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STUDIO: Sony Home Entertainment    
MSRP: $24.94
RATING: Not Rated    
RUNNING TIME: 267 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
•    The Storm Hawks Fleet- 360º Vehicle Transformations
•    3 bonus episodes



The Pitch

It’s like Joss Whedon’s Firelfy Babies!

The Humans

Sam Vincent, Chiara Zanni, Matt Hill, Scott McNeil, Colin Murdock

The Nutshell

On the world of Atmos great civilizations are built high on mountaintops and defended by squadrons of fighter pilots known as Sky Knights. One of the greatest teams of pilots ever to defend its turf was the Sky Hawks, but they were defeated by the evil Cyclonians. Enter Aerrow (Vincent) and his group of teenage pals. They find the wreckage of the Sky Hawks airship, the Condor, fix it up a bit, and take up the mantle of the Storm Hawks. The only problem is, being that they are not old enough to even have pilot licenses, no one takes them seriously. Undeterred by the older generation, these young adventurers set off to land on any old mans front yard they want, and fight tyranny throughout Atmos as well.



The Lowdown


I remember growing up, watching Starblazers every morning, and just feeling like the world of cartoons was changing for me. Now, if you don’t remember Starblazers then let me fill you in quick. Starblazers (or Battleship Yamato for the those in the know) was an episodic cartoon that followed a group of soldiers that had commandeered a giant space battleship and went off into the cosmos to search for something that would save the Earth from certain doom (or something like that…I was Seven for Pete’s sake). It was like a soap opera for the kiddie crowd. There was Romance! Action! Intrigue! It seemed new and different to me, with its anime look, and very serious storytelling. It has been thirty years since I first saw it, but I remember being close to tears at the finale of the first season.

Now, thirty years later I have come across Storm Hawks: Showdown in the Skies, and while this is nowhere close to the love I have for Starblazers, the style and writing of this show really do make an impact. This two disc set collects episodes fourteen thru twenty-six of the first season.



The look of Storm Hawks (which airs on Cartoon Network) is nothing short of incredible for TV animation. It looks big, nearly theatrical. I am no expert in animation, but I am assuming this is because it is all computer rendered with 3D models and such. However they do it, the end result is bright and beautiful to look at. I also like that on DVD the episodes are anamorphic widescreen, so it fills your whole HDTV screen.

It also has very good writing going for it. While the basic plot of the show is nothing like Firefly, it feels like it was written for the little Browncoats in your family. The crew of the Condor is constantly dealing with having no money, a ship that is always on the verge of a breakdown, and a less than stellar reputation on Atmos. The dialogue is pretty smart and snappy for a show written for kids. The characters don’t do much more than facilitate various plot devices, but they are well defined and keep the show moving at a nice pace.



And that’s another thing to like about Storm Hawks; the shows plotting hits all the right marks, keeping even the older kids (say…ummm…thirty-seven years old to be exact) interested in the action. Sure, there is still some corny antics involved that will cause you to remember things you dislike about kids cartoons (one character ALWAYS being hungry for example), but they are far and few between. Overall I would take this over George Lucas’s blandly written Clone Wars any day.



The Package


The makers of the disk have added three episodes that finish out the first season of Storm Hawks as a bonus on this disc. There are also 3D models of all the characters vehicles.





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STUDIO: Paramount
MSRP: $19.95
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 292 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: none


The Pitch

Sit the kiddies down for hours of enjoyment as they follow the exploits of the students of Wayside grammar school.


The Humans

Mark Rendall, Lisa Ng, Denise Oliver, Martin Villafana, Julie Lemieux


The Nutshell

Being the new kid in school can be a bit rough. It’s even tougher when your school was accidentally built to be thirty-stories high, with a single classroom on every floor. Add to that the fact that all of your classmates are nuts. Well, now you may understand the predicament of Todd, the newest student of Wayside School.


The Lowdown

Wayside School: Season One is an enjoyable enough little show for kids around the elementary school age. It’s fairly fast paced, packing two individual stories into each episode (there are thirteen episodes in this set). While the animation is a bit crude, or I should say, stylized, it’s the writing that that makes this cartoon worth watching. Based on the Wayside School book series by Louis Sachar, the show is very smartly written for something geared toward the younger crowd, and there’s a definite sense of wanting to inspire a little rebelliousness in each episode.

Sure, each fifteen minute story teaches a little moral lesson, but trust me, it isn’t too heavy, and the lessons are built around such hyper action onscreen, that they almost seem like more than subliminal messages than actual morals being taught.



The episodes all revolve around Todd (Rendall) and how he reacts to being the only normal, rational child in a school full of crazies. Some of he best friends are Dana (Ng), the class overachiever, who likes to copy the teacher’s lesson plans in triplicate to make sure than none of the lessons stray off course. Then there’s Maurecia (Oliver), the skater chic who is not so secretly in love with Todd, and she shows it by punching him in the face. Last and least in Todd’s circle of pals is Myron (Villifana), who is a bit dopey, but always tries belittle those around him. The voice acting is just what it should be for a show like this; over the top and hyper most of the time, save for Mark Rendall who voices Todd pretty straight-laced, which usually helps to heighten the mood of silliness throughout the episodes.



All in all a pretty fun little show that won’t completely bore you if you put this in for the kiddies and watch with them. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does manage to not be a completely vanilla viewing experience like most children’s cartoons I endured when I was a kid.


The Package

Zilch.





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STUDIO: Hasbro    
MSRP: $59.98
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 1,029 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: none



The Pitch

It’s Autobot VS Decepticon in a galaxy wide battle for Energon!


The Humans

Gary Chalk, Trevor Devall, Matt Hill, David Kaye, Alvin Sanders, Brad Swaile


The Nutshell

Boy, have I been out of the loop. Since I stopped watching Transformers (around the time of the animated movie around twenty two years ago), the Autobots have teamed up with the Decepticons to defend the galaxy and find Energon, a  very rare substance that not only powers the transformers, but can also solve the earths energy problems as well as possibly rebuild planet Cybertron. One would think that now that the two warring factions have teamed up, that the fighting would end, but no way. It turns out that Unicron, the giant sized robot that can transform into a planet; the same Unicron that Autobots and Decepticons both thought was destroyed when Galvatron (the reincarnated Megatron, with powers boosted by the mini-cons) rammed himself into it, still has some life left inside its shell.

Turns out Alpha-Q, a citizen of one of planets that Unicron devoured, has holed up inside the giant robot and is using an endless fleet of Terror-cons to steal Energon wherever they can find it in hopes of re-energizing Unicron and reforming the planets that it had previously devoured. On the hunt for Energon, the Terror-Cons happen to find it wherever the Autobot / Decepticon alliance are stationed. In the meantime a sneaky Megatron (yeah, he changes back to Megatron after being Galvatron, go figure) is siphoning off Energon power from Unicron in hopes of making a comeback and using Unicron against the Autobots. Will Optimus Prime be able to stop Megatron? Will Unicron be brought back to full power? Could a show designed to sell toys to six year olds be any more confusing? Find out with Transformers: Energon!



The Lowdown


I don’t consider myself easily confused by things that I watch, but The Transformers canon is nuts, to put I mildly. Now, part of that is due to the fact that Transformers never really followed a concrete set of rules for its characters. The comics differed from the cartoons, and even the different series’ of cartoons took liberties with the back stories of the various characters. It’s understandable when a toy company needs to change things to make a new toy, sometimes storylines are going to get a little messed up in the process.

What is unexpected with Transformers: Energon is just how heavy the story is. I never thought that an animated story created solely to make money off of toys would be so deep and intricate, and I hate to say it; a bit hard to follow. What we have here is over seventeen hours of storyline that is actually part two of a three series arc (Energon is the sequel to Transformers: Armada and the trilogy is completed in Transformers: Cybertron). There is a cast of at least two dozen characters weaving in and out of the fifty-one episodes offered in this set, and many of them have their own individual storylines going on.



The story itself is more than I would wish on any youngster new to the Transformer universe; it plays like a kiddie version of I Claudius. There are deals gone bad, double-crosses, power grabs and destruction on massive levels. There’s also Energon stars (which I think give power boosts to Transformers) and psychic teenagers, dozens of other sidetracking items. To sum up Transformers: Energon in one word; confusing. That’s not to say the storyline doesn’t make sense in the big picture, but there is just so much going on in these twenty-two minute episodes that at times plot points or minor storylines just start skipping off your brain and not sticking. It doesn’t help that the show also takes a while to get moving. It felt like I was about fourteen episodes in before anything really started happen, and even when the various storylines start coming together, the show draws them out to lengths that become more than a bit tedious. The first attack of the Terror-Cons happens in the premiere episode, but it is ten more episodes (and about twenty more Terror-Con attacks before the Transformers really decide to do anything about it. It feels like a twenty episode show dragged out to fifty-one episodes.

But that being said it isn’t a horrible show at all. When you condense the set down to its most important episodes, the attention to detail and plot seem much more impressive. It’s not an “adventure of the day” kind of show, so each episode means something to the entire series (some episodes more than others), and I am always a sucker for those. It’s commendable in fact that a toy company (or two toy companies to be exact; the Unicron Trilogy was a joint production between Hasbro and Japan’s Takara toy companies) actually put out something that was more than just a bland, cookie cutter program to sell toys. Now of course the big shots at the toy company weren’t just spending money for the same old Transformers story, so in Energon, the Autobots can “powerlink” , meaning that two Autobots of the same size can link up to become one, larger robot. It’s a decent gimmick that doesn’t get in the way of the story, but it does get a little old to hear “Optimus Prime…POWERLINK!” and then go through the same thirty second animation every episode.



One thing that took me a little time to get past was that this Optimus Prime has a different voice. When I think Transformers, the first thing that comes into my mind is Optimus giving the “…Roll out.” command in that gravelly voice done so well by Peter Cullen. A Transformers without him just doesn’t feel the same, it feels a touch ‘off’. The new voice of Optimus by Gary Chalk takes some time to get used to, but it isn’t a show killer by any stretch, but its just not the same (can’t go back).

The animation is a cross between traditional anime and 3D animation, the Transformers being rendered in the latter. You would think 3D rendered Autobot vs. Decepticon fights would be pure eye candy, but it’s surprisingly clunky and boring. It could be that it was a new technique to this series (this being the first time it was tried), or just poorly rendered models, but it definitely doesn’t do much to heighten the cool factor or anything. It doesn’t really look any more advanced than the anime I was watching when I was a kid in the late seventies.

Ultimately it comes down to will the ones that this show was made for watch it? Sure, the younger fans in your family will certainly eat it up, and while some die hard Transformer geeks I know find Energon to be a weak effort in the animated history of robots that turn into cars, most fans of anime and casual transformers fans should surely find something to like in this.


The Package

No extras on this either, but the seven discs that make up this set do come packaged in a snazzy cardboard case featuring Optimus in his powerlink mode.





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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
MSRP: $14.99
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
•    Behind the Roar: Triceratops
•    Sneak Peak at Dinosaur King from SEGA
•    Exclusive Dinosaur King trading card


The Pitch

Get set for a series of animated infomercials for a card game.


The Humans

Various


The Nutshell

Some kids go out into the woods and find a card game that can turn their new found cards into dinosaurs. Before you can say “Sales pitch!”, one of the children’s fathers, who just happens to be a scientist / anthropologist, creates a machine that can scan the cards and make the dinosaurs turn from cute little cuddly dinos to ferocious fighters. But wait…There’s more! It also lets the humans know what the dinosaurs are thinking, and what they are thinking is that they need the help of these kids to fight Alpha Team; a nefarious group that wants to get all the dino cards for themselves to rule the world.



The Lowdown

Maybe I’m just bitter, or tired out from thousands of minutes of cartoon watching, but Dinosaur King: The Adventure Begins just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t the animation, which went from crude anime to very neat looking 3D stuff. It wasn’t the voice acting, which was completely serviceable for this sort of show, and it wasn’t the plot, which is fine for a cartoon with a continuing storyline throughout the series. It is the overall message of Dinosaur King that put me off it.

I have nothing against a show that is trying to sell stuff. Transformers have a show to sell toys, same with Storm Hawks, but at least those shows go beyond merely selling the product. They involve the viewer on some level, the transformers with a massive and complex storyline, and the Storm Hawks by being extremely well animated and fleshed out as far as characters go. Everything about Dinosaur King is designed to sell a card game.

The characters don’t do anything more than act as the hand that slides the card through a scanner to activate a dinosaur. When they talk to each other it’s usually about how they can get new cards or carrying cases for their cards. Every episode pretty much revolves around them going to a new location on their card reader to find a new card, then they swipe cards, then dinosaurs fight, winner gets more cards, then they end the episode to repeat the same thing in the next show. If you don’t understand…it’s al about the cards.



I may not like the very hard sell this show puts on kids to buy some dino cards, but I must admit the animation when the dinosaurs fight is pretty watchable. The dinosaurs are rendered very nicely in 3D; the problem is that you have a twenty minute sales pitch to sit through in every episode before you get to them.


The Package

What we have here is not much more than two commercials. One is a thirty second spot for the Dinosaur King animated show and the other is an ad for on Dinosaur King on Nintendo DS from SEGA.





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STUDIO: Nickelodeon   
MSRP: $16.99
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
•    Yo Gabba Gabba music video


The Pitch

Travel the world with Diego and help him help others!


The Humans

Jake T. Austin


The Nutshell

Diego (Austin), the older cousin of Dora the Explorer, does quite a bit of exploring himself, usually in the rainforest, but this collection four episodes finds our little hero in such locations as; Africa going to a gorilla party, Egypt to help some camels find water, the Galapágos islands to assist a tortoise in finding a “friend”, and back to the rainforest to help some birds stuck in a river. Along the way, Diego is going to teach the viewer some new words in different languages, inform us on various facts about animals, and get very, very into audience participation.



The Lowdown


I didn’t know too much about Diego before watching this DVD. My knowledge extended pretty much to making fun of my four year old nephew for watching Dora (I never made much of a distinction between Dora and Diego), but after seeing Go, Diego, Go for the first time, I understand why he is so into it. If I were a preschooler, this would be THE SHOW to watch.

It’s a program that involves the viewer on every level. Diego is constantly looking for assistance on his adventures, and it is up to you to help him out. From making your hands into binoculars to search the screen for gorillas, to stretching out your hands to mimic digging out a sandpit to help a stuck camel, the viewer is always being asked to play along with the show. Of course all of the actions that you are asked to perform as the assistant to Diego get a bit repetitive to me as the episodes play out, but that’s probably because I’m not four. To test the theory, I showed the DVD to my little nephew. Although he griped that he had already seen these particular stories, it didn’t stop him from getting off the floor and dancing around, following all of the actions that Diego asked of him to help out his animal friends.



There’s also tons of singing and clapping along to the songs that go along with every episode of Diego, and the action on the screen is colorful at all times. While the animation is fairly simple, it really doesn’t matter, it’s the participation factor that the kids will go gaga for. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go apologize to my nephew for making fun of his Go, Diego, Go infatuation.


The Package




Only one extra, but I think it may be my new favorite thing to watch. It is a music video for the show Yo Gabba Gabba. The video features the show’s host, DJ Lance Rock and Brobee, a fuzzy monster with a bow on his head singing about a party in his tummy as he gulps down smiley-faced chicken legs!






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STUDIO: Nickelodeon
MSRP: $39.98
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 462 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: none


The Pitch

Learn some lessons from Arnold!


The Humans

Toran Caudell, Francesca Smith, Jamil Walker Smith


The Nutshell

Arnold and his buddies live in the big city of Hillwood, and are just trying to get by, stay out of the way of bullies, and just generally not tread on anyone.



The Lowdown

I love Hey Arnold: Season 1! There, its out in the open, and I am not ashamed in the least to just gush on and on about it. It is an extremely entertaining show. Now, most kid’s cartoons do a fine job at entertaining youngsters, but Hey Arnold has something for everyone.

The plots are a bit silly for sure; a play espousing the virtues of the four food groups, Arnold loses his hat…etc…etc… But for a kids show to make a grown man laugh out loud is pretty impressive. Most of the credit for the fun goes to the writing for sure. Crafting a script that works for age groups from four to nearly forty and making it lively and oftentimes hilarious can’t be easy, but the writers behind Hey Arnold! do a great job. You hardly even notice the moral lessons being taught! In fact, Hey Arnold seems like it does its best to temper its messages of do-gooding with darker little touches. Grandma loves to help her grandson through his problems (especially ones that involve breaking and entering), and also may be wanted by the law. And everyone’s favorite singer, Dino Spumoni’s big hit is snappy little ditty about destroying an ex-lovers house.

The animation matches the quality of the writing every step of the way. The animation is hand drawn, and it really looks great. The colors are vibrant, and the drawing completely conveys the whole vibe of the show. Animation of late all seems a little too clean, but the look of Arnold, which from the mid nineties, is slightly messy and simple, but not cheap looking in the least, and it goes a long way in giving it an added charm.



The characters themselves are all realized very well, but there are definitely two standouts. Arnold himself, the boy with the football shaped head, is definitely the deliverer of the morals of the show, but he never comes off like he is just preaching in the third act of how to be a good person. He really just seems more like a kid wise beyond his years, wanting to get through his day without upsetting the world he lives in. If he sees a wrong he tries to make it right. He truly is just trying to keep his karma rolling on the right track. The other character that makes this show so good is Helga, the blond terror that is secretly in love with Arnold. She is an animated Force of nature; taunting Arnold by calling him “football head” one moment, while building a makeshift shrine to him in her closet. She is a riot to watch, and Francesca Smith, who voices Helga, always plays her over the top, and the results are the more memorable parts of the show. I want a full length Helga feature (yes, I know, fat chance for a show that has been out of production for years, but I can dream).

I almost wish I had kids, just so I could show them Hey Arnold! To say it is smart, refreshing, and hilarious is an understatement.

The Package

Nothing to see here.





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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $19.95
RATING: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: none


The Pitch

Fred gets himself involved in a prehistoric spy game! Not good enough for ya? It’s a musical!


The Humans

Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl, Gerry Johnson, Harvey Korman



The Nutshell

Stone Age super spy Rock Slag is hot on the trail of the notorious villain The Green Goose when he gets himself involved in a bad accident. All hope of catching The Goose is lost until Fred Flintstone, who bares an uncanny resemblance to Slag, steps in and is enlisted as a secret agent.

Before long, Fred and the rest of the Flintstone family (as well as their neighbors, the Rubbles) are whisked away to Eurock (that’s Europe in Flintstone speak, obviously Hanna-Barbera did not buy into the whole Pangea thing) where they are involved in danger, intrigue, and snappy musical numbers.



The Lowdown


The sixties were loaded with spy movies. Audiences were entertained by the likes of James Bond, Matt Helm, and Derek Flint. But there was another secret agent out there protecting the good and doling out justice to the evil. That man was Flintstone, Fred Flintstone. And, while certainly not in the same league as more memorable spy movies of the era, The Man Called Flintstone has its own charms.

One of those charms is that this is a bit of a different Fred Flintstone than I remember from the cartoon series. On the TV show, Fred was a loud, bullish, and usually angry guy who was always shouting, and rarely showed any humility. In this movie, Fred is a much happier guy who occasionally breaks into song and dance numbers to celebrate his friendship with best friend Barney Rubble. Oh yes, this is not only a Flintstone style spy picture, but it’s also a musical, and as far as musicals go, they work just fine. To be sure, there are no big Menken & Ashman style numbers here, but they are fine little ditties for the most part.



I was also surprised at how much I found myself chuckling at The Man Called Flintstone. Most of the laughs come from the various pratfalls that Fred, and the writers took a cue from the Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote cartoons and focused all the laughs toward things like Fred trying to launch himself out of a cannon, but instead jamming it up and blowing himself up in it, or getting airborne, but missing the target and hitting a wall. You’ve seen the bits before, but it still puts a smile on your face.



The animation is a little bit above the standard animation that was seen on The Flintstones TV show. It’s not terrible flashy and there are a lot of repeated motions of the characters, but during a few of the musical numbers the animations loosens up quite a bit and steps out of the usual format of the show. The voice acting, by the same cast as that of the show, is also very good, and not to harp on it, but I am glad that it is more than just eighty plus minutes of Fred yelling at someone. 



The Package


You Yabba-Dabba-Doooo not get any extras.


Storm Hawks: Showdown in the Skies: 7.8 out of 10
Wayside School: Season one: 6.0 out of 10
Transformers: Energon: 6.5 out of 10
Dinosaur King: The Adventure Begins: 1.5 out of 10
Go, Diego, Go: Great Gorilla: 8.0 out of 10
Hey Arnold!: Season 1: 9.0 out of 10
The Man Called Flintstone: 7.5 out of 10