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Featured Blu-ray Review: Fox Family Easter Releases

April 12th, 2012

Fox Family Easter Releases
Aquamarine - Buy from Amazon
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest - Buy from Amazon
The Man From Snowy River - Buy from Amazon
Thumbelina - Buy from Amazon

A quartet of family films made their Blu-ray debuts a couple weeks ago in advance of Easter. Easter isn't a big weekend at the box office, but since the celebration is centered around family dinners, it's a good time to give someone a movie to watch while at home. The four films that were released as part of this collection start with...

Aquamarine - Buy from Amazon

The film begins with Claire and Hailey spending time on the beach. It is their last few days together before Hailey moves away with her mom to Australia and they are spending their time on the beach talking about the lifeguard, Ray, whom they have a major crush on, but they are outclassed by Cecilia Banks, the most popular girl in their class. They wish they won't be separated at the end of the week, but with times becoming desperate, Hailey jokingly prays to the gods of hurricanes for a miracle that will stop her mother from moving.

She gets that miracle, sort of, in the form of a massive storm.

The next morning, while helping clean up the mess left by the storm, the edge of the pool crumbles beneath Claire's feet and she falls in. While she's quickly rescued by Ray, she is below the water long enough to see something. Claire tries to explain what she saw to her best friend, but Hailey's more interested in Ray's biceps. Eventually the pair agree to check out the pool that night to see what's in there and they find Aquamarine, a mermaid. As she explains, her father caused the storm last night because she ran away from home to avoid marrying the merman her father arranged for her. She's come to dry land, where she can assume the form of a human (as long as it is daytime and she stays dry) and is looking for an example of true love. If she can't find it, her father will force her to get married.

Since Aquamarine has almost no understanding of human culture, she'll need help from Claire and Hailey to try and find true love. (Not to mention finding clothing.) But when she decides her perfect man is Raymond, the two best friends are less enthusiastic about helping her. But when Aquamarine offers one wish in exchange for their help, they know this is their one chance avoid being separated.

This is a very cute movie and Sara Paxton does a very good job as the titular Aquamarine while Emma Roberts and Joanne Levesque are strong as two best friends who are anxious over being separated. It's nice that the film deals with friendship rather than fame, which is what 90% of Tween shows today are about. (Maybe I'm overestimating that figure, but it certainly seems like that is true.) Granted, there's not a lot here that people haven't seen, especially if you are not part of the target demographic. More than once I was thinking about Splash while watching this movie.

Overall, Aquamarine should please its target audience, while parents watching along won't hate the movie.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the director, Elizabeth Allen, and the producer, Susan Cartsonis. The director also gives a short introduction. The three main leads sit down for scene specific commentary covering a few important scenes. Its less focused that the main commentary track, but they clearly have fun together. Up next are six short deleted scenes (the total running time is less than five minutes). There are also five minutes of audition footage. Building the Capri Club is a four-minute tour of the set. There is a three-minute featurette on how they transformed Sara Paxton into a mermaid. It's All About the Fashion is a four-minute featurette on the fashion, obviously. Aqua's Squeals is a minute of Sara Paxton making silly noises. Kicking it On Set is five minutes of outtakes. And finally there's Boys on the Brain, a two-minute short with the three leads asking Australian guys about girls.

The video and audio for the movie is solid, but not spectacular. It only cost $12 million to make, and it had a lot more special effects than most Tween movies have, so that budget was stretched even thinner. There are not a lot of fine details, the colors are good, etc. The audio is better than expected with more activity in the rear speakers than most similar movies have. There are a couple of storm scenes in the movie that are immersive and give the subwoofer a lot to do.

The price is just $16, which is acceptable for a catalogue title, but not a super deal.

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest - Buy from Amazon

It's Avatar, but set in a rain forest.

The film begins with a prologue with the queen of fairies, Magi Lune, explaining how the world used to be in balance and how the humans and the fairies used to be friends. However, the evil force, Hexxus, rose up from the depths to destroy the rain forest. The humans fled and most fairies think they died out. Before the forest was completely destroyed, Magi Lune used the power of nature to trap Hexxus in a magical tree and saved the day.

Magi isn't telling us this, but she's trying to explain this to Crysta, her apprentice. Crysta will one day have to take over as Magi and when she does, she'll have to know how to use the power of nature. But right now, Crysta would rather fly around the forest with her boyfriend, Pip. In fact, she doesn't just want to explore her rainforest, but travel beyond it and into the world of the humans. When she sees smoke (and is nearly eaten by a falcon) she flies to tell Magi and asks if it is Hexxus escaping. Magi says not to worry, but after Crysta leaves, Magi Luna is clearly concerned.

Crysta doesn't have a lot of time to worry, because she is soon introduced to Batty Koda, an escapee from a testing lab. After a song and dance introduction, Batty tells Crysta that he was held by the humans for testing and Crysta is eager to find out more about the humans.

Speaking of humans, we are next introduced to Zak Young, a slacker working for a forestry corporation clear cutting the rain forest. His job is to mark the trees that are to be harvested by the massive machines. While working, he comes across the tree Hexxus is trapped in and while trying to kill a bug with his spray paint, accidentally marks the tree to be cut down. However, before that happens, he spots Crysta, although he only sees her as a blue light, because he lacks fairy sight. Crysta tries to give him fairy sight, in order to warn him about a tree that is about to hit him, but gives him fairy size instead. ... Oops.

Crysta manages to get the shrunken Zak back to her village, with the help of Batty Koda. At first, Zak is understandably freaked out, he then learns to adapt, and even starts having feelings for Crysta. But before that can develop, Hexxus is released and feeds on the pollution created by the logging vehicle and the leveler, to become even more powerful than before. Can the fairies stop him again?

I'm of two minds when it comes to this movie. It does have a very important environmental message, one that is still relevant today. Although the specific message of rain forest conservation is less in the news and has been supplanted by Global Warming. There are some good action scenes, some funny jokes, and most of the characters are well-defined for a family film. Some of the characters, like Tony and Ralph, are mostly there just for comic relief, but who offer some of the best lines. On the other hand, this is the first major voice work for Robin Williams and you can kind of tell. He's doing the same schtick that he did in Aladdin, but it is not as polished. Also, many of the songs range from forgettable to out of place. I do like the overall design of Hexxus and he (It?) often looks like a Lovecraftian nightmare, so I'm calling that the tiebreaker.

Overall, it's a good movie, but not a great movie. It's worth watching, but it is not a classic.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the director, Bill Kroyer, the art director, Ralph Eggleston, and the coordination art director, Susan Kroyer. They talk about how the film was made from both a technical point of view (camera pans, complexity of the shot, etc.) to more behind-the-scenes (getting the greenlight). Seed of the Story has 8 minutes of Script-to-Screen Comparisons. From Paper to Tree is a massive, 30-minute long Making-Of Featurette that features the author of the original story, the filmmakers, and the voice cast. Behind the Voice: Toxic Love shows Tim Curry recording his song, the early animation, and the final scene. You can also view all three at once. Finally, there's a music video.

As for the tech specs, they are mixed. There are a lot of white specs, dirt, etc. on the print. It could have really used a re-mastering. However, the film was not a bit hit when it first came out, so I'm not surprised that didn't happen. The animation looks a little dated with some color fluctuations, lack of detail, etc. It's better than it was on DVD, but this is certainly not a movie you will use to show off your home theater system. The audio is better, but there's not a lot of ambient sound in the rear speakers, certainly not as much as there should be in a movie set in the forest. There is a lot of activity in the subwoofer, on the other hand.

The Blu-ray only costs $13, which is a good deal for this type of release.

The Man From Snowy River - Buy from Amazon

The film begins on the Craig's ranch with the father, Henry (Terence Donovan), and the son, Jim, discussing the state of the finances. If they are to keep the ranch, they are going to have to bring in extra money, and the only way to do that is to hire themselves out in the lowlands. When a herd of wild horses spook their own horses, a herd led by their old Thoroughbred, Henry wants to shoot it before it can cause any more problems; however, Jim convinces him to try and capture the horses, as they could be worth enough to save the farm. It's a good plan, but things go awry and Henry is accidentally killed in the aftermath.

Shortly after, Jim is thrown off his property by the other highland ranchers, who think he hasn't earned the right to farm there. At first he spends some time with Spur, an old family friend. Spur gives Jim a horse, as a man without a horse is like a men without a leg. An ironic statement, as Spur is missing a leg. When Jim heads into town looking for work, he sees Harrison, a very rich man who is waiting for his prize horse to arrive. Harrison looks just like Spur, minus Spur's mountain man beard and with one additional leg. When the horse is spooked by a dog and Harrison's man loses control of the horse, Jim steps in and calms the horse. However, we learn his man is a woman, Jessica (Sigrid Thornton), Harrison's daughter, and she's not pleased Jim jumped in to help.

It isn't long before Jim is working for Harrison, but when Jim asks Harrison about Spur, Harrison claims he has no brother and refuses to talk about it.

This basically sets up the two main plot threads. Firstly, there's the dysfunctional family with Spur and Harrison, where we learn about their past and why they hate each other. Secondly, there's the obvious romance between Jim and Jessica. Both of these story elements work, for the most part, and the end result is a good movie, but not a great one. For me, Kirk Douglas's acting was the highlight of the movie. On the other hand, the romance was a little corny, to be polite, and lacked anything close to subtlety. The score was particularly intrusive in this regard. The plot elements are rather simplistic, and predictable, but that's not a fatal flaw. The fact that the movie is an Australia Western was noteworthy when the film came out, as there were very few Australian films seen in North American theaters previously, but that is no longer a major selling point.

Overall, if someone is interested in a family friendly Western, The Man From Snowy River is a good choice, but it is not among the classics of the genre.

The Extras

There are no real extras on the Blu-ray, only the trailer. Additionally, the film only cost $5 million to make nearly 30 years ago, and you can tell. The video is good, but not great. There are strong colors and deep blacks, but the detail levels are not always high enough, plus there's a bit too much grain at times. The audio is good with some scenes with a lot of action from the rear speakers / subwoofer, while the dialogue is clear. On the other hand, $16 is too much to pay for a featureless Blu-ray.

Thumbelina - Buy from Amazon

The film begins with Jacquimo (Gino Conforti) introducing himself and the city of Paris. After singing his song, he begins to tell the story of Thumbelina. Thumbelina's story begins with a lady (Barbara Cook) who longed to have a child, but could not. One day she was visited by a good witch, who gave her a magical seed and when the plant flowered, there was a little girl inside. By little, I mean no bigger than your thumb, hence the name, Thumbelina. After wondering why she's so small and the world is so big, Thumbelina's mother tells her daughter about the world of fairies, who are just as small as Thumbelina is. While the thought of people as small as her is some comfort, she's worried that since she's the only one as small as she is, she will never find true love.

She laments this in song and her lovely voice attracts the attention of Prince Cornelius (Gary Imhoff), a real life fairy. At first he scares Thumbelina, but when he tells her about the Fairy Court and offers her a chance to ride on his bumblebee, she's quite excited. While flying, they sing, which attracts the attention of Mrs. Toad (Charo) and her son Grundel (Joe Lynch). Mrs. Toad thinks Thumbelina would be a perfect addition to their musical act, while it's love at first sight for Grundel. Cornelius returns Thumbelina to her home before he has to leave, but promises to come back tomorrow; however, before that can happen, Thumbelina is kidnapped by Mrs. Toad. After that, there's a lot of rescue attempts, escapes, and general chaos, but the details are deep into spoiler territory.

Don Bluth directed some amazing films that were criminally underseen in theaters. The Secret of Nihm, is, to this day, one of my favorite animated films, but its box office numbers were very disappointing. An American Tail did okay, as did The Land Before Time, but after that his box office numbers really tumbled, and unfortunately, Thumbelina was near the bottom of his career score. Is it as bad as the box office numbers suggest? Sadly, yes.

The character design was very cartoonish, and distractingly cheap looking as well. The backgrounds were much more realistic, more in line with Don Bluth's previous work, while Thumbelina and the humanoid characters looked good. However, all of the animals were so exaggerated that they felt like they didn't below in the same movie, but instead in some cartoon short from the 1940s. Worse still, all of the characters, whether they were human, fairy, frog, or anything else, were very generic and none of them were truly brought to life with the voice acting. (In their defense, the actors were not given much to work with.) Finally, the music was neither memorable nor did it bring enough to the film. In fact, many of the songs just slowed down the film. There are some good action scenes, but that's not enough to save the film.

The Extras

There are no real extras on the Blu-ray, just a couple of TV spots. Additionally, the video and audio quality was merely adequate. There are too many specks and noise and other signs of print damage throughout the film, while the colors were inconsistent and the level of detail is not up to the quality level we expect from the format. The audio is better, with enough ambient sounds and the songs to fill up the rear speakers, but the 5.1 track is far from fully immersive. It's better than the DVD, but that's damning it with faint praise. Additionally, the film costs $15.99 on, which is too much to pay for this type of release.

The Verdict

Of the four Fox Family Easter Releases, none are classics. I was expecting the least out of Aquamarine, but I was pleasantly surprised, while the Blu-ray is loaded with extras and has the best video and audio quality out of the four. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is also good, but not great, and the Blu-ray is not only loaded with extras, but a better price than others. The Man From Snowy River feels a little dated compared to modern Westerns, but should please families. However, the Blu-ray has no extras and the video and audio is showing its age. Finally, Thumbelina is a miss and the featureless Blu-ray is overpriced.

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Filed under: Video Review, Ferngully… The Last Rainforest, The Man From Snowy River, Thumbelina, Aquamarine