'Snow White,' 'Willy Wonka' lead sterling lineup of new Blu-ray titles

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

6 October 2009


The landmark Walt Disney production “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (Walt Disney, 1937, $39.99) and the splendid fantasy “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (Warner, 1971, $34.99) top this week’s list of mostly outstanding new Blu-ray releases.

“Snow White” looks beautiful in the high-definition format. It’s like watching a Van Gogh come to life. What makes it even more amazing is that it was done in the pre-computer era when artists drew and painted the film frame-by-frame.

As chronicled in one of the many extras, most of Hollywood thought Walt Disney was crazy to attempt to put together a feature-length cartoon. At the time, most animated cartoons ran around seven minutes. No one, the detractors said, would sit through an 84-minute cartoon.

Disney, ever the visionary, and his team pressed on with his dream. When it became a reality and the public had a chance to see it; a mega-hit and a legend was born. Not only that; it paved the way for all the animated features that followed.

The lovely Snow White, the wicked queen and the seven dwarfs became everlasting Hollywood icons. Audiences left the theaters humming many of the film’s songs such as “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Whistle While your Work” and “Heigh-Ho.” It received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Score and has earned many honors since then.

The DVD release includes the Blu-ray discs, a regular DVD of the film and a third disc that features a virtual tour of Hyperion Studios, Disney’s headquarters in 1937. There are also newly discovered storyboards of what could have been Disney’s planned sequel “Snow White Returns.” Current artists attempt to show us what that the film might have looked like.

“Snow White” is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. However, for those who are for some reason bothered by the black bars on the left and right of the frame, you can check out the 16:9 DisneyView widescreen version. Instead of the black bars, there are new paintings to fit the mood of each sequence on each side of the frames.

There are several other editions of “Snow White” such as a Collector’s Book Set ($59.99), a Dwarf Plush Gift Set ($79.99) and as a mammoth Limited Edition Collector’s set ($249.00). No matter which edition you get, the important thing is you will have a marvelous piece of movie history. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is very highly recommended.

Gene Wilder is a delight in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Based in Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, it is a pure joy for both young and old.

Willy Wonka (Wilder) has decided it is time to find someone to succeed him as the director of his chocolate factory. He places five golden passes in his very popular Wonka chocolate bars. The five lucky kids who find them will get a personal tour of the chocolate factory by Willy himself. Each is to be accompanied by an adult.

Charlie (Peter Ostrum), a poor boy, gets one of the passes and asks his grandfather (Jack Albertson) to accompany him to the factory. The other four kids are royal pains in the neck, which Wonka recognizes right away. During the tour, he finds clever (and funny) ways to deter them from completing the tour.

Inside the factory is a wonderland of chocolate waterfalls, edible flowers and acres of goodies. There are also the unforgettable Oompa-Loompas who work to make sure all the candy is made just right. It’s even more dazzling in Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray comes in a 38-page book packaging and includes a fine documentary on about the making of the film and several featurettes. It all makes for a wonderful journey into the world of imagination. “Willy Wonka” is very highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Miracle on 34th Street” (20th Century Fox, 1947, $34.99): Here is the memorable fantasy about a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) who claims to be the real Santa Claus. Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), special events director for Macy’s Department Store, is overseeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She panics when the man she hired to play Santa Claus shows up drunk. Fortunately, the kindly old gentleman Kris Kringle agrees to fill in for him. Afterwards, Walker hires him to be the store Santa Claus for Macy’s. Kris does a great job, but when he claims to be the real Santa Claus, everyone think he’s crazy and he is institutionalized. Fred Gailey (John Payne), a lawyer who lives in the same apartment building as Walker and her non-believing daughter Susan (Natalie Wood), becomes interested in the case. Gailey decides to defend Kris in a court case that will decide if he actually is the real Santa. Presented in its original black-and-white 4:3 aspect ratio. A Christmas classic. Highly recommended.

“Miracle on 34th Street” (20th Century Fox, 1994, $34.99): Remakes often fall flat but this one matches the joy of the 1947 original. Mara Wilson plays the part of Susan, who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and Elizabeth Perkins plays her mom Dorey. Richard Attenborough does Edmund Gwenn proud and turns in an equally effective performance as Kris Kringle. The story is pretty much the same as the 1947 version with a few changes here and there. A job well done. Highly recommended.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Warner, 1965, $29.99): The very first Peanuts TV special. Charles Schulz’ beloved kids cope with the over-commercialization of Christmas. It takes Linus to remind them of the real meaning of the holiday season. Highly recommended.

“Dr, Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (Warner, 1965, $29.99): Animator Chuck Jones brings Christmas in Whoville to life as the Grinch discovers there is more to Christmas than just decorations and presents. Boris Karloff narrates. Highly recommended.

“Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (20th Century Fox, 1992, $34.99): Amazingly, this film is as much fun and as funny as the first “Home Alone.” This time, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is left behind when the family decides to head to Florida for Christmas. He ends up in New York and runs into Marv and Harry (Daniel Stren and Joe Pesci) from the first film. They’re trying to pull off a robbery in a toy store on Christmas Eve. Imagine their surprise when they have to square off with the resourceful Kevin one more time. Highly recommended.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (PBS/Paramount, 2009, $129.99): Filmmaker Ken Burns is back with another spectacular documentary. It’s not just a parade of beautiful shots — although they are here in brilliant high definition — but Burns also explores the whole history of the National Park concept dating back 150 years. Merging his much-heralded use of still photographs with contemporary footage, Burns gives us a six-part, 12-hour film that is as stunning as his previous works such as “The Civil War,” “Baseball” and “Jazz.” Peter Coyote narrates and among the others lending their voices to the project are Tom Hanks, Sam Waterson, John Lithgow, Eli Wallach, Andy Garcia and Carolyn McCormick. Very highly recommended.

“Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears A Who!” (Warner, 1970, $29.99): Hans Conreid narrates this animated version of Horton, an elephant who hears a voice coming from a speck of dust. Horton decides to help those on the speck. “After all, a person is a person no matter how small.” Recommended.

“Contact” (Warner, 1997, $28.99): A terrific and intelligent film about the search for extraterrestrial life in the cosmos. Jodie Foster as Dr. Ellie Arroway has devoted her life to looking for evidence that we are not alone in the universe. When she finally gains the evidence that there is indeed life elsewhere, she has trouble convincing most of the authorities to take her seriously. The film allows for a deep discussion about the existence of God. Also in the cast are Tom Skerritt, James Woods, David Morse, Matthew McConaughey, Angela Bassett and John Hurt. Highly recommended.

“Wolf” (Sony, 1994, $24.95): Jack Nicholson is terrific as a New York book publishing editor who is bitten by a wolf. After that, whenever the moon is full, Nicholson turns into a werewolf. He tries to fight it but sometimes the transformation can bring some satisfaction. The film has very little humor as director Mike Nichols keeps it a serious tale about a werewolf. It’s also a parody of the rivalries that can erupt in today’s workplace. Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars. Recommended.

“Bones: Season 4” (20th Century Fox, 2008-09, $69.99): Emily Deschanel returns as Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist exploring some more strange cases. Dave Boreanaz as special agent Seeley Booth is back by her side. Contains 25 episodes. Recommended,

“My Life in Ruins” (20th Century Fox, 2009, $39.99): Nia Vardalos plays Georgia, an American tour guide in Athens (Greece, not Georgia). Richard Dreyfus co-stars.

“Imagine That” (Paramount, 2009, $39.99): Eddie Murphy stars in this alleged comedy in which he gets business advice from his 7-year-old daughter. Also in the cast are Thomas Haden Church and Ronny Cox.

“Ghost Ship” (Warner, 2002, $28.99): Gabriel Byrne and JuliannaMarqulies star in this OK chiller about an Italian luxury liner that reappears after being lost for 40 years. An investigation shows it’s empty or is it? Strange noises and ghostly figures seem to pop up from nowhere.

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (Sony, 1994, $24.95): Talk about an oft-told tale — this is it. Robert De Niro plays the monster and Kenneth Branagh, who also directs, plays Victor Frankenstein. The stormy nights and the shadowy hallways are all here. In this one, the monster reads how he was put together from old body parts and wonders if he has a soul. OK version of the story and De Niro is effective as the monster.

“The Children” (Lionsgate, 2008, $29.99): It’s the Christmas holidays and a family is having a wonderful time at a vacation home in the backwoods. Then, the children come down with a flu-like virus, Soon, the children turn into creatures to be feared. Forget the ho-ho stuff.

“Seventh Moon” (Lionsgate, 2008, $29.99): Newlyweds, honeymooning in China, take part in ancient ritual they treat as big joke. Not funny. According to an ancient myth, on the full moon of the seventh lunar moon, the gates of hell are opened and the dead are free to roam among us.

“The Thaw” (Lionsgate, 2009, $29.99): Val Kilmer stars in this global-warming tale. He plays Dr. David Kruipen, who is leading a team of students to an Arctic station not far from where he discovered the carcass of a mastodon. Turns out some of other creatures have thawed out, too — such as a prehistoric parasite that has made the students its new home.

“Offspring” (Lionsgate, 2008, $29.99): Decades ago, a brutal pack of flesh eaters descended on the town of Dead River, Maine. But the sheriff at the time finally killed them all. Oops! Turns out he didn’t completely get rid of them. They’re back in Dead River ready to feast again.

“The Number 23” (New Line Cinema, 2007, $28.99): Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher who is given a book (with the same title as this film) to read. Carrey becomes convinced the lead character in the novel is himself. As the days and the pages pass, more events in the book seem to coincide with Sparrow’s life. Carrey does a nice job in this non-comedic role. Virginia Madsen plays his wife.

“Year One” (Sony, 2009, $39.95): Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) set off on adventurous journey showing us what life was like in 1 A.D. Harold Ramis produced, directed and write this film. What a disappointment from the guy who gave us “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.”

“Trick ‘r’ Treat” (Warner, 2008, $35.98): This is sort of a horror version of “Crash” ... sort of. Five creepy stories unfold on Halloween. They seem separate from each other but we gradually see how they are all woven together.

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