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WALKING WITH DINOSASURS (Blu-ray combo)

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Walking with Dinosaurs (FHT)Grade: C
Entire family: No (only small children will like it)
2013, 87 minutes, Color
BBC Earth/Evergreen Films/Fox
Rated PG  for creature action, peril, and mild rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV copy
Bonus features: C
Trailer

When Fox got back into the animation game in 1994, I and probably half the world envisioned the kind of spirited competition the studio gave Disney during the Golden Age of cartoon shorts. But that hasn’t materialized. After the promising theatrical debut of Anastasia, only the Ice Age films and Rio could be called hits.

The problem isn’t the animation, which has been accomplished and, at times, jaw-dropping. It’s the concepts and the writing, and there isn’t a better illustration of that than the film version of Walking with Dinosaurs, which was released in theaters as Walking with Dinosaurs 3D. Produced by BBC Earth and Evergreen films, this animated feature has gorgeous CGI artwork and effects and tells an interesting-enough story, even if it does lumber a little too close to Disney’s Dinosaur (2000). But Fox bought the distribution rights and decided that instead of a voiceover narration like the TV series that spawned it, they would make the dinosaurs talk in order to better connect with audiences.

Bad move. So bad, in fact, that BBC Earth must have balked, since the 3D combo pack includes a “Cretaceous Cut” that allows you to watch the film without the unnecessary live-action frame story that the Fox brass tacked on, and without the talking characters.

The addition of wise-guy narration, a goofy tone, and juvenile humor (sometimes the scatological sort) turns this animated feature into something only small children will enjoy. And that’s a shame, given how accomplished the CGI work is. Gradations of color within dinosaur skins really give them a believable complexity, and representations of fire and water are every bit as accomplished as what we get from Disney. BBC Earth cranked it up a notch in producing dinosaurs that look real as can be and move even more fluidly than they did in the TV series. The mammals and birds aren’t as accomplished—more animatronic looking, really—but they don’t surface in the narrative that often. I wish I could say the same about dumb writing.   More

DELIVERY MAN (Blu-ray)

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DeliveryMancoverGrade: B-/C+
Entire family: No
2013, 105 min., Color
DreamWorks/Touchstone
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: C
Trailer

Now is a good time to remind readers that this site is devoted to TV shows and films that are rated PG-13, PG, or G—and amazingly, this Vince Vaughn comedy qualifies.

You’d expect a film about an underachiever who learns that some 600 “donations” he made to a sperm bank 20 years ago produced 533 children, 142 of which have filed a class-action lawsuit to learn his identity, would go the direction of R-rated raunchy comedies. But with Delivery Man, writer-director Ken Scott gives us a surprisingly sweet PG-13 film that has some language, some drug content, and brief violence, with Vaughn playing a nice guy with a darned good reason for doing what he did 20 years ago.

If you have children in sixth grade or older who aren’t being home schooled, I hate to say it but they’re already familiar with how babies are made, and they know what sperm is. What’s more, they probably won’t even ask about the “banking” aspect, because this isn’t the kind of movie that’s driven by logic. Heck, the premise itself is beyond belief, just as it’s hard to swallow that our hapless hero would be dogged by loan sharks in the first act and then ignored for basically the rest of the movie, or that this man who works as a meat truck deliveryman for the family business could just take off work every day to try to find out more about the children he’s fathered.  More

THE PIRATE FAIRY (Blu-ray combo)

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PirateFairycoverGrade: B+
2014, 78 min., Color
DisneyToon Studios
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, DigitalCopy
Bonus features: C
“The Frigate That Flies” clip

My daughter, who’s part of Disney’s target audience for the CGI animated Tinker Bell series, says that she likes all the direct-to-video offerings—Tinker Bell (2008), Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Secret of the Wings (2012) and this fifth installment in the series, The Pirate Fairy. They’re all good, she says, but the last two are her favorites.

For me, it’s no contest. Secret of the Wings offered wonderful graphics and animation, but I found the ending too pat and the logic strained throughout an uncomplicated and emotionally shallow narrative. Like the other sequels, it felt formulaic to me as it hit all the familiar notes—BFFs, opposites joining forces, mess-ups being vindicated, etc.—without adding anything terribly new. The Pirate Fairy, on the other hand, feels much more honestly energetic and exuberant, and maybe that’s what the addition of a scurvy (but comical) bunch of pirates does for a film.   More

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE: SEASON 1 (Blu-ray)

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LittleHouse1coverGrade: B+
1974-75, 1,260 min. (24 episodes), Color
Lionsgate
Not rated: Would be PG for moments of peril and some drinking
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Includes: Blu-ray (5 discs), UV Copy
Bonus features: C-
Trailer

If your children like historical dramas and love imagining what life would have been like during pioneer times, there’s no better place to start than the Little House on the Prairie TV series. So many ‘70s shows feel dated or corny now, but this series—loosely based on the children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder—still plays well. It’s a deftly written, convincingly acted series that’s not afraid to tug at your heartstrings, but also tosses in a dose or two of reality. Not everyone rides a horse or drives a buggy, for example. There is a sizable population that walks everywhere—even great distances—because they aren’t affluent enough to do anything else. And when a hailstorm wipes out all the wheat, farmers everywhere have to leave their families and look for work in faraway places, or they’ll lose the farm and the family will starve.

Little House on the Prairie stars Michael Landon in his post-Bonanza and pre-Highway to Heaven role as the patriarch of a family of females who move from Wisconsin to Kansas and finally end up in Minnesota. The emphasis in this series is on family and family values before such a term came into existence. It’s wholesome, heart-warming, and full of life lessons.

The two-hour pilot, included here, is the most potentially traumatic, so if your family has small or sensitive children I’d start with Episode 1 instead and watch the whole season before suggesting, “Hey, would anyone like to see how the Ingalls came to Plum Creek?” after the children already know that everyone’s okay. There’s a time in the pilot when a family member is thought drowned, as well as several moments of menace that come as a result of wolves and Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grasse) and the girls’ encounter with Indians while Charles is off hunting.

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BARBIE: THE PEARL PRINCESS (Blu-ray combo)

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BarbiePearlPrincesscoverGrade:  C
Entire family:  No
2014, 73 min., Color
Universal
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, UV Copy
Bonus features:  C+
Trailer

Not 10 minutes into Barbie: The Pearl Princess my 12-year-old daughter remarked, “I like these movies, but they really need to do something different. Every time it’s either a princess, a fairy, or a mermaid.”

There’s no relief in sight, either, because the next direct-to-video full-length animated feature in the Barbie franchise will be Barbie in the Secret Garden—which apparently features a princess, a fairy, AND a mermaid.

If there’s a series that’s grown more tired than the Barbie movies, I can’t think of it. There isn’t an original idea to be found in this most recent installment—yet little girls will love it, while girls age 9 to 12 will still watch despite bemoaning how repetitive the series has become. For anyone else, this “original” movie apparently draws way too much from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, DreamWorks’ Shark Tale, and every Barbie movie that’s preceded it.   More

SAVING MR. BANKS (Blu-ray)

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SavingMrBankscoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Possibly
2013, 125 min., Color
Disney
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including some unsettling images
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DigitalHD Copy
Bonus features: C-
Trailer

Ever since Old Yeller, parents have had to decide where to draw the line with live-action Disney movies—and that line gets a little blurry with Saving Mr. Banks, the 2013 behind-the-scenes story of what it took for Disney to fulfill a 20-year promise he made to his daughter.

On the one hand, Saving Mr. Banks is a bittersweet tale of how the Disney bunch finally managed to wear down the dour and stodgy P.L. Travers and convince her to assign them the film rights to her Mary Poppins books.

Mark Twain famously said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please,” and that’s exactly what screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have done. But if you like Disney’s live-action/animated musical Mary Poppins, odds are you’ll enjoy seeing the curtain parted to show Disney and his writing and songwriting team wooing Travers. There’s plenty of humor and warmth in these sections, which are set in 1964 mostly in and around the Disney studio—a setting that’s almost as magical and fun to see as the movies and theme parks. But the story behind the story is . . . well, another story.  More

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (Blu-ray combo)

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Junglebook2coverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  Not really
2002, 72 min., Color
Disney

Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Bonus features:  C-
Trailer

Admit it, moms and dads. The minute you see a “2” or “II” on a Disney title, doesn’t it trigger a silent consumer alert somewhere in your buying brain?  Sure, The Return of Jaffar (that awful Aladdin direct-to-dumb video sequel) put everyone on guard. But since then, except for a Hercules follow-up with bargain-basement animation, the never-ending sequels have been mostly well done, even if they’re shadows of the original and about as original themselves as Saturday morning cartoons.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and the original 1967 Disney theatrical release of The Jungle Book has evolved from a minor studio success to a baby boomer classic that the new Disney crew wanted to re-do. This sequel ought to be a hit with young kids, but boomers and anyone over the age of 10 will find The Jungle Book 2 wanting. The characters giggle too much (as hyper-cute Saturday morning animated offerings will do), the music isn’t as well integrated into the story, and the humans come across like an Indian version of The Cosby ShowMore

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