Disney isn't the sort of company that opens their vaults on Blu-ray lightly. They have for the past 2-3 years, semi-annually, (usually in the spring and summer) released multiple classic Disney titles in a large burst. This month on 8/12 they have released 8 titles, not just classic titles, but one contemporary hit on to home video giving fans of Disney and family friendly entertainment a lot to choose from. Disney's 8/12 release slate include
2003's Donald, Mickey, and Goofy the 3 Musketeer's.
2 of Disney's 1940's Package films in one set, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and as it's companion Fun and Fancy Free.
2 Late 90's favorites from the mouse house, Tarzan and the long awaited Blu-ray edition of Hercules (replacing a long obsolete letterboxed DVD edition).
They are also releasing the wonderul live action, animation hybrid film 1970's Oscar Winner Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
And for the contemporary filmgoer, we have the most recent addition to the Muppet films cannon the Tina Fey/Ricky Gervais starring Muppets Most Wanted.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free compromise 2 package films from Disney studios. The Blu-ray also contains a third animation/live action hybrid feature entitled the Reluctant Dragon making this collection a 3 film collection, and probably the best value in this flood of releases, especially for fans of older animation. Disney's package films were a series of films produced throughout the 40's while American was in conflict. Disney's resources to make full on feature films was very limited, so they were restricted by necessity to make shorts, they would then take these shorts, usually one or two of them, and put them together as a feature, sometimes with a narrator. In the case of Fun and Fancy Free for example, Pinnocchio's Jiminy Cricket is the host of both segments, and views the puppet short in the middle.
The stories that make up Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad are the Wind and the Willows, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and while I won't say that the stories exactly flow into one another, when taken on their own (which is how I first saw them on VHS) they are quite a delightful pairing. I would go so far as to possibly call the Sleepy Hollow portion my first horror viewing experience. Both films hold up remarkably well for their age, with the edge going to Wind in the Willows for it's more manic, and therefore modern, pacing that might excite young ones more. Sleepy Hollow on the other hand does not entirely employ traditional techniques to tell it's story, rather the whole piece is told via narration at a more brisk pace, which does have some humorous interludes only truly picks up at the end with the arrival of the headless horseman in a scene that is still as intense and chilling as I remember it from my youth.
Fun and Fancy Free takes 2 stories Bongo, the story of an escaped circus bear in love with another bear during his first exposure to the natural world. We also have Mickey and the Beanstalk, which tells the classic Jack and the Beanstalk tale with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. The latter tale has the distinction of being the final time Walt Disney himself would voice Mickey Mouse. Bongo is a cute simple story, but a tad overlong. Mickey and the Beanstalk is the real point of interest in the feature, and holds up nice with excellent atmospheric animation, storytelling, and performances.
The transfers on both are night and day, Ichabod and Mr. Toad gets a solid restoration from Disney with solid colors, line detail, grain, etc. Whereas Fun and Fancy Free gets the 1 step DNR treatment leaving grain scrubbed off, detail lost, and in the live action segments a lot of waxiness over facial detail. The extras on this set only compromise the third feature the Reluctant Dragon which is 4 shorts and a tour of Disney Studios sort of put together in a semi-story format.
Tarzan and Hercules are two late 90's entries in Disney's musical animation canon. The films were released in the post-Little Mermaid years where every Disney film (exception the Rescuers Down Under) had to be an epic musical. However, by this point that formula was starting to get a bit stale, and the studio's 2nd golden age was on the decline. However, the two films presented here are some of the finest from this late 90's era.
Tarzan is a fun comedic action romp, that should please younger and older children and their parents. The celebrity voice cast in the film really works well together, however, on occasion the film gets a bit too sentimental for the material at play. This is both in narrative detail, and in regards to the interplay between the film and the Phil Collins' scored soundtrack, which was obviously inspired by the success of Elton Johns' Lion King score. The animation is a blend of traditional hand drawn animation, and the computer graphics that Disney had been utilizing since Beauty and the Beast, and they pull it off to great effect.
Tarzan follows a young boy who loses his parents as an infant and is raised by jungle gorillas. He adopts their traits, becoming more gorilla than man, and grows into adulthood acting like a hybrid man/gorilla. This is until an exploration comes to his jungle with other humans, including Jane who he falls instantly in love with, and now has to balance his animal life with the human one he never fully realized he had.
By the time the likes of Hercules and Tarzan had hit theaters, I was a teenager past my initial Disney phase. That being said, I was also a geeky teenager, who had spent a long time absorbing international mythologies from Irish to Norse, and of course Greek which is where the legends of Hercules stem from, so Disney-fied or not, I got in line and saw Hercules in the theater week 1.
Changes to the story be damned, I enjoyed it then, and I still enjoy it now. The film actually feels like a companion to both Tarzan, and also the later Disney animation endeavor the Emperor's New Groove. The latter film is one of my favorite Disney Films from the early 2000's Disney run of films. If you are familiar with the animation style in Emperor's New Groove (bright colorful, very sharp) than you will be right at home with Hercules, it also adopts a very similar sensibility in the screenplay department balancing swift action with humor. The musical elements in this film are a tiny bit more cohesive than they were in Tarzan, but the musical style that Disney was using again and again at this point was beginning to feel a bit cookie cutter. I will say this, the music here is much better than the earlier Hunchback of Notre Dame. It seems post Lion King Disney sort of lost their footing, I wouldn't say they made bad films, but they seemed caught in a rut for a number of years, that only recently started picking up. Yes, there were a number of classics and near classics in the late 90's and early 2000's (see Lilo and Stitch for a good example), but it took a long time for the mouse house to escape the shadow of their late 80's and early 90's successes, and both films here catch both of those right as they are in the midst of that decline.
Tarzan is presented on Blu-ray in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer that is a huge step up from the DVD releases, but doesn't come without issues. The colors are gorgeous, and line detail is excellent for the most part, but I did catch some banding throughout the transfer, aside from that the transfer is excellent. Hercules on the other hand is an all around excellent transfer, and even if it had issues it would surely be a must pickup from the LBX DVD. Anyway Hercules is also presented OAR in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer with startling colors and excellent line detail. I did not detect anything issues here like I did for the prior release in the column. The audio for both are DTS-HD 5.1 dialogue, music, and fx come through nicely, everything is well balanced, and I did not detect any issues. The Tarzan Blu-ray gets a nice slate of extras most of which are ported over the DVD including multiple featurettes in SD, audio commentaries, storyboards, trailers, and more. Hercules gets a much slimmer extras package, sadly which includes a 9 minute making of, a music video segment, and trailers.
Now we have 1970's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Mary Poppins was a huge hit for Disney in 1963, but as documented (not with great historical accuracy, mind you) in the recent film Saving Mr. Banks the film was difficult to undertake due to a reluctant participation on the part of author P.L. Travers. They already had the rights to make Bedknobs all the way back when they were developing Poppins, and waited until 1970 to make it. The film like Poppins is a blend of music and animation, it has the same director in Robert Stevenson, and also the Sherman Brothers wrote the music for the film.
The story also involves a witch, this one played by Angela Lansbury, this one an apprentice learning magic by mail order, rather than a skillful witch like Mary Poppins. The film's plot sees Lansbury's witch being forced to take in 3 young orphans during the early days of World War II England when London was being blitzed by Germany, and they were no longer safe in the countries capital. They trio quickly find out her secret, and together go on a mission to save England (along with another Mary Poppins holdover David Tomlinson who plays Lansbury's magic instructor) by retrieving the 5 words necessary to complete a spell. To get these words they must travel by flying bed around the country, under the sea, and beyond.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks to start is an absolutely wonderful family film, that still retains the magic I remember it having when I first saw in on VHS as a child. The performances from Lansbury and company are uniformly excellent, and the songs courtesy of the Sherman brothers hold up extremely well and offer a truly great accompaniment to the narrative.
The transfer offers truly excellent restoration work from Disney on both the live action and animation sides. The film is presented in 1080p in a 1:66:1 AVC encoded transfer. The transfer offers excellent bright colors and beautiful fine detail, and also healthy helpings of natural glorious film grain throughout. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound transfer in English is similarly excellent with dialogue, music, and score coming through well, and no issues to report. Most of, if not all the extras have been ported over from the prior edition of the film. There are documentaries, trailers, deleted scenes, isolated songs, and more.
In my opinion the Muppet films went into decline after the death of Jim Henson. It's hard to debate, he was one of the most imaginative minds of his generation. That is not to say the Post-Henson films were bad, they just didn't live up to the predecessors. A few years back, the Muppets received what I guess we can call a soft "reboot" in the film The Muppets. It was a splendid film, with a lot of heart, great songs, a great sense of humor, and excellent performances. There was going to be a sequel, and that sequel is Muppets Most Wanted.
Muppets Most Wanted follows directly in the wake of the prior film with new Muppet Walter integrating himself with the Muppets troupe. The film follows the Muppets on what could be considered a world reunion tour, however during their international travels Kermit is mistaken for a world renowned thief that is his exact identical. He is imprisoned expected to have information that is in the thief's position, while Kermit goes on the road with the Muppets plotting criminal schemes and trying to avoid Interpol.
Muppets Most Wanted as a film starts out strong, but quickly after the initial setup begins to wind down the good will it's developed early on. The trailers made me feel that the film would be in the same camp as my personal favorite The Great Muppet Caper, and in many ways it is, but the film goes on quite a bit too long. It could have lost a bit of run time, and been a funnier sleeker film. That being said the trademark Muppets humor is on full force here, and when Muppets Most Wanted is on, it is on, and is very funny, and a great watch.
The Muppet performances are good as always, and the addition of actors like Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey to the cast was an inspired choice, and really add a lot of depth to the humor and human performances. The songs are catchy with a similar feel to the Muppets, and there are a few nice callbacks for Muppets fans of old.
The 1080p AVC encoded transfer looks quite nice for the most part. The film is a darker film, so blacks are nice and deep, and colors pop where they need to, and there is excellent detail present all around. Disney have presented the film with a DTS-HD 7.1 track that works quite well the dialogue comes through nice and clearly with the songs and score practically bursting from your speakers.
Extras include AN EVEN LONGER cut of the film, a blooper reel, a 3 minute skit with Rizzo the rat posing as the world's biggest Muppet fan. We also get Statler and Waldorf's cut of the film, and a music video.
Now we come to probably the lesser movie of the release slate Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, the Three Musketeers. This is to put it simply a feature film retelling of Dumas' 3 Musketeers with Disney's animated stars in the lead roles. It is quite a simple retelling of the tale with the 3 Disney Stars playing a new group of 3 Musketeers who were inspired by the actual 3 after Mickey received a hat from one of them as a child.
The animation is courtesy of Disney's DTV arm, and the more simplistic style shows through. The film is also a musical, but the music isn't anything on par with Disney's feature film work of the era. You might think I'm all complaints, but I'm cutting that out...NOW. The film is good, for kids. My son sat through this all the way through the first time I put it on, and he's not the biggest for sitting through entire films at his age. While some of Disney's theatrical animated features have adult crossover appeal Mickey, Donald, and Goofy the Three Musketeers is simply a fun slice of children's fare, and that is perfectly alright.
The film is presented in it's original 1:78:1 aspect ratio in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Being that the source material is quite recent the film looks quite good. Colors are bright, line detail is excellent, and I did not find really anything to complain about. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 5.1 MA track that sounds also quite good with dialogue and score coming through nicely. The extras include an in character commentary for one scene, deleted scenes, music videos, and more.
Disney's 8/12 release slate also included 2 other releases Toy Story of Terror and Disney Nature: Bears. They were not received by EuroCultAV.com, but this article will be updated should we acquire them. Disney's August 2014 release bomb truly has something for any Disney fan from classic to contemporary.