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Schoolhouse Rock
Special 30th Anniversary Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

Running Time: 283 minutes

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Making of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College", Emmy Awards Featurette, Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips, Weather Show, Nike Spot, Top 20 Shuffle, Audio Commentaries, Arrange A Schoolhouse Rock Song, Earn Your Diploma, Music Videos. DVD-ROM: Weblinks

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby 2.0 Mono, English English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS 5.1 for "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College", English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, 2-Disc Set

Released: August 27th, 2002

 

 

When we look back at 20th century popular culture, out of all the things that had such a cross-generational, multi-demographic impact, there's no denying that "Schoolhouse Rock" is near the top of that list. And why shouldn't it be? If you were a child of the 70s, 80s or even 90s, then surely you know what "Schoolhouse Rock" is all about. Somehow, mild-mannered cartoon shorts told in song made us learn - or re-learn - key aspects about common, school-based knowledge.

Through its popularity thanks to its constant airings on ABC Saturday Morning spanning those key three decades (they were played in-between cartoons), Conjunction Junction, Bill and the whole gang worked their ways into our hearts and our minds. And through the years, the series has not lost momentum at all, but rather just gain it. Sure, there have been some new segments here and there, but they couldn't match the popularity of the old songs. And through its workings, after the merchandise, San Fransisco spin-off stage show, famous artists doing covers of the songs and how people just recognize the characters, their likabilities and senses, we still can't get the tunes out of our heads.

Teachers show it in classrooms. Pop culture itself has even recognized it (love that "Simpsons" amendment to be parody!). But what are its origins? I read somewhere that one of the show's creators was annoyed that his son could have Rolling Stones songs memorized, but when it came to schoolyard knowledge, he knew didly-squat. And so, a project that would change millions of lives began and thirty years later, it's still going strong.

If you're a fan of such a nostalgic television era, you'll feel right at home with "Schoolhouse Rock" on DVD. Disney has given this television landmark a rather perfect DVD release. You get nearly four dozen songs, including a new one made especially for this release, "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College." The setup seems to be of the older VHS releases, with introductory animations and all, but now you can experience something so simple, yet so effectively perfect in an era where material like this would probably be impossible to produce without some major modifications and other marketing as well as content issues. Still, this is truly one dream release, and if you have the lyrics to "I'm Just A Bill" memorized all these years later, you probably owe it to yourself to check out all the fun of money, grammar, science, multiplication and America all over again.

 

All the shorts are presented in their original television viewing aspect ratio, that of 1.33:1 full screen. The quality on the shorts really do vary. The newer segments ("The Tale Of Mr. Morton") surely are in much better shape than your classic ones ("I'm Just A Bill"). They don't seem to be majorly restored or anything, but they're fine for what they are. Since these are filmed, you'll have annoyances such as blemishes, specks, dirt pieces and scratches appear on the songs. Colors and detail are pretty good and solid, but then again, "Schoolhouse Rock" is known for it's simple and limited animation scheme. Noise and shimmering is a constant thing too. Still, the shorts are somewhat pristine and are the best I've shape seen them, but you're probably not expect a 5 circle video presentation in the first place for this material. Enjoy!

 

Ah... classic, two channel Dolby Digital mono tracks. No siree, your "Schoolhouse Rock" classics weren't in an age of surround sound and DTS and the like. Like the video, you shouldn't be expecting reference quality stuff here, but adaquete quality so that they can be enjoyed for what they are (I don't know how I'd feel if all the songs were remixed, personally). And yes, like the video quality, it really depends on the segment. Some have a lot of background hiss and noise which probably should have been cleaned up, others don't. Fidelity is decent, and dynamic range is quite limited here as you would expect. Still, you can hear the music, the singing and the sound effects, and when it comes down to it, it's just plain natural and like listening to them on television again. You're used to it, and it's fine. If you're complaining about the sound, it's probably for the wrong reasons.

Okay... so there is one song in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. It's the new song just for this DVD release, "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College." I give credit to Disney for trying to spruce things up and bring the new segment into the digital age, but both mixes are highly disappointing. Yes, out of all of them they have the best dynamic range and fidelity as you'd expect, but they're front-channel based. Surrounds are barely used in it, which is a shame. Oh well.

Included on all the segments are English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

As if getting EVERY "Schoolhouse Rock" song was not enough, Disney has also made this a rather strong two-disc set that is sure to delight any fan of the the shorts. I guess a key thing here is that there is a whole new song made exclusively for this release (nice!), entitled I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College. Unfortuantly, it's pretty bad. It tries to capture the spirit of the older shorts, but the animation technique, while simple, feels to jerky and choppy rather than simple and smooth. The tune itself isn't catchy though, the lyrics aren't memorable and it feels like a bland effort. Good intentions that sadly don't work out as well as one may hope. This new song can be found on both discs.

The Making of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College" lasts a solid fifteen minutes, and features clips from other "Schoolhouse Rock" songs. Michael Eisner introduces the segment quite nicely (and takes credit for signing a contract to the creators), followed by behind the scenes footage of work on creating the new song. This really isn't so much about making the new song, but is more of a nice history of the series. Despite the cheesy female announcer, this is well made. Featuring interviews of all kinds with Jack Sheldon, Bob Dorough and more about making it all and reflecting, any fan of the series MUST watch this. Well done!

Emmy Awards Featurette has footage from the 1976 Emmy Awards, and guess who wins? New interviews with the creators about the thrill of winning the Emmy is presented here. It lasts a good three minutes or so, and it's a shame you can't win an Emmy for "ocassional input." Fun stories here too.

Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips is introduced by the menu narrator about this departure from the series. It had continuing characters, and here you can see "Software," "Hardware" and "Number Cruncher." Needless to say, these are pretty corny and seem to be more ambitious in content... but they don't work really, but are entertaining to an extent.

Weather Show is a lost segment of sorts that lasts three minutes about the weather, while the Nike Spot for "Three Is A Magic Number" is presented here too. It's surely a weird commercial, featuring a shoe in a basketball hoop. There are also Music Videos for covers of the songs: "I'm Just A Bill" by Deluxx Folk Implosion, "Conjunction Junction" by Better Than Ezra, "My Hero, Zero" by Lemonheads and "Electricity, Electricity" by Goodness.

The Top 20 Shuffle has a listing of the top twenty songs from the series, while Arrange A Schoolhouse Rock Song will really test your knowledge of the programs. You have to put the segments in order. There's "I'm Just A Bill" (elementary), "Conjunction Junction" (Jr. High) and "Three is a Magic Number" (Sr. High). Earn Your Diploma is another game, where you must go through some trivia challenges on the songs, where you then must solve a word jumble. This can be a bit tricky, so study your songs for the games and good luck!

Finally, there are Audio Commentaries from executive producer George Newall, director of animation Phil Kimmelman and animation designer Tom Yohe Jr. for ten different "Schoolhouse Rock" songs. These commentaries are short and spiffy. They're more laid back and fun in content, with amusing antecodtes. It's not big on production stories or insights which I found somewhat disappointing, but the trio cleary enjoy their work and the legacy the series has left. Not bad, but there is something interesting stuff to be found here.

On the first disc, you have the option of listening to the top "Schoolhouse Rock" songs, or playing them all in ordered or have them shuffled around. I guess these really aren't features. Each disc has great menus, plus there's a nifty keepcase booklet that has interviews with the creators and information on the DVD. On the DVD-ROM side, there are some weblinks too.

 

"Schoolhouse" fans rejoice! Disney has delivered one excellent set for this groundbreaking cartoon short series. This is a fans dream collection with decent audio and video, plus a wide array of supplements that are entertaining and purely represent the series. Considering this set is going for around 20 bucks on sale, if you grew up with it, then you should have this. Just be warned that the songs may get stuck in your head all over again (wow, a rhyme... I'm educated!).