand alone movie, The Rescuers Down Under is actually a good work.  The grand scenes in which young Cody flies on the back of the eagle are among the greatest in the movie.  No doubt Pixar had a hand in these scenes.  Wait.  You didn’t know about that?  Those who sit through the credits will learn something very interesting about The Rescuers Down Under.  The company that has become one of the biggest names in digital animation today actually played a hand in bringing The Rescuers Down Under to life.  This is true.  Odds are that the flight scenes, along with a handful of others were constructed at least in some part by Pixar.  Whatever role they played, it reminds audiences that at one time, Pixar actually did work in hand drawn animation.  It would be nice to see the company release a hand drawn/CG hybrid on its own one day.

The addition of Pixar to The Rescuers Down Under was a big part of the movie’s success.  It was just one part of what made this movie enjoyable.  The return of both Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor as Bernard and Miss Bianca gave this installment of the adventures of The Rescuers almost as much heart as the original Rescuers.  Given, there is no beating the original.  That’s a rule of movies.  But the partnership of the pair in this movie was just as charming as before.

Speaking of Bernard, the story behind The Rescuers Down Under is really more about him than about Cody trying to save the eagle.  Audiences see Bernard grow as a character in this movie.  Whereas he was this timid little mouse in the first movie, he is forced to overcome his timidity in this movie and man…er…mouse up (ba-dump bump bump).  It shows that no matter how small a man (or mouse) is, what matters is that individual’s heart.  And Bernard definitely showed that while he might have been a mouse, he had the heart of a lion inside him, especially when he took that wild boar and commanded it.

The acting wasn’t all that made The Rescuers Down Under a fun watch.  The bonus making of featurette continues a theme that audiences have come to know from Disney movies that has always made them great.  Rather than simply draw their idea of an outback setting, the bonus making of featurette shows that the crew behind the film actually went to Australia themselves to get an idea of the region.  It shows yet again that those behind the art wanted to be as true as possible for audiences, rather than simply come up with some fantastical setting.  The crew even got a first hand look at animals that were native to the outback, so as to properly draw them, too.  That included the evil lizard Joanna (voiced by veteran actor Frank Welker–Scooby Doo, The Garfield Show, The Real Ghostbusters, etc.)

There are those who for their won reasons have decided to pan The Rescuers Down Under.  Perhaps those people didn’t take time to look into the finer details of how this movie was made.  The bonus making of featurette is one more example of the importance of bonus features on any blu-ray and/or DVD release.  And even watching the story’s end credits adds an extra level of appreciation in learning of Pixar’s involvement in the movie.  Any movie buff would appreciate this little tidbit of extra information.  All of this extra information put together with the cast’s splendid voice acting makes The Rescuers Down Under not so much an underappreciated sequel, but a movie by itself that deserves another watch by those who haven’t seen it in a long time, and a close watch for the new generation that is seeing it for the first time.

The Rescuers Down Under is available now on blu-ray as part of a triple-disc blu-ray/DVD combo pack alongside the original The Rescuers.  It’s available both in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct through Disney’s online store at http://www.disneystore.com.

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New Garfield Compilation Has Loads Of Laughs And Heart For Families

Courtesy: Gaiam/Vivendi Entertainment

Everybody’s favorite flabby tabby is back yet again.  And it’s just in time for the holidays.  Gaiam-Vivendi will release a brand new single-disc compilation of holiday themed episodes tomorrow.  “The Garfield Show:  Holiday Extravaganza” contains six holiday themed episodes, one of which is a two-part Christmas episode.  Another of the episodes is a bonus episode that’s great for Halloween.  In this new compilation, Garfield, Odie, and Jon head to a haunted house so that Jon can work on a new comic book.  Also in the collection’s sole Thanksgiving episode, the guys have to deal with a certain animal in the style of another classic Garfield & Friends episode.  And, in what is the best of the compilation’s episodes, Odie comes up with a plan to get a group of stray animals adopted for Christmas. 

In the first episode in this brand new compilation, Jon is having troubles writing a new comic book for his boss, Mr. Parker.  He keeps getting distracted because of the phone.  So when he tells Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker tells Jon to go to a house that he just bought.  What Jon doesn’t know is that the house is haunted.  It could be argued that in a roundabout way, this episode kind of pays tribute to Stephen King’s The Shining, what with Jon trying to write in a haunted house.  Anyone who has seen the horror classic might catch the reference.  Except in this case, the story is much more family friendly.  The house does indeed turn out to be haunted.  There’s just one problem.  While the house is haunted, only Garfield and Odie can see the ghost because the ghost in question is a ghost cat.  He explains to Garfield that humans can’t see ghost cats.  But he has to make Jon believe in him so that he can finally be released from haunting the house, and cross over.  Through a series of funny tricks, Garfield finally gets Jon to believe, thus releasing the ghost cat.  Ironically, his new belief also becomes the subject of his new comic book, solving Jon’s writer’s block.

This new compilation of episodes also contains a Thanksgiving episode that’s fun for the whole family.  In “Turkey Trouble”, Jon invites Liz over for Thanksgiving.  He’s ordered a turkey.  There’s just one problem.  Jon discovers that when the turkey is delivered, it’s alive.  This is a throwback to a certain episode from the classic Garfield & Friends animated series.  It just has some minor tweaks.  Jon can’t bring himself to do what needs to be done, so he decides to make his signature spinach lasagna instead.  Meanwhile, Garfield has to figure out how to handle the turkey, eventually managing to take it back to the butcher shop.  But when the guys discover what would happen to the turkey, Garfield sneaks back in later to rescue the turkey.  Of course, the turkey ends up rescuing itself.  Viewers will laugh at how it does, too.  In the end, the guys bring the turkey to dinner, enjoying Jon’s spinach lasagna.  It’s revealed that the turkey will be sent to a petting zoo instead.

“The Garfield Show:  Holiday Extravaganza” has loads of family fun throughout each of its episodes.  As fun as each episode is here, there is one that stands out more than any of the others.  It’s one of the set’s group of Christmas-themed episodes.  The two part episode, “Home For The Holidays” is the best of the best in this compilation.   In this special episode, Garfield learns the true meaning of Christmas after running into Arlene one evening when he and Jon go grocery shopping.  Garfield thinks about what Arlene said to him.  So he and Odie come and surprise Arlene and the stray animals that she is helping with food and bedding.  While they are there, Odie comes up with an idea to get the pets all adopted for Christmas.  While Arlene isn’t sure the idea will work, Garfield compliments him, telling him he thinks Odie’s idea is brilliant.  The group takes on the task.  It means taking the Christmas tree and dinner from their house and taking it to the junkyard where the strays are staying.  They also take a truck and use it to light up a pile of junk at the yard.  The pile has a star on top that attracts people from all over the city.  It’s arguable that there’s a biblical reference with the light shining at the top of the pile, as it looks a little bit like the Star of Bethlehem.  And being that it drew everyone from all around adds to that similarity.  When the people come, they all adopt the animals at the junkyard, including Jon’s mother and even Liz’s parents.  It all makes for one of the show’s most heartwarming episodes so far, and what will be one of the favorite episodes for families in this compilation.

The episodes mentioned here are only a portion of what’s offered in “The Garfield Show:  Holiday Extravaganza.”  This brand new compilation also includes a second Christmas episode that indirectly pays tribute to another classic Garfield & Friends episode, as well as another pair of Halloween episodes.  Whether it be those episodes or the ones listed here, “The Garfield Show:  Holiday Extravaganza” has lots of laughs and lots of heart for the whole family to enjoy this holiday season.  It will be available in stores tomorrow.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like’ it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.