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Disney DVD Summer 2003

Gang, I've been terrible. For over a month now, I've had a stack of DVDs from Buena Vista Home Video (that's Disney to you and me) and between Rocky Horror and San Diego, I simply hadn't had time to review them all. Or at all, for that matter.

Let me make up for it. Rather than the in-depth breakdown I normally try to accomplish (and could woefully be falling short on), here are quick rundowns of what Disney had to offer this summer, and why you might want it.

Atlantis 2: Milo's Return

Like a lot of Disney's direct-to-video animation titles, this "movie" is really cobbled together from television episodes of a series that never got a full run. Unlike such failures like Cinderella II, however, Atlantis 2 serves as a tribute to a great idea never given a fair chance.

(And that includes the first Atlantis -- it's fun and exciting, but as time has passed and we learn what got cut from the budget, it could have been much, much better.)

Scholar turned adventurer Milo Thatch (sadly, no longer voiced by Michael J. Fox) and Kida join their old companions in search of lost treasures and ancient mysteries. Along the way they encounter monsters and threats that are surprisingly sophisticated and almost Lovecraftian for a would-be weekday afternoon series. A deleted scene (!) included on the disc plants it firmly in the unlikely camp of Ctulhu For Kids.

The extras even have a legitimately educational bent. Though the set-top game tends toward repetition at each level, the rewards include vignettes on lost cities throughout history - and dang if I didn't learn a couple of new ones. My daughter, the junior fangirl, was not as impressed, but dodging crumbling rocks seemed enough for her, and for some reason her love of babies overcame her natural revulsion toward krakens.

The Jungle Book 2

Everything you loved about The Jungle Book is here - and less. All the characters return except for King Louie; it seems there was an unwise lawsuit against Disney from Louis Prima's widow, and therefore the character has been banished from the jungle forever.

To balance things out, the studio adds a couple of new children, a few songs desperately failing to sound like "The Bare Necessities," and a new vulture voiced by Phil Collins. (Somehow appropriate, as the original four birds were clearly meant to be The Beatles, and Collins made his screen debut as an extra in A Hard Days' Night. I've revealed I know too much.)

But with all this and more, this movie feels like it exists to maintain a copyright and sell a few Happy Meal toys (got 'em) and not much else. John Goodman more than adequately fills the pawprints of Phil Harris as Baloo, but he's stuck in a tired rehash of the original.

It does get off to a great start, however, with Mowgli retelling the plot of the first using shadow puppetry. Even though it's a quick summary of a classic film, it shows more imagination than the entire sequel that follows.

The Love Bug

At the time this film was made, gasoline cost forty cents a gallon.

Chew on that, and then buy this DVD anyway. Former Disney regular Dean Jones stars as a slightly arrogant racecar driver who gets adopted by a sentient VW Beetle. Only the gentle Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett) truly understands what's going on, and he manages to convince Michelle Lee just in time for the climactic race against her former employer, an evil man played to perfection by David Tomlinson.

It all sounds formulaic, and it is, but it was a Disney formula that worked really well throughout the sixties because it was done with respect for its audience. Through the extras on this two-disc set, you'll see that Herbie earned a fandom that is surprisingly large and dedicated. Disney's unofficial Love Bug historian may know a little too much about the subject (dare we attack Herbie Goes Bananas?), but we're okay with that.

Jones, Hackett, and Lee provide commentary over the film, clearly recording at different times. Lee takes her responsibilities as a commentator very seriously, trying to point out different acting and directing techniques. Jones and Hackett, however, were together, and their reminiscences are of a rambling "wasn't that fun?" nature. Sadly ironic that Hackett spends the entire opening credits pointing out who's dead.

Still, consider this a special edition that unexpectedly proved it deserved the treatment.

Piglet's Big Movie

Read the reviews here. Then decide for yourself. I just can't bring myself to do it.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

It's a classic adventure film for attention spans they don't necessarily make anymore. Richard Fleischer's 1954 adaptation of the Jules Verne novel almost broke the studio - at a time when that meant something. Of course, it wasn't the first time, nor the last, that Disney would willingly go to the edge to make sure they were giving their audience the best product possible.

All of it gets covered both in commentary from Fleischer and in an 86-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the second disc. My advice? Watch the documentary, and just enjoy the film on its own. There's a lot more extras here, too, with a lot of archival footage that makes me wish The Disney Channel hadn't cancelled Vault Disney.

But how's the movie? A little slower-paced than most of today's action films, but extremely entertaining. Kirk Douglas does a little singing, and it's not as painful as you might imagine. Peter Lorre cringes, because, let's face it, it's what he was born to do.

The center of the film remains James Mason, playing a Captain Nemo that you just don't know whether to like, hate, or grudgingly admire - nor does Douglas' character know. It's a performance, like Basil Rathbone's as Sherlock Holmes, that indelibly linked a specific actor's image to a classic literary character, and the vision hadn't been tampered with on film until this summer's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (But then, they were just borrowing from the comic book, which borrowed from - gasp - the original novels.)

Derek McCaw


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