BACKSTORY: Click the links below to see reviews/previews for recent Disney home video releases on Blu-ray and DVD. This page is updated frequently, so be sure to check back for reviews, preview & bonus clips, as well as interviews and other fun facts about the latest Disney home video releases.
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Available on Amazon.com. Looking better than ever in High-Definition on Blu-ray, "The Little Mermaid" was the movie that literally brought Disney Animation back to life. Moved off the Walt Disney Studio Lot and relegated to a few trailers on Flower Street, the core team believed in this project and created a magical movie that still stands the test of time and deserves to be put alongside the original Disney classics that Walt inspired. Ariel is a young mermaid princess who yearns to live on the land, especially after she rescues Prince Eric. Deceived by the evil squid Ursula, she is given the opportunity to grow legs and meet Eric. She will be allowed to continue her life above the water only if she can get Eric to fall in love. By stealing her voice and disguising herself as a brunette beauty, Ursula is able to trick the Prince into marrying her instead. What will Ariel's fate be?
Some of the more recent Disney animated films are plagued by stories that seem artificial and contrived. While the visuals are still amazing, many of these movies lack the "heart" of the original Disney animated collection. "The Little Mermaid" does not suffer from this affliction. Although it has been heavily marketed and spawned a number of toys, etc., the movie was a do-or-die effort from the animators who totally believed in it and boy, does it show. Howard Ashman was the driving force and heart behind the movie, and his ability to make his songs push the storyline forward were integral to the movie's success. Jodi Benson's sweet voice is another reason for Ariel's (and the movie's) success.
All-New "Part of Your World" Music Video performed by Carly Rae Jepsen: She does a nice job, and it's a cute video, but it can't really compare to Jodi Benson's version.
@ Disney Animation: An interesting featurette that shows the next generation of animators at Disney. A very positive piece that shows a family-feeling existing in Burbank with mentoring from some of the older animators. The focus is on Ron Clements and John Musker.
Disney Intermission (Crab-E-OKE Sing-Along): Karaoke feature with Sebastian the Crab for "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," "Les Poisson," and "Kiss the Girl."
Deleted Character—Harold, The Merman: Short deleted sequence of Harold, who was one of the "Poor Unfortunate Souls" who was tricked by Ursula. The scene is a bit unsettling, and probably just as well that it didn't make it into the final film.
The Real Little Mermaid—Live Action Reference Model: Going back to a technique used in the classic Disney animated films, Directors Ron Clements and John Musker discuss how they used live actors as reference. This helped the animators improve the emotion and realism of the characters in "The Little Mermaid." Especially interesting to see the footage of Sherri Stoner, the actress who played Ariel. Much of Ariel's appeal is owed to Sherri and the little improvisations that she came up with to make Ariel more interesting. The economy forced on this process for "Mermaid" is also detailed, showing just how creative the team behind the film had to be to get this groundbreaking movie made.
Part of Her World—Jodi Benson’s Voyage To New Fantasyland: The voice behind Ariel, Jodi Benson, takes her husband and two children to Walt Disney World to experience the New Fantasyland as well as The Little Mermaid attraction. Jodi is also on hand to sign a picture from "The Little Mermaid" that will hang in the lobby of the recently opened Animation Hotel at WDW.
Howard’s Lecture: If you've seen the documentary, "Waking Sleeping Beauty" from 2009 have probably seen much of this footage. If not, it is an interesting lecture by Howard Ashman, the lyricist, Executive Producer, and pretty much the heart behind "The Little Mermaid." He discusses the songs for the movie, his background, and his thoughts on animation's relation to musical theater at a lunch-time lecture at the Studio. Absolutely fascinating.
Classic DVD Bonus Features
Treasure's Untold—The Making of the Little Mermaid: Detailing how animation was almost dead at the Disney Studio when "The Little Mermaid" got the green light. Much of what is here was documented in greater (and a bit grittier) detail in "Waking Sleeping Beauty."
Storm Warning—The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit: Interesting to see how some of the classics, such as "Pinocchio" inspired the storm sequence from "The Little Mermaid." Also very cool to see the sketches from 1941 by Kay Nielsen when the studio originally considered doing "The Little Mermaid." These also provided visual inspiration for how the final film was styled.
The Little Mermaid—The Story Behind The Story: Details the differences between the Hans Christian Andersen Story, the 1941 Disney version that was never completed, and the final animated film. It might come as a surprise that the 1941 Disney version was probaby the darkest of the three.
Under The Sea Early Presentation Reel: An extremely rough version of an initial sequence from the film.
Original Theatrical Trailer
Deleted Scenes with Introductions
Disney Song Selection
Audio Commentary with Ron Clements, John Musker, and Alan Menken
"Kiss the Girl" Music Video performed by Ashley Tisdale (best known as Sharpay from "High School Musical"): Harmless fun with Ashley mugging it up attempting to get a guy to kiss her.
"The Little Match Girl" with intro: Another classic tale (and a real tearjerker...be forewarned!) by Hans Christian Andersen.
DisneyPedia—Life Under the Sea: The real creatures that inspired the ones in the movie.
Under The Sea Adventure—A Virtual Ride Inspired by Disney Imagineers: One part of this discusses the Little Mermaid attraction that got shot down, and then gives you a virtual ride through what could have been. The attraction that was finally built at Disney California Adventure should have followed more closely to this original concept, which has the excitement and innovation that is sadly missing from the the finished version.
83 Minutes • Video: 1080p • Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 formatted for 16x9 TV screens
Audio: Blu-ray-7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English); Dolby® Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Languages: English, French, and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
“Once Upon A Time” Season Two on Blu-ray/DVD
Available on Amazon.com. Season 2 opens with more than one bang. Magic has come to Storybrooke, and a host of other characters join the regulars that fans were introduced to in Season 1. If you thought everything was going to be wrapped up all neat and tidy, think again. There are more twists and turns to the plot than you could even begin to imagine. Cora (Barbara Hershey) is back, stealing hearts (literally) and changing forms in order to deceive, while teaming up with Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue). Both want revenge: Cora wants to make her daughter, Regina (Lana Parrilla) miserable and Hook wants Gold (Robert Carlyle), the man who severed his hand, dead. Carlyle is the standout in the cast, giving his character (Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin) an amazing amount of likeability, considering he is at fault for so much of what has gone wrong with the heroes and heroines of the story. There are not enough mother-daughter scenes between Barbara Hershey and Lana Parrilla; these two were very well cast, and unfortunately, most of their scenes are apart from one another. Parrilla is also good at bringing vulnerability to her character, Regina/The Evil Queen.
Overall, I would say that this series is in serious danger of jumping the shark and it would appear that the writers knew it. In the final episode of Season 2, the main characters are whisked away together on another journey. As long as there are not too many characters where they are going, Season 3 has the potential to live up to the promise that the series originally delivered.
A Fractured Family Tree – A very fast-paced look at howthe main characters are all related to each other. Talk about a tangled web...as one of the actors states, this is one family that even Ancestry.com would have difficult tracing.
Sincerely, Hook – Colin O'Donoghue (Killian Jones/Captain Hook) talks about how mapped out his character and the inspirations. Delving deeper than the Disney animated version, O'Donoghue wanted the "Once Upon A Time" Captain Hook to be a bit more swashbuckling and romantic.
Girl Power – The female leads of the story are highlighted here, showing their strengths and how they are much more powerful and strong than their fairytale counterparts. And when they merge their strengths...well, as we learn at the end of Season 2, there's just no stopping these women!
The Fairest Bloopers of Them All – Fun flubs and mugging from the cast. Refreshing to see even Barbara Hershey joining in the fun.
Deleted Scenes – Fun to watch, but I can't say that any of these is really missed. Interesting to see some of these without the CGI backgrounds, still in their slightly rough form. Makes you appreciate the quality of the CGI in the finished series.
Audio Commentaries – Join the cast and crew as they share details about what it was like to make each spellbinding episode come to life.
“Oliver and Company" 25th Anniversary Edition On Blu-ray/DVD
Available on Amazon.com. This 1988 was the 27th animated feature to come from the Walt Disney Company. It is somewhat loosely based on the Charles Dickens Oliver Twist story. Set in New York City, this tale is about Oliver (voiced by teen star Joey Lawrence), a homeless kitten who is befriended by Dodger (Billy Joel), a loveable mutt who leads a gang of dogs that must scrounge the NYC streets to get by. The gang is owned by Fagin (Dom Deluise), a down-on-his-luck man who is in debt to a ruthless loan shark named Sykes (Robert Loggia). During a bungled petty-theft attempt, Oliver is adopted by a rich young girl named Jenny (Natalie Gregory). Oliver is quite happy to be in a loving home, but the gang misses him and thinks they need to "rescue" him. Once they get him back, Oliver admits he was happy with Jenny; Fagin sees this as his opportunity to blackmail Jenny's family for the money to repay Sykes. However, even this gets bungled as Fagin's heart warms to Jenny's pleas to get Oliver back. Just as Fagin is about to "do the right thing," the evil Sykes swoops in with his Dobermans and kidnaps Jenny for his own reward. You'll have to watch the film to see how it ends!
"Oliver and Company" does not have the look of a traditional Disney animated film. The characters and story are just fine, but the animation is inconsistent. This was the first Disney film to use computer animation to a higher degree, and the experimentation shows, making it more of a visual hybrid. The style of the movie attempts to mimic the look of "101 Dalmatians" and "The Aristocats," but falls just a bit short. As for the character animation, the emotion and depth that you would expect from Disney is definitely apparent. Oliver the cat is extremely loveable and expressive, and Tito bears all the fun and sass you would expect from a character being voiced by Cheech Marin. My overall opinion of the animation is that it would appear that it was a fresh young team not quite as experienced as the "old regime" of the "Nine Old Men" who created the classic DIsney library that we all know and love. On blu-ray, the picture truly pops.
There are plenty of fun characters here though; Bette Midler voices Georgette, a snooty and vain poodle owned by Jenny who is jealous of Oliver, the family's newcomer. Tito the Chihuahua is my favorite; Cheech Marin's voice and the animators combined their talents to create a very memorable character who has taken a liking to Georgette, although she initially wants nothing to do with a street dog. Dom DeLuise is characteristically over-the-top with Fagin, making it a little difficult to feel much sympathy for his situation. In previous live-action versions of this tale, Fagin is a scoundrel but the actors playing him also give him enough charm and heart that you definitely feel a connnection. Billy Joel does an amazing job as Dodger; Disney was unsure whether he had the chops to do a voice-over; his phone-in audition convinced them, and he is a masterstroke of casting.
There is plenty of talent in this film; Huey Lewis sings the movie's first song played over the credits, "Once Upon a Time in New York City." Georgette's big number, "Perfect Isn't Easy," sung by Midler, was co-written by Barry Manilow. Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters also lends her singing talents to the cast.
"Oliver and Company" is truly a cute movie with a heartwarming tale and memorable characters.
25th Anniversary Edition Extras: Contain much from the previous home video incarnation, but sadly, none have been upgraded to high def. Mercifully, the games were not carried over, but the Oliver & Company scrapbook feature is missed.
* The Making of Oliver & Company (5:30): This vintage documentary (most likely made at the time of the film's release gives a short overview of what went into the creation of the film. Taking 2.5 years to make and over 120,000 cels, this featurette works hard to convince audiences that traditional Disney animation is alive and well, and that computers are just a new tool with which the animators can expand their craft. "Don't look for computers to replace human animators at Disney." Roy Disney pops in to evoke his Uncle Walt, and explains how the animators pushed the computers to their limit by asking what they were capable of. Glen Keane, the supervising animator, explains the part CGI played in Bette Midler's big number, coming down a staircase. Keane breathlessly explains that without computers, the shot of Midler could never have been done in the past. I find this hard to believe when Iooking at the marvels created in the past by Disney's original animation team.
* Disney's Animated Animals (1:27): Another vintage featurette that is more fluff than anything else.
* "Lend A Paw," a 1941 Mickey Mouse cartoon featuring Pluto, who discovers a cute little kitten that quickly takes Pluto's place in Mickey's home. Plagued by jealousy, Pluto's conscience has a battle, as a Pluto Devil and Angel attempt to sway the poor dog to their side. Pluto's jealousy initially wins out, causing Mickey to kick him out of the house. When the kitten falls down the well, Pluto is given the opportunity to redeem himself; which side will he choose?!?
* "Puss Cafe," a 1951 Pluto short that shows a less loveable Pluto than the previous short; this time around, he must defend his territory again from two cats who want to steal his food.
* Sneak Peeks: Disney Junior, Newsies The Musical, Disney Theme Parks, "The Muppets" on Blu-ray, "Return to Never-Land," "Little Mermaid" on Blu-ray, "Planes," "Super Buddies," and a Marvel animation sneak peek.
* Publicity Materials: Original Trailer (1988), TV Spot (1989), Re-release (1996), and "Return of a Classic"
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; French & Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
“The Sword in the Stone” 50th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray/DVD
Available on Amazon.com. It is wonderful that this lesser-known film in the Disney vault is getting a special edition; hard to believe it is 50 years old! It has the distinction of being the last animated film to be released while Walt was still alive. Narrated by the loveable Sebastian Cabot ("Family Affair"), it is a truly entertaining tale about magic and coming-of-age. Central to the story is the relationship between Merlin the magician and a boy named Wart, the future King Arthur. Merlin grooms the boy and takes responsibility for his education, culminating in the scene where Wart attempts to pull the (unbeknownst to him) legendary sword from the stone. "The Sword in the Stone" cleaned up at the box office but was not really a hit with the critics. However, it holds up very well, and despite what others have called "cheap animation," it is a beautifully drawn film that obviously patterned itself after Eyvind Earle's work for "Sleeping Beauty." The xerox method used in "Dalmatian" is used here again; it doesn't have the same pristine & clean quality of "Peter Pan," yet it does preserve the fresh sketch quality of what was originally drawn. Just a difference in style; neither better nor worse.
On Blu-ray, this film really sparkles. Colors are bright and detail is crisp. You can even see some of the slight shadow from the film cels on the background. Amazing! The film also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score, although the songs in the film are definitely less than memorable.
New Alternative Opening: Where Wart Meets Merlin: vintage bw storyboard art is "animated" to give an approximation of how the movie might have begun. Most likely it was removed because it really adds nothing to the plot.
Unfortunately, the rest of the extras were directly imported over from the previous version without a High-Def upgrade:
"Walt Disney Presents: Fantasyland - All About Magic," an excerpt from the BW TV Show, with Walt having a ball going through the Magic Room of the "basement," playing with all kinds of different parlour tricks. The decapitated princess is a little eerie, but it's all very fun. Nice cameo by Snow White's Magic Mirror, too.
2 bonus color movie shorts: Mickey Mouse in "The Brave Little Tailor" and Goofy in "A Knight for a Day."
The Sherman Brothers in a featurette "Music Magic" where they discuss the development of the songs for "Sword in the Stone," as well as tunes that were discarded. The songs from the movie are also able to be accessed directly from this section by name.
Sneak Peeks: Include "Winnie the Pooh" on Blu-ray, "Planes," anti-smoking ad, and "Super Buddies."
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 DTS-HDHR, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
“ROBIN HOOD" 40th Anniversary edition on Blu-ray/DVD
Available on Amazon.com. It had been years since I'd seen Disney's 1973 animated version of the Robin Hood tale; my childhood memories of seeing it in the theater were warm and positive. It is still a charming movie, which does better when not compared to its earlier Disney animated relatives. Choosing to use animals instead of people, the Disney folks felt that it would give a unique twist to the oft-told story: Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men must set things right in the kingdom after good King Richard goes out on the crusades. Evil and greedy Prince John has taken over the throne in his absence and has oppressed the poor people of Nottingham. Along the way, Robin renews his childhood crush on Maid Marian, who does her best to help Robin in his struggle to fight for what's right.
For the first time on Blu-ray, the picture is crystal clear and the colors are vibrant. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a plus for Robin Hood, as it really brings out the economy of the production to light. Lacking the detail and care of the older Disney movies, it sometimes seems reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon. From the beginning, even the title work seems slipshod. Some scenes do shine through though, in particular a tracking shot through a leaded glass window into the chamber of Prince John. Almost felt like the opening of "Citizen Kane." The song "Love" written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns is easy on the ears and makes a nice accompaniment to the scene where Robin and Marian admit their love for each other, admist the glow of pink fireflies.
The younger set should enjoy the movie, whereas adults might find themselves a bit bored. "Robin Hood" almost seems like a cheaper cousin to "The Jungle Book," especially since it shares the vocal talents of Phil Harris in both pictures.
Deleted storyline, "Love Letters": I would say this was a wise cut, as it doesn't seem to add much (other than time) to the story.
Alternate Ending: I would have preferred this ending which is shown in rough form, as it has a bigger dramatic punch. The ending that made it into the film wrapsthings up a bit too quickly.
"Oo-de-lally" Disney Sing-Along Song: Although a nice extra, this one appears as if it was derived from a VHS master source; very poor picture quality.
Robin Hood Storybook
Robin Hood Art Gallery: This is a nice extra. Typically, the Disney home media allows you to scroll through the production artwork and other visual goodies, whereas here, they are presented at a pre-determined pace, with narration that explains the significance of each. Original renderings show that humans were the first thought when doing an animated version of "Robin Hood." Alternatve animals are shown for characters from the development stage, and publicity art is also included.
"Ye Olden Days" Bonus Short: classic 1930's Mickey Mouse short showing him saving Minnie from a forced marriage to Goofy. Picture quality is excellent!
Available on Amazon.com. Disney's prequel tells how Oz (James Franco) came to be and gives you the backstory and origin of the Witches. Without giving away the plot, I found it to be much more satisfying than the convoluted tale woven by the musical "Wicked." Fans of the 1939 Judy Garland version of "The Wizard of Oz" will note that there are some stylistic differences between the characters, which mainly had to do with licensing issues. Disney owns most of the Frank L. Baum Oz books, but they don't own the copyright to the original MGM film (now owned by Warner). Still, there is much revealed in this new movie that explains some of the things you see in the 1939 version, specifically how and why the Wizard revealed himself to Dorothy and her friends as a floating head over a ball of flames in his Emerald City Throneroom. The casting is quite good; Franco has great chemistry with Michelle Williams; the interaction of these two characters gave the film a complexity and level of interest that I found to be missing during other spots of the film. Visually, the movie is a real treat; sadly, at times it is a bit uneven, floating back and forth between a slightly dark adult movie and a predictable juvenile one.
Disney's newest version was quite successful, and according to the buzz, could be generating a few sequels. There is so much material in Baum's other books that I have always felt a franchise of highly successful movies would not be difficult to create. This one has come the closest to fulfilling the promise of the 1939 film.
To accompany these photos from "Oz the Great and Powerful" I am including an interview with James Franco, who plays Oscar Diggs, aka Oz, The Great & Powerful:
Is it true that you trained with acclaimed Las Vegas magician Lance Burton in order to tackle the role of Oscar Diggs?
That’s very true. We shot the movie in Detroit and they hired Lance Burton to come out and train me there. [Oz The Great And Powerful director] Sam Raimi was very insistent that I have two weeks of magic training, so I went to Detroit two weeks early in order to do that.
What magic tricks did you learn?
Lance taught me a lot of tricks, so I got to the point where I could materialize doves out of nowhere. I start with a flame in my hand and then I turn it into a dove. Or I take off my gloves and I turn them into a dove. I also know a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ trick and other things like that. I did all that work and then the scenes that were going to feature the magic tricks turned out to be too long, so they were quickly cut from the finished movie. We never got to see them on the big screen.
Do you know enough tricks to entertain at a children’s birthday party?
Sure, I could do that! A lot of the tricks involve intricate preparations, so I would need an assistant like Lance Burton to help me set them up – but I could pull it off. If you have any kids parties and you want to pay me a lot, I’ll definitely come and do it. [Laughs]
What does magic mean to you?
I wouldn’t say I am the biggest magic enthusiast, but I do enjoy that world. What’s the name of the guy who works with David Mamet? Ricky Jay. I really enjoyed his show, Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants at the Geffen in Los Angeles. He’s a huge magic scholar. I would say that I definitely like the world of magic, but I am not a magic specialist.
What does the fantasy genre mean to you?
The first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters was Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. I guess I liked it so much that my parents kept taking us back to see it over and over again. I saw it many times in the theater, so that maybe started the ball rolling for me with fantasy. Soon after that, my father read The Hobbit to me, and that was one of the main books that started my love of reading. That’s what got me reading the Oz books of Frank L. Baum, on which this movie is based. If we are talking about fantasy books, those were the two things that really sparked my imagination: the Oz books and the Tolkien books. It all started from there.
What is it like to work with Sam Raimi on a project like this?
Sam is one of the most fun directors to work with. A director really sets the tone of how people go about things, so when you have someone like Sam involved, everybody is happy. He’s a very collaborative director, not just with the actors but with all departments and it really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they are a big part of the movie. I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.
What did you enjoy the most about working with the various witches of Oz: Theodora, played by Mila Kunis; Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, and Glinda, played by Michelle Williams?
It was great because they all played very different witches, so the scenes that I played with all of them were all very different. With Mila’s character, Theodora, I play more of a seducer and charmer. Rachel’s character is trying to dupe me, so I play a little bit more of a fool or a buffoon with her. And then with Michelle’s character, Glinda, it’s more of a straightforward romance. It was nice to have that variety.
How would you describe your female co-stars?
I got to work with three of the best actresses working today, which was very exciting. They are all very different actresses, and they all played very different parts. But one thing I can say about them all is the fact that they are very good at doing research and background on their characters. I think Michelle read most of the books and did a bunch of research that really manifested itself in her scenes. She was very focused on detail. And with Rachel, we only had one or two scenes together, but she was very good at improvising and looking for alternative takes once we’d got the scripted scene down.
What was it like to work with Mila Kunis?
Mila is amazing. She’s a very talented actress who is great to work with because she’s so collaborative. She’s very open and she’s very quick on her feet. When I first met with [Oz The Great And Powerful producer] Joe Roth and Sam Raimi, they were already talking to Mila – and that was a big plus for me.
The sets created for the movie are incredibly impressive, but there was also a lot of blue screen work. Do you prefer to work on movies where you have to use your imagination and blue screen? Or do you prefer the ultra-realistic work of movies like 127 Hours?
I don’t prefer one or the other. I don’t think like that. When I look at a new film project, I don’t say, “Oh, I love independent films. That’s the only time I get to do what I truly love.” And I don’t say, “I only want to do big budget films.” I just think about what one wants to achieve with the film. With this film, half of the movie is a fantastical world that needs to be created in a particular way that costs a lot of money, so this movie needed to be made by a big studio. I was really happy and excited to be involved with it. I think it’s great.
You’re an actor, a producer, a writer, a director and a teacher… Is there anything left for you to conquer in the entertainment industry?
There’s always more to learn. I guess it would be cool to write a play one day. I love the theater and I love going to plays, so that might be good for me. I’ve only acted in small theaters in Los Angeles, but I like acting on stage in front of live audiences, so that would also be great. Who knows what’s next? I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz (Digital Copy Plus, 10 minutes)
My Journey in Oz, by James Franco (DCP, 22 minutes)
China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief (DCP, 5 minutes)
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz (DCP, 11 minutes)
Metamorphosis (DCP, 8 minutes)
Mr. Elfman's Musical Concoctions (DCP, 7 minutes).
Bloopers (DCP, 5 minutes)
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 • English: Dolby Digital 2.0