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Category:    Home > Reviews > Magazines > Book > Fantasy > Drama > Comedy > Animation > Animals > CGI > Computer Animation > Cricket Publishing: Babybug (softcover book) + Cricket, Ladybug and Spider Magazines/Pete's Dragon (2016 live action remake/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Secret Life Of Pets (2016/Illumination/Universal 4

Cricket Publishing: Babybug (softcover book) + Cricket, Ladybug and Spider Magazines/Pete's Dragon (2016 live action remake/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Secret Life Of Pets (2016/Illumination/Universal 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray + Blu-ray w/DVD set)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ Picture: B & C/B & C+ Sound: B & C+/B+ & C+ Extras: C+ Films: C+ Book/Magazines: C+

Here's our latest child titles, including some fun in paper print media...

We start with the many print releases of Cricket Publishing, best known for the magazine that bares the company name. Like the similar Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug and Spider Magazines offer illustrations, text, short stories, games and other items that treat the young readers with respect and talk up to them, meaning they are pro-education. In an era where so many print publications, including specialty ones are folding, it is great to see that these healthy, progressive, fun, kind, gentle, pleasant works continue to have a healthy circulation. These have the same pleasant quality I remember from many years ago, sometimes with themes (they just did a round of Halloween issues) and in this age of some backward thinking, they are as vital, welcome and important as ever.

The company also has other items they publish and this includes books like Babybug that are in the mode of the same responsible, fun, smart work the magazine line is known for, a short stories set with more quality illustrations that will also brings Scholastic to mind. Unfortunately, you cannot find these great releases in all stores, but finer stores have them and for more information about content and ordering, you can visit http://www.cricketmedia.com and see the whole lineup.

Now for two high-profile feature film releases that show animals are particularly popular this year.

David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) is the interesting independent filmmaker Disney chose to helm their 2016 live action remake of their 1977 hit Pete's Dragon, but Elliot The Dragon (now voiced by John Kassir) is a CG creation and for older viewers comes across more like Dragonheart (voiced by Sean Connery) than the hand-drawn animated original. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned and needs a friend when the mythical creature turns up. However, this is much visually darker than the 1977 film, which was brighter and more upbeat. This remake is very laid back (maybe too much) and in the end, is no overall improvement over the original, even with Robert Redford (in one of his last acting roles before recently announcing he was retiring from acting), Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and more money for the latest visual effects. Following so close to the new live action Jungle Book remake (reviewed twice elsewhere on this site), that explains why it may not have done the business it could or would have if they waited a while.

The result is a fairly good revisiting, but it should have been better, or this remake should have been delayed until they thought of some other things to do with it. For those very interested in seeing it, its not bad, but the rest should only expect so much.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds Bloopers, a feature length audio commentary track by Director Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks and co-stars Fegley & Oona Laurence, two Music Videos, two Making Of featurettes and ''Disappearing Moments'' where Lowery shows us ''lost'' scenes and in all honesty, some of them should have stayed.

For more on the original film, try this link...


While CG animals have graced hits like Jungle Book, Pete's Dragon and even in a first for the legendary character, The Legend Of Tarzan, but computer animated features have been even more animal-bonkers with Finding Dory, Zootopia, Kung-Fu Panda 3, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Angry Birds Movie and this one, Yarrow Cheney & Chris Renaud's The Secret Life Of Pets (2016) comes from the Illumination Studios, who gave us Despicable Me and Minons in what has been another huge hit. Again, we have animals going through the city in a view of their secret and sometimes funny world, but the script relies more on situation comedy and slapstick that storytelling, which holds this one back a bit too.

Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is unhappy when his owner takes in Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and thinks maybe he'll suffer from loss of attention, et al, but he's still got his animal friends visiting him when no one is looking. There's just enough humor and a new animation style here to keep the film going for young children, but I expected a little more at least. Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks, Steve Coogan, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan and an especially welcome Dana Carvey make up the rest of the cohering voice cast. Needless to day, there will be a sequel.

I can see why it was a hit, but they'll have to deliver much more next time out. Thus, it is worth a look for the gags that work.

Extras from both sets include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray and DVD add 3 new Mini-Movies and four Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurettes, but the Blu-ray has two additional exclusive Making Of featurettes with How To Make An Animated Film and Anatomy Of A Scene.

As for performance, the 2160p HEVC/H.265, HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced 1.85 X 1 Ultra High Definition image on Pets is easily the best performer on the list and even if they do not have the absolute top CGI animation, the color range (though I thought it odd) is better and more interesting here than in the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Blu-ray included in both sets. That struggles with color range and a bit of detail in comparison, versus the smoother 4K presentation on the Ultra HD disc.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Dragon is less concerned with being colorful, but does resolve its darker shots and section better than you might think, though I found the look a bit repetitive and it cannot compete with the 4K Pets disc in playback quality either.

Both Dragon and the second Pets sets have anamorphically enhanced DVDs that are passable and convenient, but Pets tends to be softer than Dragon for some reason, though both pale against the Blu-ray and especially 4K releases.

As for sound, the 4K and 1080p Blu-ray versions of Pets all feature Dolby Atmos 11.1 lossless mixes (the same mix) that are the sonic highlight here (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixdowns if your receiver cannot do Atmos yet) and may not be the greatest demo quality versus the best out there, but is very consistent, professional, well recorded and has some fun highlights just the same.

Dragon settles for a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix that is a mixdown from its 11.1 theatrical soundmaster, but the surrounds are solid, soundfield consistent and though nothing stands out sonically in particular, this is very well done and thought out. The DVDs for both films are presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and they are passable, but you can hear plenty of nuance is just not there versus the fine lossless presentations op the Blu-ray versions.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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