Walt Disney is always a great source for films, with many memorable classics, as well as new entries coming out all the time. This gift guide highlights some of the most recent releases by Disney that I had a chance to review. Any of them would make terrific Christmas gifts for your loved ones of any age. Plus, each of these come in a Blu-ray / DVD / Digital combo pack, so Disney has you covered no matter how you want to watch the movies.
Mary Poppins was one of my favorite movies growing up. A mix of the magical with a nonsensical nanny who somehow seems stern, even as she is leading her charges in fun games. It’s the ultimate tale of a governess who fixes a family, full of catchy tunes and heartwarming scenes. While its running time is over two hours, the pacing flows, and no one should get bored.
For the anniversary edition, the picture has been digitally restored. This doesn’t mean it looks perfect, by any means. There is plenty of graininess and blurring to show its age. But it also doesn’t look like a VHS tape, updated to a decent presentation. The soundtrack is clearer than the picture, though perhaps not at the level one may be used to.
These are not complaints. Old movies often look aged, and that’s part of their charm. Mary Poppins could have new special effects added in, but why should it? It’s better to remember this nearly-perfect movie as it is.
Starring the extremely talented Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (the latter plays two roles), and boasting some new extras, including a tie-in to the upcoming movie Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of the making this film, this is a solid release.
Monsters University is the result of a Pixar / Disney partnership, so you know it will be good. While not quite living up to Monsters Inc., this prequel, which tells the tale of how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) met in college, is better than expected. After getting off on the wrong foot, the two join a group of misfits and work their butts off for their dreams. This may sound formulaic, but there are quite a few surprises and fun moments.
Monsters University is available in 3D. While the review copy I was sent was not 3D, I did manage to find the title in the 3D format, and I must say that the visuals are amazing! The depth is well presented and the picture is crystal clear. Purely measured against other 3D releases, this is definitely one of the better ones, with most impressive effects. If you have the capability to watch 3D movies in your home, or think you might gain that soon, I definitely recommend going for 3D here. It’s well worth it.
The Blu-ray set contains a lot of extras, including a charming short entitled The Blue Umbrella, which does seem designed just to show us how awesome animation can look, a cool feat.
I can’t believe this short film, which I fondly recall from my own childhood, is thirty years old! Mickey and friends take on the story of the Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, and give it a relatively traditional telling. With Scrooge McDuck filling in as (who else?) Ebenezer Scrooge, Goofy as Jacob Marley, Mickey as Bob Cratchit, Donald Duck as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and familiar faces from other Disney movies like Pinocchio and The Wind in the Willows, this is a wonderful, family-friendly telling.
Disney keeps the ghosts from being too scary or Scrooge from being too cruel, but they still get the point across. Toss in a few Disney-style gags, this embodies the best of the older Disney shorts, with a fuller feeling of a film. Obviously, to get through everything in half an hour, the pacing is rapid, but not so much so that it feels rushed.
Visually, it does not look dated. It’s done in an older style of animation, of course, but the lines are crisp and the colors vivid. The soundtrack does feel a little like it’s being played back in a barrel, but it’s still easy enough to catch dialogue and lyrics.
Because of the quick running time, there has to be something else included to make the title worth buying. In this case, not only are there sing-along songs, a welcome inclusion, but also five additional shorts! Starring the likes of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, added together, these five roughly equal the running time of the feature. This provides enough material to make for a good release.
While I only personally reviewed only the three titles above, there are several other releases which I’m sure are fantastic and am eager to add to my own Christmas list. The Little Mermaid has gotten a Diamond Edition update, and Marvel’s latest super hero flick, Iron Man 3, is out in 3D, too. Both of these movies are very enjoyable, so given Disney’s track record, those discs are likely worth finding, as well.