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The DVDs discussed in this feature are: Note: importing any of these DVDs into the UK will require a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. All imports will be Region 1 only. Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 11 April 2006 Little Einsteins - Team Up for Adventure
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 25 April 2006 Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh - Love and Friendship
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 23 May 2006 Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh - It’s Playtime with Pooh
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 23 May 2006 High School Musical - The Encore Edition
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 23 May 2006 Walt Disney’s It’s a Small World of Fun - Volume
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 16 May 2006 Walt Disney’s It’s a Small World of Fun - Volume Two
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 16 May 2006 Cartoon Classic Favorites - Best Pals - Mickey and Minnie (Volume 10)
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 11 April 2006 Cartoon Classic Favorites - Best Pals - Donald & Daisy (Volume 11)
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 11 April 2006 Cartoon Classic Favorites - Best Pals - Mickey & and Pluto (Volume 12)
(Walt Disney Video)
US: 11 April 2006 Garbage Pail Kids - The Complete Series
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 4 April 2006 The Fairly OddParents - Fairy Idol
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 23 May 2006 Dora the Explorer: Dora’s First Trip
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 11 April 2006 Postcards from Buster: Buster’s World of Sports
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 11 April 2006

It comes as a pleasant surprise to be able to report that the best new children’s DVDs all come from Disney, so often the source for substandard and exploitative “product”. First among these is Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin, the debut DVD release of a made-for-TV movie that might well be the most satisfying Pooh outing since 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

The Many Adventures owed much to the original text by A.A. Milne. Pieced together out of three classic Pooh shorts—Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! (1974)—it was nothing less than the definitive portrayal of life in the Hundred Acre Wood and consequently, an absolute Disney children’s classic. Pooh’s Grand Adventure, first screened in 1997, takes nothing but its characters from Milne, but seems to follow almost seamlessly on from The Many Adventures in both chronology and the style of its animation.

It begins on a typically splendid but genuinely sad day in the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher Robin is attempting to explain to Pooh that he’s growing older, school is beckoning, and nothing will ever be exactly the same ever again. Speaking partially to reassure himself, but mainly for the benefit of Pooh, he goes on to express the bulk-purchased moral of the movie, that “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Pooh’s mind, however, is elsewhere. Honey is probably involved.

The next morning, Pooh wakes to find a mysterious gift on his doorstep. It’s a jar of honey from Christopher Robin, and it comes complete with a note explaining that Pooh’s friend has gone to school and won’t be back until late in the afternoon. Of course, bears being bears, honey being honey, and Wol being somewhat less of a reader than he likes to imagine, the inevitably honey-smeared note is taken to say that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped and taken to Skull Rock, and that he desperately needs help. You can, I’m sure, imagine the rest.

Some parents may find the heavy-handed repetition of this movie’s message a little hard to bear—but then it’s always hard for a little bear to get the point without that kind of repetition. Others may feel that Pooh’s Grand Adventure is too dark for their children. But my captive test audience—aged five and three—found it delightful. And as I watched Pooh’s Grand Adventure with them for quite the umpteenth time, I could find only one fault with it. Why does Disney insist on portraying every woodland area in the Pooh canon as the Hundred Acre Wood when every diligent reader knows it’s actually an idyllic enclave within a wider Forest in which Heffalumps, Woozles, Gobloons, and the Skullosaurus lurk?

A movie the whole family can enjoy, Pooh’s Grand Adventure is the yin to the yang of Disney’s DVD series, Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh. The two newest volumes in the series are Love and Friendship and It’s Playtime with Pooh. Although Growing Up purports to be educational (these DVDs claim to teach social skills and problem-solving, respectively), it’s clear this series is a shallow repackaging of episodes from the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh TV show.

Disney’s Little Einstein marque makes a much better fist of the whole educatainment model, and the second DVD in the series is every bit as good as the first. The animation is stimulating, the themes, music, and geography engaging. Unfortunately, the promotion for Little Einsteins - Team Up for Adventure has apparently left many parents confused. To be clear, this is not an all new triple length adventure. It’s three distinct episodes from the TV series, only one not broadcast yet. The new episode is “How We Became the Little Einsteins - The True Story,” and it does pretty much exactly what it says on the label, showing how the children met and boarded Rocket for their very first mission, the search for a home for Rocket. If your preschool kids already know and love the Little Einsteins, they’re bound to adore Team Up for Adventure. If they don’t, you really should introduce them to Leo, Annie, Quincy, June, and Rocket. The true value of educatainment may be open to question, but the Little Einsteins are likeable, fun, and, from my perspective, effective.

High School Musical is a Disney success of a different colour. Aimed at the teen and tween markets, this Disney Channel Original Movie has broken all sorts of records (apparently its first day sales of 400,000 copies makes it the most popular TV to DVD movie in history) but it’s far from “original”. No, it’s actually a squeaky-clean, modern retelling of Grease stripped of the most memorable pieces (think: Livvy in leather, Stockard Channing, Dinah Manoff, and teen pregnancy). Given a “backstage” context and a cast of apparently genuine teens, High School Musical is a healthy, happy, feel-good movie that promises to be the first part of a three-part series. So look out for HSM II - Kenickie Strikes Back early in 2007.

HSM is a modern Disney take on a theme that goes all the way back to Shakespeare and beyond. Repackaging of a sort, of course, but a far cry from series such as Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh or Disney’s endless re-packaging and remarketing of its vintage material. Usually, when I come across series like It’s a Small World of Fun, I sigh a weary little sigh and ask myself why on earth anyone would fall for such vulgar shtick. But occasionally the content wins the long, hard, uphill battle against my scepticism, and this month my cynicism has been pretty much bludgeoned into submission.

Each of the first two volumes of It’s a Small World of Fun delivers half a dozen animated classics from the Evil Empire’s golden age. There’s a loose theme, of course. Each cartoon takes place within a different nation, and only a couple of them are the U.S. “Peter and The Wolf” (Volume Two—Russia), “The Brave Little Tailor” (Volume Two—England), and “Goliath II” (Volume One—India) are prime examples of the creativity that made Disney great, but the very best on offer here are both set in the contiguous 48.

Volume One‘s “A Cowboy Needs a Horse” (1956) details a young boy’s dreams of becoming a cowboy. His adventures include an encounter with Indians that ends with a peace pipe ceremony, a stagecoach robbery, a dynamited bridge, and the rescue of a pretty girl tied to a cactus. The highlight of Volume Two is the truly heartwarming story of “Susie, The Little Blue Coupe”. If you only get one of these DVDs, you should choose the second volume, but they’re both head-and-shoulders above the usual Disney retreads.

As is Disney’s Cartoon Classic Favorites - Best Pals - Donald & Daisy (Volume 11). Unusually, this collection contains four cartoons that have never been released on DVD before, but that’s not the only thing it has going for it. These shorts are bursting with visual wit and physical humour. The only downside is that in limiting Best Pals - Donald &d Daisy to the standard one hour and eight cartoons, Disney has missed the opportunity to make all 10 Daisy cartoons available in just one place. I guess we all know why…

Issued together with Donald & Daisy are the Best Pals volumes Mickey and Minnie (Volume 10) and Mickey & Pluto (Volume 12). Let’s just say that although both have their moments, neither is more than a typically unappetising retread. Still, both volumes offer the benefit of an alternate French language soundtrack, and neither stinks even half as much as Garbage Pail Kids - The Complete Series.

Developed by CBS in 1987 to exploit the popularity of a trading card set that parodied the Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon, the 13-part Garbage Pail Kids cartoon series soon earned the wrath of Concerned Parents. Their complaints that it was un-Christian and positively anti-American led the network to pull the series. Right result, wrong reason: Garbage Pail Kids should have been cancelled because it is puerile nonsense that makes the Power Rangers look adequate. If you buy The Complete Series, you deserve to spend eternity trapped in an overheated elevator with the marketing genius who thought recovering this nonsense 20 years later was a bright idea.

In The Fairly OddParents - Fairy Idol, resident villain Norm, the Genie of the Lava Lamp, has what he thinks is a really bright idea too. Tired of an eternity granting wishes to losers, Norm wants to become a Fairy Godparent. The inevitable hilarious consequences include Timmy Turner losing his fairy guardians, Wanda and Cosmo (whom Norm tricks into resigning), and then traveling to Fairy World where he discovers a competition among every wish-granting creature in the universe to become fairy godparents to the most miserable kid on Earth. Contestants include Norm, Juandissimo, the Tooth Fairy, Cupid, the April Fool, and of course Cosmo and Wanda. The most miserable kid on earth turns out to be Tommy’s friend Chester. Strange, isn’t it that the most miserable kid on Earth doesn’t live in Iraq, or the Sudan, or… well, you get the idea.

In addition to the double episode feature presentation, Fairy Idol also includes two episodes from the series’ fifth season. The first, “Truth or Cosmoquences,” is pretty much standard fare, a Fairly Oddparents take on high school reunions with more than a touch of Romy and Michele. The second, “Timmy TV,” takes Timmy on another trip to Fairy World, where he discovers that he’s the star of a successful Fairy World reality TV show. Don’t expect any stunning insights into the nature of reality TV.

The latest release in the seemingly eternal Dora the Explorer series is Dora the Explorer: Dora’s First Trip. As always, Dora is all about good-natured fun. See Dora tell the story of how she met Boots for the first time. See Dora run. See Dora jump. See Dora foil Swiper and save the day. Again and again. And again. Still, Yo quiero Dora, and “We Did It” is still the kickingest song on kids’ TV.

If you’re in search of variety, Postcards from Buster: Buster’s World of Sports provides it. Arthur’s floppy-eared compadre goes rock climbing with kids in Colorado, skiing in Utah, swimming in Arizona, and rodeo riding in Houston. Unfortunately, the kids I’d chained to the coffee table to provide me with a genuinely childlike response to Buster’s adventures in sport and geography gave the rabbit the bird in no uncertain terms, and organised rallies and viral marketing campaigns to demand Dora’s return post-haste. This is the second time that’s happened. So Buster’s evidently one of those earnestly well-intentioned characters who can’t quite make the connection that comes so easily for Dora or a Little Einstein.


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