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.

WHV, Hanna-Barbera Off To A “Rocky” Start in 2014 With New Flintstone Kids Compilation Set

Courtesy:  Hanna-Barbera/Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Hanna-Barbera/Warner Brothers Home Video

Warner Home Video had a tough time through much of 2013 thanks to issues with a number of its new releases. It did manage to get itself at least somewhat righted by year’s end. But if the release of The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock is any sign, it looks like that ship is starting to list yet again. The release of the new double-disc DVD set marks the first time that this “kiddie-fied” version–as many media critics called it in its original airing in the 80s–of The Flintstones has ever received even a semi-proper home release. Previous compilation sets from Warner Home Video that also included other well-known cartoons of the era included episodes of The Flintstone Kids. But until now, it had never received any solo release. And while this release isn’t terrible, it also doesn’t do full justice to what was just one of a handful of spinoffs from The Flintstones.
The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock is not the best way to re-introduce this short-lived Flintstones spinoff. But it is also not the worst way to reintroduce the series to the generation that grew up watching the series, either. To the set’s credit, the episodes contained in this set look just as good today as they did when they originally aired nearly thirty years ago on ABC. That being noted, those charged with transferring the original content from tape to disc are to be applauded for their efforts. The colors are especially rich and vibrant when the set’s episodes are viewed via a Blu-ray player and HDTV. On an even deeper level, the very fact that these episodes have been resurrected for a whole new generation is a positive in itself. In an era when it seems that children’s programs are increasingly created through computers, this blast from the past is a welcome return. It serves as one more example of the creativity that once existed among animators. There is still some creativity among animators today. But sadly, it is far less as is evidenced by all of the computer generated programs that now fill the TV spectrum. So again, to the credit of Warner Home Video, Hanna-Barbera, and those charged with transferring these episodes from tape to disc, there is at least one positive to The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock.
That the episodes included in The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock look as good as they do in their transfer is definitely a positive. The quality of the footage will help bring back a certain sense of nostalgia for those that grew up with this short-lived series. And for those that are seeing it for the first time, it serves as another example of what once made children’s programming on the “Big 4” so great. This aside, The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock is not without its faults. The most glaring of those faults is the obvious omission of the companion shorts that were included in the series’ original airing. The shorts in question were: Captain Caveman and Son, Dino’s Dilemmas, and Flintstone Funnies. Given, all ten of the central episodes in the set were the full length episodes, rather than the shorter episodes. But considering that there’s no telling how long it might be before (or if) audiences get another collection of episodes, it would have been nice to have those companion shorts included as perhaps bonus material. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Instead what audiences get is a bare bones compilation that boasts only ten of the series’ original episodes. That leaves the series’ now grown up fans wondering when or if the remaining fourteen episodes will see the light of day.
The omission of the series’ original companion shorts is just one of the problems plaguing The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock. One more problem about this set is its lackluster disc art. Fred and Barney are presented in the disc art for the set’s lead disc, while Rocky and Dino are splashed across the set’s second disc. It was nice to see them exactly as they were presented in the included episodes. However, they are all presented in a single, flat color. In this case, that flat color was a flat red. Some might ask why this has any significance to the set. The answer is that it shows a continued lack of effort on the part of Warner Home Video to present a physical product that is appealing to the eye at least on an extrinsic level. WHV followed this same formula in 2013 with the releases of Animaniacs: Volume Four and Tiny Toon Adventures: Volume Four. The latter of the two had another even worse issue. But that’s a story for another time. The fact that WHV would continue to use a bare bones approach with its disc art as well as with its content hurts the set even more.
The disc art and bare bones presentation of the set collectively do their own share of damage to the overall presentation that is The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock. While they do their share of a disservice to the overall presentation, there is at least one more saving grace that makes up for these issues. The saving grace in question is the set’s packaging. Both of the set’s discs are presented on their own insert in the standard single-disc case. The separate inserts protect the discs from scratching one another. The end result here is increased life of each disc. That both discs are placed wisely into a single disc case saves space on audiences’ DVD racks. That smart packaging and the high quality of the video in its transfer that make up for the set’s poor disc art and bare bones presentation. It makes up for those negatives just enough to make The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock at least somewhat worth purchasing or ordering. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from WHV’s online store at http://www.wbshop.com/product/the+flintstone+kids-+rockin%27+in+bedrock+dvd+1000406690.do?sortby=bestSellers&refType=&from=Search.
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Heathcliff Season One Volume Two Mostly A Successful Release From Mill Creek

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

George Gatley created in 1973 what has become one of America’s most beloved comic strip characters in Heathcliff.  Roughly eleven years after that flabby feline made his comic strip debut, DiC Entertainment brought Heathcliff to life on the small screen along with famed voice actor Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes, The Flintstones).  While Healthcliff’s animated series only lasted for two seasons, it is still a favorite among audiences of all ages.  It’s right up there with its counterpart, Garfield & Friends.  Thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment, audiences can finally get their hands on the second half of Heathcliff’s first season.  Heathcliff: Season One Volume Two is another wonderful addition to any family’s home library.  Mill Creek is deserving of credit with this latest set because the episodes collected are presented exactly as they were in their original broadcasts.  The writing behind the episodes included in the first half of Season One is just as fun and funny as those in the season’s first half.  And making this half of Season One even more valuable for viewers of all ages is its original hand-drawn animation.

Right from its outset, audiences will note of the episodes collected for this half of season one, that not one episode is missing.  What’s more, the episodes collected in Season One Volume Two are presented exactly as they were presented in their original broadcasts.  This may seem like a given.  But many might be surprised to find out that some classic TV shows aren’t so lucky in their re-issues.  A prime example would be NCircle Entertainment’s  release of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show Volume One.  The episodes included in that set completely omit the live action sequences, while flashing pieces of the commercial segues that lead the episodes in and out of commercial breaks.  It’s just one of a handful of box sets out there that suffer from improper editing in their redistribution.  Keeping that in mind, it makes this box set that much more impressive and valuable for anyone that is a fan of both this series and classic animation in whole.

The presentation of Volume Two’s episodes is definitely something for fans of the show to note.  Each episode even comes complete with its post-show pet care tips segment, opening Lorimar-Television slate, and closing slate from DiC Entertainment.  As important as this is to the overall presentation of Season One Volume Two, one would be remiss to ignore the show’s writing.  Season One Volume Two sees Heathcliff being taken to pet obedience training and of course, turning the place upside down.  Viewers will laugh nonstop watching Heathcliff turn the military boot camp style obedience school on its ear as well as the neighborhood as a result of his time there.  In another of the volume’s funniest moments, Heathcliff becomes the “Phantom of the Garbage” when a local restaurant owner and chef gets a pair of dogs to protect his garbage cans from being raided by the flabby feline.  The physical comedy that ensues between Heahtcliff and the dogs is what makes this episode so fun.  It’s all classic physical comedy from start to finish.  The funniest moment though, isn’t one of physical comedy.  It comes when it’s revealed that for all of their bravado, the restaurant owner’s dogs are afraid of one creature much smaller than themselves.  Just as funny is the episode, “Soap Box Derby.”  This episode sees Heathcliff getting talked into a soap box derby race against Spike after Iggy beats Mugsy, Spike’s owner, in a race.  When the Catillac Cats put themselves into the race, things get dicey.  Of course, Heathcliff outsmarts both Spike and the Catillac Cats and gets the royal treatment from all of them as a result.  It just goes to prove that cheaters never win.  And it’s just one more of so many funny moments that viewers will enjoy throughout all three discs in this set.

Mill Creek has done quite a bit right with the release of Heathcliff: Season One Volume Two.  The episodes are presented exactly as they were presented in their original broadcast.  They are still as funny today for those that grew up with the cartoon series as they were then, too.  There is one more aspect of this collection that viewers will appreciate.  That aspect is the show’s animation.  Much like so many other cartoons of its era, Heathcliff’s animation gave it identity.  The show’s artists did an expert job of translating the two-dimensional character from the comic strip to the small screen all while crafting a world that looked unlike any other animated series at the time.  The same is rarely noted of today’s children’s programming.  The show’s artists are to be applauded for creating such a rich and vivid world for Heathcliff and his friends.  Even more so, they are to be commended for trying to stay true to George Gatley’s original creation.  Their work was the finishing touch on the show.  And it makes this half of the show’s first season all the more worth watching whether one is seeing the series for the first time or the first time again.  It is available now on DVD and can be ordered online direct from Mill Creek Entertainment at http://www.millcreekdirect.com/heathcliff-season-1-volume-2-33-episodes.html.  More information on this release and others from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at http://www.millcreekent.com and http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt.  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.

Tom And Jerry Kids Show Season One Another Blast From The Past From Warner Home Video

Courtesy:  Warner Home Vide/Hanna-Barbera

Courtesy: Warner Home Vide/Hanna-Barbera

The 1990s was one of the greatest decades in the history of television broadcasting.  NCB and ABC were at the top of their game with their “Must See Thursday” and “TGIF” programming blocks.  And CBS and Fox each had afternoon cartoons for kids to watch after a long day at school.  Sadly, those days are gone.  Thankfully though, Warner Home Video has given audiences that grew up in those days of quality programming yet another piece of their childhood with the release of Tom and Jerry Kids Show: The Complete Season One.  This two disc set is one more part of what has been a small wave of welcome releases from WHV this year that includes:  Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3, Animaniacs Vol. 4, the brand new release of Taz-Mania: Season 1 Vol. 1, and the upcoming releases of Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 4, and Taz-Mania: Season 1 Vol. 2 just to name a handful of releases.

Tom and Jerry Kids Show: The Complete Season One includes the first thirteen episodes from this show that some considered part of the “kiddie-fication” of cartoons.  The term in general was in reference to certain cartoons being reduced in quality in order to make them more kid friendly.  The cartoons in question included: Looney Tunes, The Flintstones, and Scooby Doo Where Are You?  The term “kiddie-fication” was generally used in a negative connotation in regards to their kid friendly spinoffs.  Those that used that term couldn’t have been more wrong in using such a label especially in the case of Tom and Jerry Kids Show.  That’s because a show such as Tom and Jerry Kids Show was (like Tiny Toon Adventures) less a “kiddie-fication” of its more adult base show than a way to indoctrinate young viewers into the world of said show slowly.  And there is nothing at all wrong with doing this.  If anything, it helps to keep alive the legacy of Hanna-Barbera’s classic cartoons. 

The transfers from the original tapes look outstanding.  The quality of the footage could not have been better.  Little to nothing was lost in the transfer from the original tapes to DVD.  Even when viewed on an HDTV, it still looks quite impressive.  That’s a testament to the work done by the show’s artistic staff.  Even when viewed via a computer’s DVD drive or on a home DVD player, the video quality still shows that it has stood the test of time.  The same can be said of the show’s audio side.  Fans of HB’s classic cartoons will recognize the company’s recycling of its music.  Much of the music used in this more modern take on Tom and Jerry was also used in The Jetsons and to a lesser extent, more modern Flintstones direct-to-DVD features and certain episodes of A Pup Named Scooby Doo.  This trademark of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons is another welcome addition to Tom and Jerry Kids Show.  Having that familiar older music back once again makes older audiences’ sense of nostalgia even stronger in watching this modern classic.

The high quality of the show’s transfers alone makes Tom and Jerry Kids Show: The Complete Season One worth the money for fans that grew up with this cartoon.  The double-disc set’s packaging is another positive to the overall presentation.  As with multi-disc sets from other companies, this set follows what is quickly becoming the standard by placing one disc on its own place on a plastic insert inside the case.  The second disc is placed comfortably on the back portion of the box also in its own spot.  This manner of packaging is both smart in terms of protecting the set’s discs and in terms of ergonomics.  It keeps the case for the DVD’s the same size as that of a regular single-disc DVD package.  So it saves space on audiences’ DVD/Blu-ray racks, and protects the product inside.

As one should be able to tell by now, Tom and Jerry Kids Show: The Complete Season One is an enjoyable nostalgic trip down memory lane for long-time fans of the Tom and Jerry franchise.  It’s just as much a welcome introduction to this generation’s younger viewers.  For all the positives to this set, it isn’t without one minor flaw.  That flaw is not in the art, the transfers, or even the packaging.  The flaw in question comes from the discs themselves.  Rather than actually coloring in the designs on the discs, they were painted over with a single, flat color, leaving just enough open space to make a wild guess as to the design on each disc.  Consumers would have to put each disc up to the light and tilted each one in order to get an idea of the designs.  The same thing was done with Animaniacs: Volume Four and with Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3.  It’s a minor flaw with this set (and the other sets mentioned).  So luckily, it doesn’t take away too much from the overall presentation, even though it would have been nice for WHV’s people to have taken care of this aspect.  Had that been done, this might have found itself at the top of this critic’s list of the year’s best new children’s DVD and Blu-ray releases.  Regardless, it still has found a place on the list in question.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the WB Shop at http://www.wbshop.com/product/tom+and+jerry+kids+show+the+complete+first+season+1000348871.do?sortby=ourPicks&from=Search.  Fans of all things WB can keep up with all the latest WB home releases on the WB Shop website at http://www.wbshop.com/home.do

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Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3 Another Wonderful Piece Of TV Nostalgia

Courtesy:  Amblin Entertainment/Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Amblin Entertainment/Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

The long wait is finally over, Toonsters.  Nearly four years have passed since audiences were offered their last dose of Tiny Toon Adventures episodes.  This past Tuesday, Warner Home Video released the long awaited third volume of shorts in its own two-disc set loaded with enough laughs, puns, sight gags, and pop culture references to make any classic cartoon fan happy.  Would it have been nice to have a full thirty to thirty-five episode collection as with the previous pair of collections?  Yes.  But something’s better than nothing, considering how long audiences have waited.  And this new set is something.  It boasts some of the show’s best episodes.  The episodes are just one part of what makes this collection so enjoyable.  The original hand-drawn animation will bring back that sense of nostalgia for lovers of classic cartoons, too.  And the use of some of the top voice talent in the industry then and now make for even more enjoyment.  Altogether, it makes for one more must have for any original Tiny Toon fan and even for any of today’s younger viewers.

Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3: Crazy Crew Rescues boasts some of the best episodes from this modern classic cartoon.  The show’s original audiences will love seeing classic episodes such as “Kon-Ducki” (which pays a little tribute to The Wizard of Oz and even The Bee Gees), “The Potty Years”, and its own take on the film noir classic, Sunset Boulevard in the episode, “Sepulveda Boulevard.”  There is also a fun episode titled, “Toon Physics” which explains the differences between real physical science and that of cartoons.  It isn’t the first cartoon to ever poke fun at the incredibility of cartoon physics.  But it’s still just as funny as others of its sort.  This episode features revered voice talent Maurice LaMarche (Futurama, The Simpsons, Animaniacs, Pinky & The Brain) as a spoof of legendary actor Orson Welles.  Instead of Welles, his character here is a whale named—you guessed it—Orson Whales (ba-dump-bump-bump).  This set also includes the “controversial” episode, “One Beer” in which Buster, Plucky, and Hampton show young audiences the dangers of drinking and driving.  Along those same lines, there is even an episode that teaches the importance of childhood literacy in “Why Dizzy Can’t Read.”  These are all just a handful of examples of what Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3: Crazy Crew Rescues has to offer both its original fans and their own kids.  Everybody will undoubtedly have their own favorites from this set.  And even with just two discs, this set boasts more than its share of great shorts.

The episodes alone make for loads of enjoyment for both the show’s now grown-up audience and for their own children.  Adding to the enjoyment of this set is the continued original hand drawn animation.  So much children’s programming today is not true animation.  It is in large part CG-based programming.  So unearthing this collection provides yet another reminder for older audiences of what real animation looks like. And it serves as an example for today’s younger audiences the importance of maintaining the classic art of actually drawing animation, rather than relying on technology for everything.  The only downside to the animation here is that it isn’t as clear as with the show’s previous releases.  It looks like the quality of the transfers with this set weren’t as solid as with the previous releases.  But it’s not that bad.  So while it does leave at least a little bit to be desired, it’s still nice to have this relic of a bygone era given new life.

The show’s original animation and its equally entertaining episodes make for so much enjoyment for audiences of all ages.  The cherry on top for not just this set but also the show as a whole is the inclusion of some of the top voice actors in the industry.  As already noted, veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche is among the show’s ranks of well known actors.  Also in the cast are the likes of: Frank Welker (The Real Ghostbusters, Scooby Doo, etc.), Charlie Adler (Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Superhero Squad Show, etc.), Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons, Futurama), Cree Summer (The Cosby Show, A Different World, Codename: Kids Next Door) and Don Messick (Garfield & Friends, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, etc.).  The chemistry between the cast was obvious throughout this new set of episodes, just as with the previous releases.  Whether for the general comedic timing or the interactions with each other, the voice cast of Tiny Toon Adventures was the perfect choice.  It was their interpretations of their characters that put the final touch on what was and still is today one of the best cartoons of the twentieth century.  Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 3: Crazy Crew Rescues is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered online via the Warner Brothers store at http://www.wbshop.com/product/steven+spielberg+presents+tiny+toon+adventures+volume+3+1000311856.do?sortby=ourPicks&from=Search.

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