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Countdown to Christmas
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Details At A Glance
Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Game-Christmas Around The World
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
If the cover is anything to go by, Countdown to Christmas should be a relatively recent Disney release featuring Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie all in the countdown leading up to Christmas. Unfortunately it isn't, as the content of the animation is not particularly Christmassy, and the DVD is simply a cut-and-paste collection of various completely unrelated, lesser known, very old, second-rate Disney cartoons, all dressed-up with a new DVD menu and then shunted off to an unsuspecting public. The way this DVD has been marketed is extremely misleading to say the least.
The DVD starts off with some modern, very-well produced, good quality and nicely themed intro animation, being a song showing the Christmas calendar and setting us up for the countdown to Christmas - all well so far. But then we head into our first cartoon, being the 1990 production of The Prince and The Pauper, which, while quite enjoyable, doesn't have anything to do with Christmas per se. After a short reprise of the slickly-produced Christmas theme, we launch straight into our second cartoon, and it's all downhill as we descend to an extremely dated cartoon about Goofy learning to ski. OK, it may feature snow and winter, but does this make it a Christmas cartoon? And what does either of these two cartoons have to do with the countdown to Christmas? And so you see the format of this DVD, just a series of old and older cartoons, purporting to be linked together by a Christmassy theme song.
In more detail, the DVD's stated feature running time of 95 minutes is comprised of the following separate feature animations. I also highlight the year of each animation for you:
- The Prince and the Pauper (1990) - 27 minutes approx. Based on Mark Twain's classic, this cartoon is entertaining enough to keep the interest, although it does show just how dated the Mickey and Goofy humour is. It is a snapshot of characters and a style of humour from a by-gone period and it will be of only passing interest to children now.
- The Art of Skiing (1941) - 8 minutes approx. Yes, that's right, 1941, and boy, does it show. I didn't raise one chuckle over this one; the humour is just plain silly and dated, not even of value for its slapstick element.
- Alpine Climbers (1936) - 9 minutes approx. Does being set in the Alpines count as being Christmassy? Step back even further in our time machine to this cartoon, featuring Mickey and Donald climbing a mountain and enjoying some very old, very obvious slapstick moments. This one features virtually no dialogue and is set to some very old-fashioned music and sound effects.
- Donald's Snow Fight (1942) - 6 minutes approx. Donald having a snow fight with his nephews. Pretty boring and it goes nowhere.
- Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1938) - 7 minutes approx. Now this one freaked me out completely! It features three baby cherubs, sailing through a bizarre, dialogue-less, surreal world. I'm not sure if they are meant to be in heaven or whether it's all just a dream, but they spend the cartoon sailing among the clouds and the stars in their clog-shaped sailing boat, fishing with candy! I found this cartoon so strange it was spooky and rather like a bad trip, so goodness knows what effect this one would have on the kids! Try and explain this one, Mums and Dads!
- Winter Storage (1948) - 5 minutes approx. Donald battling with the Chipmunks, in what must have been one of their very first appearances.
- The Small One (1978) - 26 minutes approx. This is the only cartoon that contain a direct Christmas reference, but even then it is indirect biblical reference and only comes in right at the very end of the story (presumably why this one is last in the running order on the DVD). It's the story of a boy and his best-friend Small One, the donkey, who must be sold because he is getting too old to work and the family can't afford to keep feeding him anymore. It is very schmaltzy, but nonetheless sad and I was starting to quite enjoy this one... that is until about 10 minutes in when they all start breaking into song and it degenerates into a rather trite musical. The story plods along and doesn't get anywhere at all, until just before the end when it is saved by an unexpected but conveniently satisfying biblical reference, so that all ends well.
Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.
Video quality is variable, as we have a mix of source material here ranging from the very modern theme/links animation, to a well-produced 1990 feature, to a slightly more dated but still well preserved 1978 feature, and then to various source materials dating back in time and quality to the mid-1930s. The 1990 and 1978 stuff is pretty decent, but the 1930s and 1940s material is naturally showing its age. The aspect ratio for all cartoons is 1.33:1, full frame.
Sharpness is quite good for the first and longest cartoon, The Prince and the Pauper, being a relatively new production. Sharpness is fine for the second largest segment, The Small One, but gets progressively less distinct for the older segments. Still, considering the age of this material, all film prints appear to have been relatively well preserved. There are no real noise issues, apart from some more noticeable grain in the older cartoons - Alpine Climbers being the worst. While The Prince and the Pauper definitely has the cleanest image, grain is still apparent if you care to pay closer inspection.
Colour ranges from the strong, vibrant primary colours of The Prince and the Pauper, to the less obvious but still very nicely saturated colours of The Small One, to the progressively more washed-out and faded tones in the likes of The Art of Skiing and most notably Alpine Climbers.
There are no MPEG artefacts, but film artefacts are present in the form of some persistent little film flecks on the older prints - the worst offender being Alpine Climbers. This is no surprise, however, and the film artefacts are for most part not substantial enough to be too annoying. Film-to-video artefacts are also present and include obvious telecine wobble in The Art of Skiing and Donald's Snow Fight, among others.
The subtitles do their job.
The disc is dual-layered but I did not note the layer change. I can only assume it might be intelligently placed in between the feature and the extras.
Video Ratings Summary
The audio quality is mediocre, as you might expect for this material. We are presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, however the surround activity is limited to the main menu/links music and also some nicely directed ambience during The Prince and The Pauper. Apart from this, The Small One might be technically in stereo but with little use of it, and all the other material is in mono.
Dialogue quality is fine for all. I always have trouble understanding what Donald Duck is saying, but that's just me. Sync with the animation is also fine.
There is some stirring musical score in The Prince and The Pauper, but otherwise the scoring is all pretty forgettable - particularly so for the songs in The Small One. As an aside, the scoring in the very old cartoons is interesting and dates these cartoons firmly in an age gone by.
There is nominal subwoofer use, apart from helping out with the very rare bump and knock.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Menu The menus are fully animated and are quite slick. Too slick in fact, as they only stand out like a sore toe from the feature presentation, given the menus are in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio that is noticeably louder than the feature audio.
Sledge Race Game At least some effort has been put in by the producers to give us a couple of children's games as extras on this DVD. This one is based on a theme from the Donald's Snow Fight cartoon; you must help Donald find the presents he dropped from his sled as he skis down the mountain. Unfortunately the game is not very interactive and is monotonous.
Christmas Around The World Game
This one is pretty cool and educational to boot. It is a matching game where you have to match the Christmas presents from different countries. As you make a match with the presents, a voiceover describes the significance of the custom of giving that particular present in that country. Interesting and well thought out, however it is a game that the kids will immediately tire of after having done it once or twice.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
This DVD is dual-zoned Region 2 and Region 4 and is available in identical format in the UK. It does not appear to be available in Region 1.
Save your money. This is not a Christmas DVD and not even a good Mickey and Donald collection. There are plenty of better Christmas DVDs and plenty of better Mickey and Donald cartoons out there. The only interest this disc might possibly have is to animation historians out there, keen to preserve some of Disney's classic early period animation for posterity. But even then, the cartoons on this disc aren't particularly good ones and I'm sure there must be much funnier cartoon collections of the period out there that provide a more worthy representation of Disney's great contribution to popular animation.
Variable but acceptable video quality, mostly mono audio and a couple of mediocre extras adorn this release.
© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using Component output|
|Display||Toshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV.
Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
|Audio Decoder||Yamaha RXV-1000.
Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
|Amplification||Elektra Home Theatre surround power amp|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears|