"THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: 2-DISC COLLECTOR’S EDITION"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Chris Sarandon as JACK SKELLINGTON
    Catherine O’Hara as SALLY
    William Hickey as DR. FINKELSTEIN
    Glenn Shadix as MAYOR
    Ken Page as OOGIE BOOGIE

    Rated PG
    Studio: Disney
    Directed by: Henry Selick

I was in college when “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was originally released. By using antiquated stop-motion techniques, the film achieved a uniquely fresh flavor that has rarely been duplicated, even in today’s world of CGI. Thirteen years later, Disney re-released this cinematic gem in stunning 3-D, which was brilliant as well.

Now, the movie is available on a 2-disc collector’s edition (which is really a 3-disc set with one disc reserved for Digital Copy). If you’re a fan of the film, this is a treat to revisit. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s worth a trip out to the video store for this coming Halloween season.

The movie tells the story of Jack Skellington in Halloween Town who discovers the land of Christmas Town. He hatches a plan to take over Santa’s job this coming year, but he can’t help but make the Christmas season filled with scares.

The film itself runs short, but it is a brilliant feat of movie making. The animation became the gold standard for stop-motion, which was only really respected in high-end special effects a la Phil Tippett and Ray Harryhausen. Otherwise, we’re left with the charming but rustic Christmas specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

There’s not a huge screaming difference between this collector’s edition of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and previous DVD releases, unless you want to count the wicked-cool cover box which includes a 3D relief of Jack Skellington. In some ways, it seems to be an excuse to release a BluRay edition of the film... and this film in high-def is definitely worth it.

It is rather curious to note that the original film was released under the Touchstone banner, ostensibly because it was too dark and scary to make it under the kid-friendly Walt Disney Pictures brand. Like I said, I was in college when it came out, and it was definitely marketed to my crowd. However, now the DVD comes courtesy of Walt Disney. What’s one generation’s scares seems to be another’s giggles.



"THE LITTLE MERMAID: ARIEL’S BEGINNING"


        MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jodi Benson as ARIEL
    Lorelei Hill Butters as QUEEN ATHENA
    Jim Cummings as KING TRITON
    Sally Field as MARINA
    Parker Goris as FLOUNDER
    Samuel E. Wright as SEBASTIAN

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney
    Directed by: Peggy Holmes

Over the years, I’ve been somewhat critical of the direct-to-DVD sequels of Disney classics. One of the worst ones in memory is “The Little Mermaid II” which may have reunited the cast but lost all the charm of the original film. There was a dark time in direct-to-DVD sequels, which also gave us movies like “Cinderella II,” which wasn’t a movie in itself but rather a compilation of stories.

Disney has now released a prequel to “The Little Mermaid” called “Ariel’s Beginning.” The film tells the story of how music became so integral to Ariel’s family. Originally, her mother loved music. But when she was lost at the hands of the humans, King Triton not only grew hostile to people but also banned music in his kingdom. However, Ariel’s persistence, charm and love of music helps bring it back to his heart.

In a very strange way, ‘The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning” is like an underwater version of “Footloose”... only without Kevin Bacon. There’s not a whole lot of surprises with this film simply because we know what happens in “The Little Mermaid”: that Ariel is beloved for her singing voice, Sebastian is King Triton’s musical conductor and Triton has warmed up to music again in his kingdom.

Ultimately, “Ariel’s Beginning” is better than “The Little Mermaid II” because it operates at a much more even keel. It’s not as much of a forced story that we’ve seen before – that the heroine’s child wants some adventure and gets into trouble while going out on his or her own. However, it doesn’t capture the same uniqueness and freshness that “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” did. Boiled down, it’s still just another friendly installment in the series.

The villain is a step down from Ursula in the first film, but the octopus witch is one of greatest Disney villains, so she’s hard to top. The antagonist Marina, voice by Sally Field, is more cantankerous than evil, but then again, she couldn’t be too bad in order to keep with the innocence that Ariel has in the original animated classic.

However, for young girls and die-hard Little Mermaid fans, it works. The music doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but at least they jazz up the soundtrack with some real-world tunes without forcing too many substandard original songs.

The DVD extras include two deleted scenes, a Disney song selection and a set-top activity that gives background and facts about Ariel and her sisters. Additionally, there’s a Backstage Disney feature called “Splashdance” that profiles director Peggy Holmes, who is a choreographer by trade. It gives hope to other non-animators who might be hankering to direct their own animated film. Sometimes outsiders have a chance.



"HANNAH MONTANA AND MILEY CYRUS BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT: THE 3D MOVIE"


    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Miley Cyrus as HERSELF
    Miley Cyrus as HANNAH MONTANA
    Billy Ray Cyrus as HIMSELF
    Kenny Ortega as HIMSELF

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney
    Directed by: Bruce Hendricks

I can’t think of a better recommendation for the DVD “Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert: The 3-D Movie” than the fact that my two sons wanted to watch it.

Right now, my sons (ages five and seven) are vehemently against anything girly. They hate kissing in movies, and they will cover their eyes if a Barbie commercial comes on Cartoon Network. They’ve even broken down all the Disney Channel shows as girl shows (like “Hannah Montana”) and boy shows (like “Corey in the House”).

However, they are also all about 3D. This summer, they enjoyed “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” And while the 3D experience in the Hannah Montana concert comes with the red-blue anaglyph glasses, they were dying to watch the concert.

So, if you can get two boys who hate girl movies begging to watch this DVD, that’s a glowing endorsement.

The package comes with four sets of 3D glasses (and a link to buy more if you need to) and two discs. One disc has the 2D version of the concert, along with some bonus features. The third disc is just the concert with the 3D experience.

The movie is made for the fans of the music, featuring sixteen songs, including a few tracks from the Jonas Brothers. The 2D disc includes a tour of the show with Miley Cyrus, a sing-along feature for the concert and additional songs not seen in theaters.

As far as the 3D goes, only the concert footage is presented in three dimensions. The behind-the-scenes footage shows us a variety of elements, from Miley Cyrus rehearsing with Kenny Ortega to a high-heel foot race run by dads trying to win concert tickets for their daughters. It’s a nice snapshot behind the scenes, but as fluffy as I expected. Still, this is more than you got when the concert was broadcast in 3D on the television a few weeks back.



"CAMP ROCK: EXTENDED ROCK STAR EDITION"


        MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Demi Lovato as MITCHIE TORRES
    Joe Jonas as SHANE GRAY
    Meaghan Jette Martin as TESS TYLER
    Maria Canals-Berrera as CONNIE TORRES
    Alyson Stoner as CAITLYN GELLER

    Rated TV-G
    Studio: Disney
    Directed by: Matthew Diamond

When I was a kid, Disney meant cartoon, animated animals and family viewing. Now, in the age of the Disney Channel, it seems that the brand is standing for tween music concerts. After record-breaking debuts of Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) like “The Cheetah Girls” and “High School Musical” series, its no surprise that not only was “Camp Rock” put in production but that it also broke records.

Instead of bringing a television star to lead the film, Disney tapped newcomer Demi Lovato to star. Of course, they did bring in sure-thing Disney rock star Joe Jonas as the love interest. The film tells the story of Mitchie Torres (Lovato), a girl who wants to go to a rock music camp but can’t afford it. However, when her mother is hired as the camp cook, Mitchie gets a special opportunity to join in the fun.

Trying to hide the truth about her family from her new stuck-up friends, Mitchie learns to find true friendship in some misfits and the hot young rock star Shane Gray (Joe Jonas), who is doing penance at the camp after some troubled moments with his band.

While Lovato is adorable and very affable, and Joe Jonas surprises with a pleasant screen presence and some nice acting ability, it’s not as lovable as the “High School Musical” films. Still, the tween market is going to love this one, if they haven’t already burned up their DVR hard drive by watching it over and over from its original broadcast this past June.

The DVD comes with a nice helping of special features, including multiple selections in the Backstage Disney block. There’s a bit of advice from the cast on how to be a rock star, a spotlight on the Jonas Brothers (which was surprisingly informative and interesting), a look at newcomer Demi Lovato, memories of camp, a chronicle of one of the songs from rehearsal to finished product and how the scene was set for another number.

Other special features include sing-alongs with the movie, two music videos and a “Camp Rock Karaoke” setting that allows you to sing without the help of the stars.

As the DCOM model goes, “Camp Rock” pushes all the right buttons. It has a good message of being yourself. It serves the romance fantasy of the tween girl market. It has plenty of song and dance, tapping into the Radio Disney label. It is perfectly made for its audience. No wonder it drew in 8.9 million viewers (second only to the numbers for “High School Musical 2”).



"THE ULTIMATE MULAN 2-MOVIE COLLECTION"


        DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Ming-Na as MULAN
    Eddie Murphy as MUSHU (Mulan)
    Mark Moseley as MUSHU (Mulan II)
    B.D. Wong as CAPTAIN LI SHANG
    Harvey Fierstein as YAO
    Gedde Watanabe as LING
    Sandra Oh as TING TING (Mulan II)
    Lauren Tom as SU (Mulan II)

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

While some have criticized Disney for bringing their films in and out of the DVD vault, making them available only for limited times, you can’t say that there’s few opportunities to buy them.

One of the latest releases from the Disney vault is the “Mulan” movies. Both the original animated film and its direct-to-DVD sequel are available in a gift set. The set contains three discs in all, with two belonging to the Special Edition of “Mulan.” The third disc is “Mulan II.”

There is no difference between these DVDs and the original releases from 2004 and 2005. The only catch is they are now boxed together. If you already own either release, it’s not a great deal to get the box set. However, if you – or rather your kids - have never seen the “Mulan” films, here’s a way to get a little more bang for your buck.

From a critical standpoint, “Mulan” is far superior to its sequel. Part of this is because it was an original theatrical release with a full budget while “Mulan II” was a profit grab in the DVD sequel market. As Disney sequels go, it’s not the best. Much of this is due to the fact that in the first film, the young Mulan is off to save the country while the sequel features a main story of her getting married and finding her independence.

Still, if you’ve got a girl in the house who is into the Disney Princesses, the Mulan films offer a nice alternative to the traditional fairy tale characters.

Special features on “Mulan: Special Edition” include deleted scenes, music videos, fun facts that can play on screen while you watch the movie, a DisneyPedia entry on “Mulan’s World” and a “Discovering Mulan” featurette.

Special features on “Mulan II” include deleted scenes, a music video, a spotlight on the voice talent, a look at the world of Mulan and “Mushu’s Guess Who Game.”

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