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ROBIN HOOD (1973) (Blu-ray combo)

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robinhoodcoverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  Yes (though it might bore older ones)
1973, 83 min., Color
Rated G
Disney
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer

Of all the animated Disney movies from the ‘70s, Robin Hood had perhaps the most potential, but suffers from a mild case of “averageitis.” For me it just didn’t hold up as well as some of the other Disney entries—though the kids thought it comparable to other Disney features.

Although Wolfgang Reitherman, one of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men, directed Disney’s 1973 animated adaptation of the Robin Hood legend—one which hovers close in plot to the Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood classic—the music isn’t as well integrated, and the story seems flat in spots.

There’s a hint of limitation in the title sequence, which simply features a parade of characters marching across the screen to a folk-pop song by Roger Miller, then running back the other direction, chased by another group of uniformed animals. At times, the animators seemed satisfied to be going for “cute” instead of clever, and there just isn’t the same give-and-take robust energy to the characters of Robin Hood (a fox, voiced by Brian Bedford) and Little John (a bear, voiced by Phil Harris) as there was with Flynn and his partner in live-action convivial crime, Alan Hale. Other characters also seem too nice, or too nondescript.

The most memorable ones are Prince John (Peter Ustinov), whose demeanor vacillates between delusions of grandeur and infantile withdrawal, and his advisor, Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas), a snake whose schtick comes closest to what passes for snappy patter in this film.  More

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SHANE (Blu-ray)

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ShanecoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes (with an asterisk)
1953, 118 min., Color
Unrated (would be PG)
Warner Bros.

Aspect ratio:  1.37:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 2.0
Bonus features:  C+
Trailer 

Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel has been credited for helping the Western make the leap from pulp fiction aimed at youngsters to serious adult fiction. It also established the formula for countless movies and TV series, and I can’t think of a better “starter” Western to introduce youngsters to the genre.

That’s because in Shane (1953), as in the book, we see the action through the eyes of a young boy  (Brandon De Wilde), and the lad’s hero worship is nicely balanced by underlying issues that families can use for discussion. That point of view also creates a gap between Joey’s understanding of the situation and the audience’s. To Joey (Bob, in the book), whose father has taught him that guns and violence are to be avoided, Shane and his pearl-handled .45 seem heroic. The audience realizes that one reason Shane decides to stay and work as a hired hand is that he’s weary of the gunslinger’s life and wishes he could have what that family has—a point that’s driven home when it’s made clear  the farmer’s wife has her own attraction for the handsome stranger. But when he gets caught up in a simmering range war, any hopes of settling down are threatened.

I’m giving it an asterisk for family viewing because of the violence—tame by Western standards, but violent nonetheless. There are two main fistfights that establish the character of homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Hefflin) and Shane (Alan Ladd), a mysterious stranger who’s awfully jumpy and good with a gun. There’s also a close-range shooting by a hired gun (Jack Palance) and a climactic gun battle in a darkened saloon. For the most part, though, it’s a case of rising tensions between cattlemen and farmers.   More

OLIVER AND COMPANY (Blu-ray combo)

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olivercoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes
1988, 74 min., Color
Rated G
Disney

Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD
Clip

The first Disney movie with attitude.

That’s the tagline for this 1988 animated feature, which draws its inspiration from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Instead of setting it in Dickens’ Victorian London, writers Jim Cox, Tim Disney, and James Mangold plunked this one down in the middle of New York City in the Eighties. A soundtrack that includes songs by Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, and Bette Midler date Oliver and Company just as much as Dickens’ stovepipe hats, and it’s a feature few would consider one of Disney’s best.

But boy, does Blu-ray breathe new life into it!

My wife has never been a fan of this film and has sometimes had a problem telling the difference between a DVD and Blu-ray. But even she remarked how much better the picture looked, and how it helps you to see details that you never saw before, and appreciate the art design more.

The juiced-up audio does the same thing for city sounds. It feels more authentically Big Apple now with this extensive HD makeover—the most dramatic, really, of any recent Disney catalog title new to Blu-ray. It really helps you appreciate the great mix of Dickensian allusions, upbeat songs, fun animal characters, poignant moments, and elements of peril.   More

LOVE ME TENDER (Blu-ray)

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LoveMeTendercoverGrade:  B-
Entire family:  No
1956, 89 min., Black-and-white
Unrated (would be PG)
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio:  2.35:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Trailer

In November 1956, Love Me Tender introduced Elvis Presley as an actor. By that time he had already made his TV debut as a performer on Louisiana Hayride, singles like “That’s All Right” were playing nationwide, and his live shows were causing riots. Elvis’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (performing “Love Me Tender”) on September 9 had exposed him to 60 million viewers, most of whom would be curious to see this rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon on the big screen.

Though Elvis didn’t get top billing, the studio featured the 21 year old on the movie poster with his guitar, and Love Me Tender did well at the box office. It’s an above-average Western, but maybe only slightly—something that’s clear if you can mentally remove Elvis from the picture.

Without The King, Love Me Tender is a decent horse opera that has more stand-and-talk moments than shoot-‘em-ups. It’s slow in spots, and that plus black-and-white will be enough to put off younger family members. But Elvis really does add interest.

The screenplay comes from Robert Buckner (Dodge City), yet there’s considerably more melodrama here than in that classic Western. What else can there be when the film’s main focus is a romantic triangle involving suppressed love?   More

THE SWORD IN THE STONE (Blu-ray combo)

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swordinthestonecoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes
1963, 79 min., Color
Rated G
Disney
Aspect ratio:  1.75:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer

In the words of bumbling TV spy Maxwell Smart, The Sword in the Stone missed it by THAT much—Disney’s Golden Age, that is. Most students of cinema date the high point of Disney animation from 1938 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) to 1959 (Sleeping Beauty), and this animated feature hit theaters in 1963. It was also a movie about Arthurian legend that had the misfortune of being released on December 25, just a month after America’s version of Camelot died with President John F. Kennedy.

I’m not about to argue that The Sword in the Stone belongs on the tail end of the Golden Age, but I do think it’s been underappreciated.

The writing is solid, for one thing. Bill Peet (Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians) gives us a script that’s based on a book by T.H. White, who adapted Sir Thomas Malory’s famous Morte d’Arthur into four novels, one of which, The Sword and the Stone, was published in 1939. Disney snapped up the movie rights to the novel that year, but it took decades to finally bring it to the screen. Peet’s screenplay juggles magic, whimsy, humor, and action, and gives us characters that are endearing—even lesser ones, like a mangy wolf. The Sherman brothers give us some solid music, too, with a number of songs really making scenes like Merlin’s “packing” and the squirrels-in-love montage more memorable.   More

GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (Blu-ray)

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GreystokecoverGrade:  B-
Entire family:  No
1984, 137 min., Color
Rated PG (but should be PG-13)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan was made in 1984 but feels older than that, partly because Warner Bros. didn’t go out on a limb to clean it up—there’s considerable grain—and partly because of the costuming and the way it was shot. Now it’s being made available through the Archive Collection on Blu-ray, but families beware. This PG movie from the ‘80s is most definitely a PG-13 movie now.

If you have children who would be traumatized by Old Yeller, then they probably wouldn’t want to watch a baby gorilla die, or any number of other gorillas, or people, for that matter. With Greystoke, director Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) stays closer to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story than anyone else in Hollywood, opting for a naturalistic treatment of a boy being raised by apes. That means we see a very little boy interacting with some pretty mean apes and being as nude as he was when an ape graphically kills the lad’s surviving parent to give his grieving mate a baby to replace her own.

It also means that the boy’s full nudity continues through his early teen years—though the director is careful to shoot mostly from the rear so that only a hint of anything dangling is shown. Still, the violence, nudity and naturalistic treatment will be enough to rule it out as a viable family movie unless the children are in their mid-teens.   More

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: SEASON 4 (Blu-ray)

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DickVanDyke4coverGrade:  A
Entire family:  Yes
1964-65, 800 min. (32 episodes), B&W
Not rated (would be G)
Image Entertainment
Aspect ratio:  1.33:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA Mono
Bonus features:  B+

Comedy of character never gets old—one reason why The Dick Van Dyke Show remains as fresh and funny today as it was when Season 4 aired in 1964-65.

It’s all about chemistry and personality, and this black-and-white series had plenty of both. Creator Carl Reiner surrounded Van Dyke with people he could play off of, but who could also react to him. It was comedic give-and-take, with the humor ranging from physical comedy (mostly Van Dyke, as head TV comedy writer Rob Petrie), Lucy-style situations (Mary Tyler Moore, as Laura Petrie, often with neighbor Millie) snappy one-liners (mostly provided by vaudeville vets Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Rob’s co-writers), and the kind of simple situational humor that derives from everyday family life and a not-so-everyday work environment.   More

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