New Beetlejuice Box Set Makes Its Case To Be Another Of 2014’s Best Box Sets For Family And Children

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Warner Brothers Home Video

Shout! Factory landed no fewer than four of its releases on this critic’s list of the year’s best new DVDs and Blu-rays for families in 2013. 2014 is still very much in its infancy. And already Shout! Factory has landed one of its new releases as a definite on this critic’s list in the recently released The Red Skelton Show:The Lost Episodes. Now this critic can say that Shout! Factory has landed another potential on that list for this year in the form of Beetlejuice: Seasons Two & Three. Shout! Factory will release this two season set in partnership with Warner Brothers Home Video on March 18th, 2014. Whether one recalls this standout toon from their own childhood or is brand new to the series, Beetlejuice: Seasons Two& Three will impress any viewer. It will impress any viewer first and foremost because of its writing. Another reason that audiences will appreciate this season is its animation. And lastly, one must make note of the set’s packaging. All of these factors together make Beetlejuice: Seasons Two & Three another must see both for kids and kids at heart.

The writing in the second and third seasons of Beetlejuice is central to the success of this new box set.  The series’ writers maintained the same writing style established in its first season throughout every episode of Seasons Two and Three.  The pop culture spoofs are there.  So are the moments in which the writers break down the fourth wall.  Even more impressive is that despite the fact that while the episodes take place in the Netherworld, the writers continued to make each episode kid friendly rather straight up spooky.  Audiences will love the spoof of Sherlock Holmes in ‘A-Ha.’  And those that are old enough to remember the show will love just as much the spoof of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in ‘Uncle B.J.’s Roadhouse.’  In this same episode, the writers incorporate that breaking down of the fourth wall.  This is a comic element that far too few animation studios use in today’s “cartoons.”  Its use in this episode is a prime example of how much hilarity it can add to a cartoon, especially when done right.  So while it is wonderfully entertaining on the surface, it serves an even deeper purpose in comparison to the “cartoons” that populate the television spectrum today.  It serves as a lesson on how much writing has changed in children’s programming from the 80s and 90s up to where it is today.  If anything, one could argue that such an example shows how much writing for today’s mainstream children’s programming has de-evolved.  That being the case, it makes this collection of episodes all the more enjoyable.

The pop culture spoofs and breaking down of the fourth wall are both integral parts of the writing in Beetlejuice: Seasons 2 & 3 that are rarely used in today’s mainstream children’s programming.  Just as integral to the show’s success in its second and third seasons is the fact that the show’s writers could take a spooky world and craft kid friendly adventures centered in that world.  Those adventures made the Netherworld not seem as spooky as it did in the movie on which the animated series is based.  The adventures are so kid friendly that they almost make the Netherworld feel like the human world for lack of better wording.  One can’t help but wonder if perhaps that approach to writing Lydia and Beetlejuice’s adventures was an inspiration behind the world of Disney Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. at least to some point.  That writing works with the show’s animation to make these two seasons just as enjoyable as the series’ first season.

The writing in the second and third seasons of Beetlejuice goes a long way toward making these two seasons just as enjoyable as the series’ first season.  In direct relation, the animation (especially that of the Netherworld) makes Seasons Two & Three even more enjoyable.  It serves as a companion to the writing and makes the Netherworld that much less spooky for even today’s younger viewers.  The colors used in the Netherworld scenes are actually relatively bright.  This creates more of a welcoming and upbeat feel to that world.  On an even deeper level,  so much of today’s children’s programming is crafted by either flash animation or by full on computer generated graphics.  Beetlejuice by comparison was, like most real cartoons of its era, created entirely by hand.  For those that grew up with this modern hand-drawn classic, seeing that hand-drawn animation is a breath of fresh air among the stale, cookie cutter style excuses for cartoons that are out there today.  It’s just one more reason that any true cartoon lover and any original fan of this series will want to pick up this dual-disc set when it hits store shelves next month.

Both the writing and animation in the second and third seasons of Beetlejuice are important to the success of each season.  Just as important as the writing and animation in the box set’s upcoming release is its packaging.  Because both the second and third seasons were so short, each one received its own disc inside a single standard-sized case.  It would have been so easy for Shout! Factory and Warner Home Video to split up the seasons regardless.  That seems to be the trend among so many studios today with home releases of their programs.  So it’s nice to see that Shout!  Factory and WHV didn’t take that route with this release.  It presents a certain level of ethics between the two companies.  The episode listing for each season is also provided as part of the set’s packaging.  Each season’s episode list is included inside the case on one side.  There is little left to note of this set, if anything, after noting all of the positives of the packaging.  The packaging, together with the animation and writing, combine to make Beetlejuice: Seasons Two and Three yet another certifiable candidate for a spot on this critic’s annual list of the year’s best new DVDs and Blu-rays for kids and families.  It will be available in stores and online Tuesday, March 18th and can be pre-ordered direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/beetlejuice-seasons-two-three.  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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Monsters University A College Flick For A Younger Generation

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Every generation has its own college movie.  The 1970s boasted the timeless college comedy, Animal House.  In the 1980’s the social strata of college took another turn in the equally popular comedy, Revenge of the Nerds.  The 1990s saw art imitate life when Jeremy Piven (Entourage, Mr. Selfridge) and David Spade (Rules of Engagement, Tommy Boy, Saturday Night Live) went toe to toe in PCU.  The children of the 2000s even had their own college flicks in the Van Wilder franchise.  Sadly, that franchise was largely forgettable.  Now in the second decade of the 2000s, Disney/Pixar has released this generation’s college movie in the form of Monsters University.  It should come as no surprise to audiences that little more than four months after it premiered in U.S. theaters, Monsters University is already scheduled to be released on DVD, Blu-ray and BD/DVD/Digital combo pack.  It’s definitely not the worst movie of the year.  But it isn’t the year’s best, either.  Though in its defense, it does deserve at least a spot on the list of the year’s best movies.  The reason for this mixed response is that on one hand, it should be obvious to older audiences how this family friendly college flick is little more than an update of the previously noted movies.  This isn’t the movie’s only problem.  Just as Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 focused far too much on Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), so did Monsters University have its share of problems with character development.  In its defense though, what can be said good about Monsters University is that it does teach some valuable lessons, which are just part of the heart that this story boasts.  That heart is just enough to make the movie worth at least one watch for those that have yet to see it.

The most obvious problem that rises with Monsters University is its general lack of originality.  Monsters, Inc. was such a wonderful film because it was original.  Not even the likes of the 1989 Fred Savage/Howie Mandel flick, Little Monsters could compare to Monsters, Inc.  In understanding this, Monsters University sadly pales in comparison to its forerunner in this avenue.  All it did was take elements of all of the previously mentioned college flicks and tone them down to make them into one family friendly movie.  Yes, it’s good that otherwise grown-up movies finally have a family friendly outlet.  But considering that Pixar has quite the history of being a front runner in the modern world of CG “animated” films thanks to its original movies, this mash-up of already made films knocks the studio (and Disney) down a notch.

The mash-up of so many already made films is only one of the problems from which Monsters University suffers.  Not only does it lift liberally from other much more classic movies, it even goes so far as to lift from its own predecessor.  That is obvious throughout the near two hour movie.  There’s even a scene in which Mike and Sully end up in the real world and have a heart to heart talk before their effort to return to the monster world.  This sort of writing behavior harkens right back to another Disney movie that goes by the name of Tron: Legacy.  That movie basically took the original and retold it for a new generation.  Monsters University has done much the same thing, just in reverse.  Yet again, points are taken off for that.  It doesn’t get much better from here.

Monsters University suffers quite a bit thanks to the fact that it lifts from so many other movies and tries to convince audiences that it’s something new.  What makes it worse is that its team of half a dozen writers do something that another previous Disney/Pixar movie had already done.  Just as Cars 2 ended up being more about Mater, Monsters University is more about Mike than his friendship with Sully.  Yes, audiences see how the friendship between the two originally formed.  But more time is spent focusing on Mike’s impact on the friendship than on the friendship as a whole.  Sully (John Goodman) ends up taking a back seat to Billy Crystal this time out, unlike the equal billing shared between the duo in Monsters, Inc.  Along with the story’s other problems, the collective issues noted here weigh down the story to the point that it makes it difficult to see beyond them.  Luckily though, there are some positives to the overall presentations that save it.

The first of the positives that saves Monsters University is its collective life lessons.  The story presented in this movie’s script includes lessons about acceptance, tolerance, and self-confidence.  They are taught as Mike ends up taking on the lead role of his monster fraternity and has to help them be accepted back into the university through a series of challenges.  Mike learns to have more self-confidence in himself through his experiences.  He also realizes a valuable lesson about how the differences in the monsters at Monsters, Incorporated were what made it such a legendary company.  Again, this goes back to that lesson of self-confidence.  It also ties in to the lessons of acceptance and tolerance in the bigger picture as he and his OK brothers fight to win their competitions and earn their way back into the university.  All of these lessons are important for viewers of any age.  So for all of the problems that weigh down this movie, it is these lessons that keep it afloat and worth at least one watch.  The movie will be available in stores and online on October 29th on DVD and DVD/Blu-ray/Digital combo pack.  More information on the home release of Monsters University is available online at http://www.facebook.com/WaltDisneyStudios, http://movies.disney.com/watch-at-home, and http://www.disneystore.com.

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Monsters, Inc. Proves Again Why It’s A Modern Classic With BD/DVD Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Disney-Pixar

Courtesy: Disney-Pixar

Disney/Pixar’s fourth cg-based family film, Monsters, Inc. is one of the biggest hits from the two companies.  The pair has taken one of the most common of childhood fears and turned it into a big, soft fuzzy memory that kids and adults alike will love to encounter again and again.  Monsters, Inc. isn’t the first time that Hollywood has tackled the issue of things that go bump in the night.  Though, in comparison to the 1989 movie, Little Monsters, Monsters, Inc. it is far more memorable.  And now that Disney and Pixar have re-issued this modern classic on Blu-ray/DVD and 3D BD/DVD combo packs, audiences can enjoy it all over again.  Those who still have yet to add this flick to their family library are rewarded for having waited, too.  For the most part, this latest re-issue carries everything that was on the movie’s original double-disc DVD release right down to the audio commentary.  There are some new additions though.  And of course, the clarity of the picture is that much better this time around, too.  So is it worth picking up if one already owns the DVD set?  That’s up to the general consumer.  But for those who have yet to own it, this is a wonderful reason to finally do just that.

The latest re-issue of Monsters, Inc. is largely carried over from the original 2002 double-disc DVD release.  However, included in this new re-issue is a second disc that includes some extra entertainment for kids.  One of the best of the new inclusions is “Roz’s 100 Door Challenge.”  This bonus Blu-ray trivia game requires young audiences to answer trivia questions in order to open all of the doors put before them in order to become a Monsters, Inc. employee.  The questions come in sets of ten at a time.  So at one hundred doors, this game will keep young audiences engaged and occupied for quite some time.  This is great for parents who are looking for a way to distract their kids and get some time for themselves.

“Roz’s 100 Door Challenge” is not the only extra bonus included with this latest re-issue of Monsters, Inc.  But it is a nice addition.  Just as entertaining as the noted bonus game is the included Toy Story short, “Party-saurus Rex.”  The entire original cast from the Toy Story franchise has come back for this short in which Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn – The Incredibles, The Princess Bride) is accused of being a party pooper.  But then he ends up surprising them after the toys’ new young owner takes him to the bath with her.  He ends up becoming the life of the party.  This is a wonderfully entertaining short from this fully solidified franchise.  As entertaining as it is, it’s even more of a bonus in that it shows should Disney and Pixar ever decide to re-visit the gang in a larger sense, it is one franchise whose sequels or even reboot would be welcomed by audiences. 

The new bonus features do a lot in making the new Monsters, Inc. BD/DVD combo pack a good addition to any family’s home library.  The story itself plays just as much of a role in its success, too.  The story includes no less than two very important lessons for all of its viewers.  The first of those lessons centers on stereotypes.  It tackles this subject matter right from the story’s opening moments, presenting the monster world not as a dark and evil place, but just as happy and sunny as the human world.  And even the monsters themselves are crafted in an equally family friendly fashion.  Just as “Boo” calls him, Sully (John Goodman) is a big, mean looking monster.  But underneath all that fur, he’s just a big fuzzy “kitty”…or whatever animal one might want to use in comparison.  Both the kids and monsters believed stereotypes of the other that had been handed down and passed on.  But in giving Boo a chance, Sully and Mike prove that the stereotyped belief of children being evil, life threatening to be just that.  And Boo in her own way proves to her own self that not all monsters are bad as she grows closer to Sully in a sort of surrogate parent-child relationship.  It’s something of a tangent, but in presenting this relationship, Disney and Pixar have once more crafted a story that continues Disney’s long running tradition of emphasizing family in its movies.  Getting back to the original statement, what this movie’s writers have done is they have sent a message that it doesn’t matter who one is.  Unless one has proof of stereotypes, then one shouldn’t simply automatically believe said stereotypes.  Rather, one should take the time to find out for one’s own self how much truth they have, and not let them prevent friendships in the mean time.  It’s one more positive to what is already a fun, family friendly movie.    

In relation to the emphasis on family, Monsters, Inc. also presents the message of the importance of a child’s laughter.  Sure it’s an exaggeration.  But that a single child’s laughter could power a whole city really is a wonderful metaphorical illustration.  It illustrates how one child’s smile and laughter can brighten the lives of so many.  Yes it is a bit schmaltzy.  But the world needs something positive for young audiences.  And that’s exactly what this message and movie is.  For that and the rest of the positivity in this new re-issue, it is a movie worth adding to any family’s home library.  It is available now in stores and can be ordered online at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/monsters-inc.html

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