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Category:    Home > Reviews > Children > Animation > Animals > Children's Television > Travel > Computer Animation > Circus > Magic > Fa > The Backyardigans – We Arrrr Pirates (Nickelodeon DVD) + Carnival Magic (1981/Cultura/Film Vault/Virgil Blu-ray + DVD) + Dungeons & Dragons Double Feature (2000/2005/Warner Blu-rays) + Dora The Explor

The Backyardigans – We Arrrr Pirates (Nickelodeon DVD) + Carnival Magic (1981/Cultura/Film Vault/Virgil Blu-ray + DVD) + Dungeons & Dragons Double Feature (2000/2005/Warner Blu-rays) + Dora The Explorer – Dora’s Ballet Adventure (Nickelodeon DVD) + Miracle Maker (Jesus/1999/Lionsgate Blu-ray w/DVD) + Scooby Doo! Mystery Inc. – Season One, V.1 (Warner DVD) + Tom & Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures V.1 (Warner DVD) + Walking On Water (2008/Affirm/Sony DVD)


Picture: C+ (Maker Blu: C+/Magic & Maker DVDs: C)     Sound: C+ (Magic: B- & C/Maker Blu: B- & C+)     Extras: D (C on Magic, Dragons, and Miracle)     Main Programs: C/C-/C/C+/C/C/C+*/D



Trying to second guess children’s or family entertainment is always a bad thing and has resulted in some of the dumbest, oddest productions of all time.  It can also affect established properties in ways it should not.  Eight new releases will show you what I mean.


Nickelodeon knows how to keep it simple and be child friendly.  The Backyardigans – We Arrrr Pirates and Dora The Explorer – Dora’s Ballet Adventure are the latest single DVDs based on the hit TV shows.  As you can see from these links, they are of a quality that is just consistent enough to work:


The Backyardigans – High Flying Adventures



Dora The Explorer – Dora’s Slumber Party



Though they may follow a 1980s formula of happy family happenings, that has not hurt these too much.  Each has four episodes and no extras in keeping with such basic releases, but they keep on coming because this seems to be enough for fans.  The Dora disc is even a tie-in at a discount chain selling ballet accessories.  That is the state of commercial children’s TV still.


The old live action Disney feature films that ran up to the late 1970s became the model for more imitators than you might think.  This includes many lost, orphan films made by wanna be companies, some sincerely interested in family entertainment.  This included some oddball productions into the 1980s (before the Lucas/Spielberg effect took hold), so it may seem hiring genre B-movie director Al Adamson (Dracula vs. Billy The Kid) to helm Carnival Magic (1981) set at a circus with a magician who has telekinesis, ESP and a talking chimpanzee (I am not making this up) who quickly become the top attraction until kids are drawn into a revenge melodrama where an animal trainer finds out the chimp really can talk and wants to kidnap him to be sold for experimentation!


Not to be confused with the NBC-TV megabomb of the time Mr. Smith (a comedy about a talking genius chimp who tells very, very, very bad jokes), this is so odd and bad that it is not good, yet fascinating in just how bad this is.  Adamson was a master of really bad directing and getting the worst possible performances out of his unknown actors.  This is one of his latter films (this man actually had a career!) and it is more a product of the 1970s than anything else, warmed over, belated and oddly awful.  Still, it is a time capsule curio from a director who is still celebrated for being so bad and deserves to be in print.  Oh, and they thought they were going to make a sequel.


Extras include Restoration Demonstration, Original Theatrical Trailer and TV ad, Outtakes (without audio), Slide Show that includes text from the original press kit and mostly full color stills, Interview with Producer Elvin Feltner (on cameras for about 12 minutes) and a feature length audio commentary by Feltner and cult film historian Joe Rubin.


As phony as that is, the 1980s revived fascination with the fantasy genre (including role playing games and movies) eventually collided very belatedly in two would be narrative features based on the most successful of all role playing games.  Warner has collected both duds in a new Dungeons & Dragons Double Feature Blu-ray set with the inept 2000 theatrical release that manages to pair Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans (imagine that!), Thora Birch and very bad, dated visual effects in a useless cash-in on the game that goes on and on and on and that was not that big a hit.  Yet in 2005, New Line threw together a video sequel subtitles Wrath Of The Dragon God which brings back some of the lesser known actors and no improvement in effects or writing.  This pair of cynical train wrecks are the epitome of how not to adapt a franchise property to the screen and the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (overrated as it is) has made these look so very dated.  These are curios at best.


Extras for both include audio commentaries, making of featurettes, interviews, games and the first film adds a trailer, Additional Scenes, an Alternate Ending and visual effects demo.


If such releases are not partly animated, they are fully animated.  The surprise of the Mel Gibson-produced The Miracle Maker – The Story Of Jesus is that it is in the old stop-motion animation of Rankin Bass and Davey & Goliath shows.  Ralph Fiennes (as Jesus), Julie Christie, Miranda Richardson, Alfred Molina, Ian Holm, David Thewlis, William Hurt and Richard E. Grant voice the various characters and this is watchable, yet it is everything we have seen before, so only expect so much.


Extras on the Blu-ray include trailers, storyboards, Producer/Director Audio Commentary and a Making Of featurette, while the DVD has some interactive games.


Warner continues their more mainstream 2D animated DVD with Scooby Doo! Mystery Inc. – Season One, V.1 coming from the latest formula revival of the once great Hanna Barbera franchise that has not recovered from its live action disasters worse than the Dungeons & Dragons Double Feature.  It is child-safe enough, but boring and no match for the early series.  Four episodes are included here, but there are no extras.  Tom & Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures V.1  is a strange mix of their MGM theatrical shorts Warner has decided to issue that can only be described as a hodge podge of 14 various shorts, all of which have turned up before.  Some are classic 1.33 X 1 Technicolor classics by Hanna & Barbera, some are from the Chuck Jones era (better represented by the Jones collection of these shorts reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the rest are CinemaScope shorts, which offers the biggest problem.


*Instead of offering all of them at anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 as would be proper, only some are.  A couple are letterboxed and one starts out letterboxed, then is pan & scan!  That is sloppy and this is not a collector’s disc.  There are no extras.


Finally we have a drama about surfing that is another dud from Affirm films that, no matter what you do, just find faith and do nothing else with your life.  Must retire your brain and follow dogma.  This time, it is the world of surfing that is ruined in Walking On Water (2008) that cannot decide if it is a drama or docudrama or whatever, but it is scripted and could be subtitled ‘the endless sermon’ it is so dull.


Two young men go traveling and surfing around the world, following their drams, but they should just give them up in the end.  How annoying and offensive.  Even the visuals are not that good, so you can tell the point of this project has nothing to do with surfing or the freedom thereof.  It also has some bad shots, bad editing and slick shots that further denature it.  Worst than Carnival Magic, this is condescending and borderline sinister in being a family/child-aimed project.  No matter what the trends above represent, this is the bottom of the barrel and at least Miracle Maker is not phony about its agenda, no matter what has happened with Gibson.  Plus, is this title not sacrilege, or do they get a Far Right Wing pass for what they are really up to?  What a bigoted double standard that is.


Extras include two featurettes and a clip from a follow-up project to beware of in the worst way.  Could it be worse than this one?



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 image on the Blu-rays are all underperformers with Dragons especially soft, dated and there was no way Warner was going to go back and redo those dated effects, but both features have dated HD masters.  Magic may be digitally restored form a 35mm film print with its share of damage (and maybe Fujirot from an original 35mm internegative?), but it looks better than both of them throughout despite fleshtones being more pale than they should be and other flaws surfacing that could not be corrected.  Color is better here at times than on the anamorphically enhanced DVD, but both can be pale overall, a problem with the similar DVD on Maker, whose Blu-ray does a much better job of reproducing the color and detail of the stop-motion, which is the default highlight of this release.


The 1.33 X 1 image on Backyardigans, Dora and Fur are just fine, with Fur having the best color (save that pan & scan and letterboxed footage).  The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the CinemaScope Fur shorts look good, but can also have softness and detail issues.  That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Scooby and Water being oddly softer than new productions should be, with Scooby having color issues and the mix of hand-drawn & computer animation not working out so well.  Water has some awful shots waved into some good ones that get overwhelmed by the former.  Color can be really bad here, even worse than the bad shots on either Magic disc.


As for sound, all the Blu-rays (save Magic) have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 remixes and again are all underwhelming.  Dragons have dated mixes that simply are not that good and have soundfields that do not impress much.  Maker has the best soundfield overall, but is still limited.  Magic remixes the original theatrical mono to Dolby Digital 5.1 and just manages to be clearer than I expected, though it shows its age and the same sound appears in both formats.  The rest of the DVDs have simple Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (including those included with Blu-rays), though the DVD version of Maker has a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is weaker than it should be for a recent production.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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