DVD Review: Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas

Ever since Scrat the sabertooth squirrel started his quest for the acorn in the early 2000s, I’ve been a fan of the Ice Age universe. Sure, maybe Manny, Sid, and Diego are slowly inching towards extinction, but more often than not they show that animated films can be both commercial, kid-friendly, and still appeal to parents who are still young-at-heart.

That said, I was disappointed this year when we somehow managed to miss recording Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas which aired around Thanksgiving. I wanted to see if the momentum of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs with its whole Land of the Lost/Journey to the Center of the Earth vibe would spill over into a Christmas special. Now that I’ve seen the special on DVD, I’m happy to say that it was actually quite original and fun!

It starts out with mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) literally rolling out the decorations for Christmas (somewhat ironically considering how odd it would be to have Christmas before the birth of Christ, but let’s let that go) – including a large boulder that’s been handed down generation to generation in Manny’s family. When Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth and Diego (Denis Leary) the sabertooth tiger get involved in a discussion about the stone’s merits, Sid manages to destroy it while testing its durability. This didn’t make Manny happy at all and in his frustration he convinces Sid that he’s on Santa’s “Naughty List.”

Well, this upsets Manny and Ellie’s daughter Peaches (Ciara Bravo) so much, she sets off to head to the North Pole to convince Santa to remove Sid from the Naughty List. Of course, Peaches and Sid aren’t alone in this quest and are joined by the possum brothers Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). Along the way, they get a bit lost and stumble across a new friend named Prancer (T.J. Miller) who just happens to be a flying reindeer. This odd group makes their way to Santa’s workshop, guarded by an army of tiny sloths.

Do they find Santa? Do Manny, Ellie, and Diego join the party? Yes to both questions. Of course, they manage to destroy and rebuild Santa’s Workshop and find a way to save Christmas for kids all around the world thanks to Prancer and his flying family. Ultimately I think the message is that no matter what happens, anything is possible if you work together towards a common goal and don’t give up.

Plus, having an Ice Age holiday special serves as a reminder of the new movie due out next summer – Ice Age: Continental Drift arrives in theaters in July 2012!

In an age where the stop-motion puppetry of the Rankin-Bass holiday specials are looking a little long in the tooth, I’m glad to see new specials appearing on the docket like the Prep and Landing, Shrek the Halls, and now Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas. I think this one will fit nicely into our holiday TV traditions from now on!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas

Hi again!

Before you ask, yes I know it’s not quite Thanksgiving and I’m reviewing a Christmas-themed DVD. My family will be the first to tell you I’m a bit of a Grinch when it comes to the holidays. After working one holiday season in a mall with Christmas music playing 24/7, it pretty much burned away any love I had for decorations and forced holiday spirit. That said, I have a soft spot buried deep for the core thought around that time of year: ‘Tis better to give than receive.

Sometimes a product will sneak through my defenses and tickle that small bit of holiday spirit I have left. When you take a set of characters I already know and love – Shaun the Sheep and the rest of the gang on the farm – and offer holiday-themed stories that are both entertaining and heart-warming, how can I resist? Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas offers seven five-minute episodes from the Shaun the Sheep series by the creator of Wallace & Gromit. And every episode is a delight.

As I’ve mentioned before in other DVD reviews, this series takes stop-motion claymation techniques and uses numerous slapstick, silent film, and Vaudville techniques to present fun, heartfelt stories without the use of speech. It’s more akin to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Kops than most modern animated shows (except maybe for the first half of Disney/Pixar’s WALL-E). Though the animals and human characters sometimes make noises, it’s the gestures, expressions, and actions that are used to tell the tale. And the animators at Aardman have this style of storytelling down to an art that continues to amaze me episode after episode.

Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas is the first holiday-themed DVD from Lionsgate, HiT entertainment, and Aardman featuring Shaun and the whole cast, and it doesn’t disappoint. There is plenty of winter mayhem to be had by these lovable characters. Three of my favorite episodes in the collection are “Fireside Favorite,” “An Ill Wind,” and “Shirley Whirley,” but my daughters’ favorite was the title episode “We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas.”

In “We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas,” Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest of the gang see the Farmer is going to be spending Christmas Day alone and they can’t have that. They all work through the night, finding a Christmas tree, locating directions, making presents, and getting it all set up before the Farmer wakes up on Christmas morning. It’s that kind of holiday spirit that warms my Grinch heart a bit, so I was happy that Santa Claus also made an appearance to help them out!

“Fireside Favorite” sees Bitzer suffering from a cold. When the Farmer brings him inside to rest and recuperate, Pidsley the Cat gets mad because the dog is in his spot in front of the fire! It becomes an all out battle between the cat and the sheep to keep Bitzer inside where he can get over the cold. Don’t worry though, karma eventually catches up with Pidsley…

With “An Ill Wind,” the Farmer gets an electricity bill with a truly staggering amount and decides to do something about it. He builds a windmill and hooks it up to provide electricity for his house. But somehow I doubt he planned on it becoming an amusement park ride for the sheep which leads to all sorts of fun with the Farmer’s TV set!

Lastly, there was “Shirley Whirley.” If you’ve seen any episodes, you know Shirley as the biggest sheep of the flock and a virtual eating machine. But when she gets so big that Shaun has to enlist help to push her out of the barn, Shaun knows he has to do something… So he puts Shirley on wheels and sets up a remote control to drive her around the farm. Unfortunately, the Farmer’s TV remote seems to be on the same channel, which sends the big sheep zipping all over the place causing havoc!

If you have little ones, they will probably like Timmy Time, which is a Shaun the Sheep spinoff for preschoolers. Included on the DVD is a sneak peek of the show featuring “Timmy’s Tune #1.” Also included is a “Sheep Shearing Game,” but it’s a bit clunky and gets very repetitive for little replay variable.

Shaun the Sheep is always a favorite at our house and whether you’re 1 or 100 I bet you’ll enjoy their antics too! Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas is available now!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Caper

Hi again…

Yogi Bear… The name brings back images of a goofy bear stealing picnic baskets from visitors to Jellystone Park with his pal Boo Boo. “Smarter than the average bear,” Yogi and Boo Boo would work to outsmart Ranger Smith while filling their bellies. And though I enjoyed many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the era of Yogi, it wasn’t one of those that left a lasting impression.

Yogi was never alone in the Hanna-Barbera universe. He shared adventures with Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Quick Draw McGraw, and many other characters starting in 1958 and has appeared in multiple television shows in the years that followed. The latest Yogi Bear live-action/animated film from Warner Brothers is just the latest in an attempt to revive his career.

With Yogi Bear making his way onto modern 3D movie screens a week before Christmas 2010, I had to wonder if we might see some of the older Yogi titles being re-released on DVD or Blu-ray to help spread the word. As if the folks at Warner Brothers were listening to my thoughts, they released Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Caper on DVD in early December.

In the All-Star Comedy Caper, Yogi and Boo Boo have escaped from Jellystone Park to visit their friends in the “Big City” at the same time that his friends from the “Big City” (Huckleberry Hound and so on) made a special trip to Jellystone to see them! Oops. As you might imagine, Yogi quickly finds himself in trouble. He tries hiding while posing as Santa Claus in a department store. It’s there he and Boo Boo meet Judy Jones, a little girl more than a little upset with her father who doesn’t have time for her. Of course, Yogi and Boo Boo want to help restore her faith in Christmas if they can and the trio run off together.

Judy’s dad – the millionaire businessman J. Wellington Jones – isn’t amused and starts to look for his daughter, who has obviously been kidnapped! Soon Yogi, Boo Boo, and Judy are on the run from the police as well as Ranger Smith, who has come to the city to find Yogi. When the bears offer to return Judy to her home, she doesn’t want to go home…

About this time Huckleberry Hound and the gang find Yogi and Boo Boo and offer to help find Judy’s way home. They search everywhere and run into other animated characters such as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Pixie and Dixie, Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, and Yakky Doodle. But nobody can seem to find the little girl’s house.

When the police and the Ranger finally catch up with Yogi, Boo Boo, and Judy, they are none too pleased. But Judy announces that she hadn’t been kidnapped and that she’d run away, which makes her father understand why he needs to spend time with her. Daddy springs Yogi and Boo Boo from the back of the paddy wagon and drops all charges against our heroes. And Yogi, Judy, and the gang celebrate a Christmas in the park and brighten everyone’s holiday spirit.

Really it’s a cute story that drives home that spending time with your kids during the holidays (and the rest of the year too) is important and should not be forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Also included on the DVD is the short “Yogi’s Birthday Party” in which Ranger Smith, Boo Boo, and Cindy Bear help throw Yogi a surprise birthday party. To keep him in the dark, poor Yogi thinks he’s going to have to perform some kind of act in front of a television audience and he goes out of his way to figure out what he’s good at!

Though it was fun to see Yogi and the gang, I have to admit I really enjoyed seeing Snagglepuss after all these years. His catchphrases “Exit, stage left!” and “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” have stuck with me and seemed to resonate with my daughters as well. So maybe I’ll have to see about finding some other Hanna-Barbera cartoons on DVD to fill a small void in my cartoon collection!

If you’re looking for a fun Christmas-themed special with characters that haven’t been seen on TV for a while, I’d definitely look for Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Caper on DVD. It’s short and fun and should keep younger viewers entranced for a little while!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other holiday-themed DVDs below!