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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 11/12/02



Schoolhouse Rock!
Special 30th Anniversary Edition - 1973-85, 1993-96 (2002) - ABC (Buena Vista/Disney)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Schoolhouse Rock! Special 30th Anniversary Edition Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B-

Specs and Features

Disc One: Schoolhouse Rock!
Approx. 153 mins, NR, full-frame (1.33:1), Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Top Ten Jukebox, Disney DVD sneak peeks (for Mickey's House of Villains, Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, Lilo & Stitch, Rolie Polie Olie: The Great Defender of Fun, Winnie the Pooh: Halloween Collection, Monsters, Inc., Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas and The Rookie), animated program-themed menu screens with sound, song/short access (see listing below), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono, plus DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1 for I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Extra Credit!
Approx. 130 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College "making of" featurette, Emmy Awards featurette, 3 Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips songs (Software, Hardware and Number Cruncher), "lost" song: The Weather Show, Nike commercial featuring Three Is a Magic Number, Top 20 Countdown shuffle feature, new song: I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College, audio commentary (with executive producer George Newell, director of animation Phil Kimmelman and animation designer Tom Yohe, Jr. - available on Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here, The Great American Melting Pot, Telegraph Line, Figure Eight, Interplanet Janet, Conjunction Junction, I'm Just a Bill, The Preamble, Interjections! and A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing), Arrange-a-Song puzzles, Earn Your Diploma trivia game, 4 music videos (I'm Just a Bill by Deluxx Folk Implosion, Conjunction Junction by Better Than Ezra, My Hero, Zero by Lemonheads and Electricity, Electricity by Goodness), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0 mono, plus DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1 for I'm Gonna Send Your Vote To College), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned


"Knowledge is power!"

Normally, I'm not the kind of person who needs to set the mood before sitting down to watch a DVD. It doesn't have to be a dark and stormy night for me to enjoy a horror movie. I don't have to light a bunch of candles and pour myself a glass of wine to enjoy a good romance. But sometimes a little ambience goes a long way. And so, early one Saturday morning, I fired up Disney's new Schoolhouse Rock DVD. Sure, it wasn't exactly the same as when I was a kid. To completely set the scene, I would have had to watch episodes of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show and Thundarr the Barbarian between songs, and eat a box of Froot Loops instead of sucking down coffee and cigarettes. But I came as close as I could.

For those of you whose parents forbid television or were living overseas during the 70's and 80's, Schoolhouse Rock was a series of animated shorts that ran on ABC television on Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1985. Airing between shows, each Schoolhouse Rock combined simple but effective animation with some of the most irresistibly catchy music ever created to teach kids simple lessons about multiplication, American history, science and grammar (the show returned in the mid-90's and broadened its scope to include economics). The idea being that if a kid can remember the words to popular songs, then maybe if you set something useful to music, like the multiplication tables, they'll remember them, too.

As anybody who grew up watching the show can tell you, the experiment worked beyond anyone's wildest expectations. The animation, despite its limitations, is eye-catching and extraordinarily clever. But the backbone of the show is the music. Songwriters like Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg and Lynn Ahrens created some delightful, unforgettable three-minute songs (because three, of course, is a magic number). Thanks to them, millions of kids now know how a bill becomes a law, can hook up words, phrases and clauses with a simple conjunction, and sing the preamble to the Constitution at the drop of a hat. I would also argue that Schoolhouse Rock helped prepare an entire generation for the arrival of MTV, but that's a subject for an entirely different essay.

The first thing you'll notice when watching Schoolhouse Rock in its entirety, is that for every song you can remember verbatim all these years later, there's a clunker or two. I found I remembered the animation to Mother Necessity, America Rock's ode to inventors, but it's barely a song. And while it might just be my own generational bias, none of the newer songs measure up to the classics. There are a few nice moments in Money Rock but nothing as memorable as A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing. Of the two newer Grammar Rock segments, The Tale of Mr. Morton isn't bad, but Busy Prepositions is just awful. As for the brand new song, I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College is kind of catchy but trying to narrow down the morass of the electoral college to a three minute song is a battle that's lost before it's even begun.

Disney's two-disc Schoolhouse Rock package is their latest attempt to please both kiddies and older folks with the same DVD. Generally speaking, it's a solid release (although, for my sake, I could have done without them calling it the "30th Anniversary Edition"... there's no way I'm that old). Video quality is nowhere near reference level, but what do you expect? The simple animation generally avoids complex backgrounds, resulting in a large number of episodes that feature characters against a plain white field. The whites are often dingy and, in some cases, line drawings will start to disappear, leaving characters looking half-drawn. You'll notice some significant digital artifacting here, as well. But having said all that, most of the colors are vibrant and alive, and the image is overall fairly sharp. All things considered, this could have looked much, much worse.

The audio front is slightly disappointing, however. For the most part, this is a solid mix, free from pops, hiss, and distortion. But some of the older tunes, particularly in Multiplication Rock, seem to be recorded at a significantly lower level. I had a hard time making out the words in bits of Three Is a Magic Number and Ready or Not, Here I Come. All of them are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The new song is graced with 5.1 mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS, for what that's worth. They're both pretty good, but a three-minute long Dixieland song isn't exactly going to highlight the tremendous difference between Dolby Digital and DTS.

A mixed bag of extras has been provided for Schoolhouse Rock. To begin with: kudos to Disney for continuing their tradition of providing both visual and text-based menus. Also, each menu is provided with vocal instructions by a friendly narrator. The design and ease of use of these screens are both top-notch. On Disc One, you're given a wide range of options to play the cartoons. You can select one of the five subjects and watch their respective programs individually or all at once. The Top Ten Jukebox provides you with a list of the ten all-time favorite songs (selected by voters at the Schoolhouse Rock website) which you can program into any order you like. You can even play the same song over and over if you want (though you might want to be alone before attempting this, or run the risk of driving everyone else in your home completely insane). If neither of these tickle your fancy, select The Whole Enchilada. This will play every last song on there, either consecutively or in random order. I was a little disappointed that playing the songs consecutively simply plays them in the order they're arranged on the disc and not in chronological order of when they were produced, but that's a very minor quibble. I should also mention that the disc comes with optional English subtitles, so if you've always wanted to host a Schoolhouse Rock karaoke party, now's your chance.

The second disc holds the bulk of the extras, and here's where you might be disappointed. Let's start with the goodies aimed at the big kids. Don't be put off by the title of The Making of I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College. While this featurette was shot in the studio as the new song was being recorded, it is by no means about it exclusively. Most of the original team is interviewed here, reminiscing about the creation of the entire series. Since most of us probably don't know anything about what went on behind-the-scenes at Schoolhouse Rock, this is a very good, albeit too short, feature. Another featurette shines the spotlight on SR's Emmy wins. This is OK, though there's nothing here that's so earth shattering that it couldn't have been edited into the main documentary. For the Schoolhouse Rock completist, some "lost" songs have been rescued from oblivion. The Weather Show is a decent little Science Rock number, although nowhere on here does it indicate why this episode was "lost" (apparently, a certain circus objected to a lyric describing the weather as "the greatest show on Earth". Is it just me or does that redefine the word "petty"?). Also, three of the four produced episodes of Scooter Computer & Mr. Chips are here. These are certainly the most dated programs on here, with the skateboarding Scooter and the green-screened Mr. Chips (whose creepy singing voice reminded me of the demented supercomputer in Demon Seed) explaining computer lingo in song. By far the most valuable extra here is the running commentary by executive producer George Newell, director of animation Phil Kimmelman and animation designer Tom Yohe, Jr. on ten of their favorite songs. I liked this a lot and only wish they'd included more of it. Because none of them introduce themselves, it's difficult to know who's speaking. But here's a tip: turn on the subtitles while you're watching the commentaries. Each speaker is identified here.

For the younguns, Disc Two has a pair of puzzle games. First up is Arrange-a-Song, in which you have to put the lyrics to a tune in order. There isn't much to this and your reward for arranging the song correctly is... well, your own satisfaction in a job well done, I guess. The Earn Your Diploma game is slightly better. Correctly answering questions in each Schoolhouse Rock subject leads you to a word jumble. After you pass all five, you can solve the Master Word Jumble and, once you've accomplished that, you get to see another short cartoon. This is an improvement over the Arrange-a-Song puzzles, but the questions are a strange mix of what-have-you-learned-from-the-song and trivia about the shows themselves. I'd like this a lot more if all of the questions had been quizzes on what the songs were trying to teach.

Finally, there are some features on here that don't seem to be aimed at anybody in particular. The Top 20 Countdown is nothing more than the Top 10 Jukebox + 10. This really should be on the first disc. A few years back, Nike produced a commercial using the song Three Is a Magic Number. That spot is here, and it's just as pointless as I remember it. Four cover versions of SR songs are included by "contemporary artists". Well, contemporary as of 1996, when the album Schoolhouse Rock Rocks was released. None of these hold a candle to the original versions. The only one I halfway enjoyed was Electricity, Electricity by a band called Goodness (whom, I admit, I've never heard of before). The others are all infuriatingly ironic and post-modern. At least the gals and guys of Goodness infuse their version with energy and good cheer. And, for those of you who just can't get enough of the brand new song, I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College is here yet again, still sporting both DTS and Dolby Digital audio tracks.

Disney has proven time and again that nobody can repackage older material for a new generation like they can. And I have no doubt that the now grown-up kids of my generation will eagerly snap up Schoolhouse Rock and attempt to introduce it to their own kids. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if the parents get a lot more enjoyment out of this DVD than their children. After all these years, the music, the animation and the lessons of Schoolhouse Rock still hold up. I only wish the second disc lived up to the promise of the show itself. Some of the not-so-special features there had me using some interjections Schoolhouse Rock never taught us.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Track Listing:

GRAMMAR ROCK

Unpack Your Adjectives
Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here
Conjunction Junction
Interjections!
Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla
Verb: That's What's Happening
A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing
Busy Prepositions
The Tale of Mr. Morton

SCIENCE ROCK

The Body Machine
Do the Circulation
Electricity, Electricity
The Energy Blues
Interplanet Janet
Telegraph Line
Them Not-So-Dry Bones
A Victim of Gravity

MONEY ROCK

Dollars and Sense
$7.50 Once a Week
Where the Money Goes
Tax Man Max
Walkin' on Wall Street
This For That
Tyrannosaurus Debt
The Check's in the Mail

MULTIPLICATION ROCK

My Hero, Zero
Elementary, My Dear
Three Is a Magic Number
The Four-Legged Zoo
Ready or Not, Here I Come
I Got Six
Lucky Seven Sampson
Figure Eight
Naughty Number Nine
The Good Eleven
Little Twelvetoes

AMERICA ROCK

No More Kings
Fireworks
The Shot Heard 'Round the World
The Preamble
Elbow Room
The Great American Melting Pot
Mother Necessity
Sufferin' Till Suffrage
I'm Just a Bill
Three Ring Government

ALL-NEW SONG

I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College




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